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Distinctive features
Word-final devoicing of /b/, /d/, and /ɡ/, whereby for example cub
sounds like cup.
Reduction of certain diphthong forms to monophthongs, in
particular, /aɪ/ is monophthongized to [aː] except before unvoiced
(this is also a feature of many Southern American English dialects).
The vowel sound in boil (/ɔɪ/ in Standard English) is also
monophthongized, especially before /l/, making it indistinguishable
from ball
AAVE speakers may not use the fricatives [θ] (the th in thin) and [ð]
(the th of then) that are present in SE. The actual alternative phone
used depends on the sound's position in a word.
Word-initially, /θ/ is normally the same as in SE (so thin is [θɪn]).
Word-initially, /ð/ is [d] (so this is [dɪs]).
Word-medially and -finally, /θ/ is realized as either [f] or [t] (so
[mʌmf] or [mʌnt] for month); /ð/ as either [v] or [d] (so [smuːv] for
Realization of final ng /ŋ/, the velar nasal, as the alveolar nasal [n]
in function morphemes and content morphemes with two syllables
like -ing, e.g. tripping is pronounced as trippin. This change does not
occur in one-syllable content morphemes such as sing, which is [sɪŋ]
and not *[sɪn]. However, singing is [sɪŋɪn]. Other examples include
wedding → [wɛɾɪn], morning → [mɔɹnɪn], nothing → [ˈnʌfɪn].
Realization of /ŋ/ as [n] in these contexts is commonly found in many
other English dialects.
A marked feature of AAVE is final consonant cluster reduction.
There are several phenomena that are similar but are governed by
different grammatical rules. This tendency has been used by
creolists to compare AAVE to West African languages since such
languages do not have final clusters.
Final consonant clusters that are homorganic (have the same place
of articulation) and share the same voicing are reduced. E.g. test is
pronounced [tɛs] since /t/ and /s/ are both voiceless; hand is
pronounced [hæn], since /n/ and /d/ are both voiced; but pant is
unchanged, as it contains both a voiced and a voiceless consonant in
the cluster. Note also that it is the plosive (/t/ and /d/) in these
examples that is lost rather than the fricative or nasal.
More often, word-final /sp/, /st/, and /sk/ are reduced, again with
the final element being deleted rather than the former.
For younger speakers, /skr/ also occurs in words that other
varieties of English have /str/ so that, for example, street is
pronounced [skrit].
Clusters ending in /s/ or /z/ exhibit variation in whether the first or
second element is deleted.
Similarly, final consonants may be deleted (although there is a
great deal of variation between speakers in this regard). Most often,
/t/ and /d/ are deleted. As with other dialects of English, final /t/ and
/k/ may reduce to a glottal stop. Nasal consonants may be lost while
nasalization of the vowel is retained (e.g., find may be pronounced
[fãi]). More rarely, /s/ and /z/ may also be delete.
Use of metathesised forms like aks for "ask" or graps for "grasp".
Like other non-rhotic varieties, the rhotic consonant /r/ is usually
dropped when not followed by a vowel; it may also manifest as an
unstressed [ə] or the lengthening of the preceding vowel.
Intervocalic /r/ may also be dropped, e.g. SE story ([stɔri]) can be
pronounced [stɔ.i], though this doesn't occur across morpheme
boundaries. /r/ may also be deleted between a consonant and a
back rounded vowel.
/l/ is often vocalized in patterns similar to that of /r/ (though never
between vowels) and, in combination with cluster simplification,
can make homophones of toll and toe, fault and fought, and tool and
Before nasal consonants (/m/, /n/, and /ŋ/), /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ are both
pronounced [ɪ], making pen and pin homophones. This feature is also
present in other dialects.
The distinction between /ɪ/ and /iː/ before liquid consonants is
frequently reduced, making feel and fill homophones. Before /r/
specifically, /uː/ and /oʊ/ also merge.
 Lowering of /i/ before /ŋ/ causing pronunciations such as [θæŋ] for
 In addition to these, there are a handful of multisyllabic words that
differ from SE in their stress placement so that, for example, police,
guitar and Detroit are pronounced with initial stress instead of ultimate
The verb "be"
Standard English uses a verb be (called a copula) in a number of different sentences. In AAVE this verb is often not
included. The frequency of inclusion has been shown to depend on a variety of factors. Here are some examples:
 In future sentences with gonna or gon (see below):
I don't care what he say, you __ gon laugh. long as i's kids around he's gon play rough or however they're playing.
Before verbs with the -ing or -in ending(progressive):
I tell him to be quiet because he don't know what he __ talking about.
I mean, he may say something's out of place but he __ cleaning up behind it and you can't get mad at him.
Before adjectives and expressions of location:
He __ all right.
And Alvin, he __ kind of big, you know?
She __ at home. The club __ on one corner, the Bock is on the other.
Before nouns (or phrases with nouns)
He __ the one who had to go try to pick up the peacock.
I say, you __ the one jumping up to leave, not me.
