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Vernacular English
Carlos Pacheco
Mayra L. Vargas
INGL4205 L-91
African-American Vernacular
Is a variety of language also called Black
English and Ebonics.
 Not all African-Americans speak AAVE.
 People who speak AAVE may not speak it
all the time.
 People influenced by African-Americans
can also learn the language.
 Is not a monolith; there are regional
Origins of AAVE
There are two main theories about the
origin of AAVE:
–Dialectologist hypothesis
–Creole hypothesis
 Research since 1980s suggest a
middle way between these theories.
 New issues imply the fact that AAVE
may be diverging from Standard
American English (SAE).
Dialectologist hypothesis
Intends to explain AAVE as an archaic
form of British dialects, because East
Anglia dialect and AAVE have no third
person singular s in the present tense.
– Examples: He go.
 Anglo-Irish and Scottish dialects also form
part in the construction of AAVE.
– He be working everyday. (Anglo-Irish)
– He done worked. (Scottish dialect)
Weaknesses of the theory
 Southern
Whites haven’t kept these
features in their dialect.
 AAVE has features from a variety of
British dialects.
 Expressions used by SAE and AAVE
speakers are not the same. This has
been called camouflage.
– Example: She been married. To an
AAVE speaker the person is still
married, but to an SAE speaker she no
longer is.
Creole hypothesis
AAVE came from a West African pidgin.
– Pidgins come out of contact situations.
 In 1500s a pidgin arose in Africa out of
maritime contacts between West Africans
and the early explorers and merchants and
then slave traders.
 This pidgin was competing with Wolof.
– Wolof was an African language used as a
lingua franca in the area.
 The pidgin and Wolof were carried to the
new world by Africans with the first slaves.
Creole hypothesis
During slavery, African languages, pidgin
English, plantation creole English and
Standard English were in competition.
 Frequent contact between speakers of
Standard English and creole English, made
the creole became decreolized, more like
the standard form.
 This decreolized language is thought to be
the base for AAVE.
Is a variety of AAVE spoken on the coastal
islands of South Carolina and Georgia.
 Due to the isolation of the islands, the
language spoken has remained very
 This is a general rule: The language of
outlying areas is less prone to change than
the language of central areas.
 Gullah and West African languages have
many similarities.
 West
African influence Gullah from
the phonology to the semantics of
the language.
 Gullah and Mende (African language)
has words that begin with gb-.
– Examples: gban meaning tightly
– gbaa meaning to sigh (Mende)
 Many
gullah words come from West
African languages.
Some grammatical features of AAVE found in
other creoles and in West African languages:
Repetition of subject
– John, he live in New York.
Do questions
– What it come to?=What does it come to?
Same form for singular and plural
– one girl, two girl
No tense on verb
– I know it good when he ask me.
Verb not inflected for person
– I know, he know
Done to indicate completion
– I done go.
Recent Debate about the origins of
New Evidence since 1980s has led
linguistics to reevaluate the dialectologist
and the creole hypothesis. These new data
– Studies on the historical and social
conditions of the slaves in the
– The emergence of written and audio
recording of AAVE speakers.
– “Diaspora” recordings.
– Other creoles, especially the Englishbased Atlantic ones.
New Evidence
These new data lead to several facts:
 AAVE may not have developed from a
creole in the United States.
 It may have been imported by slaves from
areas where Atlantic creoles were spoken.
 The difference between AAVE and SAE are
not primarily categorical but more a
matter of degree.
 The creole and the dialectologist
hypothesis do not exclude each other:
there may had been a (British) dialect
influence on a prior creolized variety.
Divergence Hypothesis
 Labov
and others formulated a
hypothesis that reverses the
emphasis on the difference between
 They assume that AAVE and SE are
converging, that AAVE has undergone
a process of decreolization.
Some features of AAVE appeared recently
and are distinct from SAE, including:
• Be done (resultative)
-My ice cream’s gonna be done
melted by the time we get there.
-Don’t do that ‘cause you be done
messed up your clothes!
• -s (narrative present)
-The lil’ boy, he comes and hit me
right? I hits him back now.
• Be V-ing (habitual)
and AAVE divergence is found in
segregation and socioeconomic
disparity between AAVE and SAE
speakers, which leads to the
formation of a specific AfricanAmerican identity reflected in a
separate linguistic variety.
is best considered a dialect of
English Because it is mutually
intelligible with SAE.
The principal differences between
Phonological rules for AAVE:
 No consonant pairs: jus (for just) men (for
 Few diphthongs: (aka
monophthongization) rat (for right).
 No /r/ in middle or final position: mow (for
 Th goes to d in initial position and to f in
final position: dem (for them) souf (for
is not the same as southern
 AAVE has consonant cluster
– Test reduces to tes in southern English
and AAVE.
 When
there is a suffix, southern
English (SE) cannot reduce.
– Tester is still tester in SE but tesser in
Unique features to AVE
final nasals reduce to
final consonant deletion
(specially nasals)
devoicing of final stops
[man]  [mã]
devoiced final stop +
glottal stop
[bæd] 
Computer 
loss of y after consonants
[faiv]  [fa:]
[bæd]  [bæt]
t becomes k in /str/ cluster Street  [skrit]
Tense and aspect
Aspect is a optional way of describing
whether the action is continuing or
 I was watching TV when the phone
rang. (Continuing)
have been to Disneyland twice.
Aspect: Actual Be
 In
AAVE aspect is obligatory and
tense is optional.
 You making sense, but you don’t be
making sense.
What you say makes sense in the
context, but usually you are not so
 The absence of be in the first clause
is known as zero copula.
 The
coffee be cold.
Is a every day complain while
The coffee cold.
Means its only today that it is a
Be can also be used in the future.
 She
be there later.
 I be going home tomorrow.
Be does not work in past tense or
tag questions.
He was my teacher last year.
You ain’t sick, is you?
Aspect: Completed Been
 Indicates
recently completed action
(