Standard English varieties mark grammatical agreement
between the subject and predicate in the present tense. If the
subject is third person singular (he, she, it or the name of a person
or object), an -s appears at the end of a regular verb. (e.g. John
walks to the store). In AAVE the verb is rarely marked in this way.
When regular verbs occur with such -s marking, they often carry
special emphasis. Standard English also has agreement in a
number of irregular and frequently used verbs such as has vs have
and is vs are and was vs were. In AAVE these distinctions are not
always made.
Tense and aspect
The verb in AAVE is often used without any ending. As is the case with the English creoles,
there are some separate words that come before the verb which show when or how
something happens. These are called "tense/aspect markers".
Past tense:
Past tense may be conveyed by the surrounding discourse (with the help of adverbials
such as, for example, "last night", "three years ago", "back in them days", etc., or by the use
of conjunctions which convey a sequence of actions (e.g. "then"), or by the use of an ending
as in standard English. The frequency with which the -ed ending occurs depends on a
number of factors including the sounds which follow it.
Some past events are conveyed by placing been before the verb. Speakers of standard
English may mistake this for the standard English "present perfect" with the "have" or "has"
deleted. However the AAVE sentence with been is in fact quite different from the standard
English present perfect. This can be seen by comparing two sentences such as the following:
Standard English present perfect: He has been married.
AAVE been: He been married.
In the standard English sentence the implication is that he is now no longer married.
However, in the AAVE sentence the implication is quite the opposite: he is still married.
Sentences equivalent to standard English perfects such as discussed above may
be conveyed by the use of done in AAVE. For example the standard sentence "He
has eaten his dinner" can be expressed as He done eat his dinner.
Future events and those that have not yet occurred are marked by gon or gonna
(see above).
Events in progress:
Besides using the verb with the ending -ing or -in to convey that an event is in
progress, AAVE has a number of other words which add particular nuances. For
instance, if the activity is vigorous and intentional, the sentence may include the
word steady. The item steady can be used to mark actions that occur consistently
or persistently, as in Ricky Bell be steady steppin in them number nines.
Events that occur habitually or repeatedly are often marked by be in AAVE as in
She be working all the time.
Phases/Tenses of AAVE[38]
I been flown it
I done fly ita
I did fly it
Past Inceptive
I do fly it
I be flyin it
I'm a-fly it
I'm a-gonna fly it
Indefinite future
I gonna fly it
AAVE has a number of ways of marking negation. Like a number of other
varieties of English, AAVE uses ain't to negate the verb in a simple sentence. In
common with other nonstandard dialects of English, AAVE uses ain't in standard
English sentences which use "haven't". For example standard "I haven't seen him."
is equivalent to AAVE I ain't seen him. Unlike most other nonstandard varieties of
English, AAVE speakers also sometimes use ain't for standard "didn't" as in the
following examples
I ain't step on no line.
I said, "I ain't run the stop sign," and he said, "you ran it!"
I ain't believe you that day, man.
As the first sentence above shows, AAVE also allows negation to be marked in
more that one position in the sentence (so called double or multiple negation). In
this respect, AAVE resembles French and a number of other Romance languages
and also a number of English creoles. Certain kinds of nouns actually require
negative marking in negative sentences. In so far as the negation must be
expressed with indefinite nouns (e.g. "anything", "anyone" etc.), this is a form of
agreement marking. (e.g. I ain't see nothing).
AAVE also has a special negative construction which linguists call
"negative inversion". An example from Toni Morrison's Song of
Solomon follows:
Pilate they remembered as a pretty woods-wild girl "that couldn't
nobody put shoes on."
In this example (in the part in italics), a negative auxiliary (couldn't)
is moved in front of the subject (nobody). Some other examples
illustrate this:
Ain't no white cop gonna put his hands on me.
Can't nobody beat 'em
Can't nobody say nothin' to dem peoples!
AAVE does not have a vocabulary separate from other varieties of English.
However AAVE speakers do use some words which are not found in other varieties
and furthermore use some English words in ways that differ from the standard
A discussion of AAVE vocabulary might proceed by noting that words can be seen
to be composed of a form (a sound signal) and a meaning. In some cases both the
form and the meaning are taken from West African sources. In other case the form
is from English but the meaning appears to be derived from West African sources.
Some cases are ambiguous and seem to involve what the late Fredric Cassidy called
a multiple etymology (the form can be traced to more than one language -- e.g.
"cat" below).
West African Form + West African Meaning:
bogus 'fake/fraudulent' cf. Hausa boko, or boko-boko 'deceit, fraud'.
hep, hip 'well informed, up-to-date' cf. Wolof hepi, hipi 'to open one's eyes, be
aware of what is going on'.
English Form + West African Meaning:
cat 'a friend, a fellow, etc.' cf. Wolof -kat (a suffix denoting a person)
cool 'calm, controlled' cf. Mandingo suma 'slow' (literally 'cool')
dig 'to understand, appreciate, pay attention' cf. Wolof deg, dega 'to understand,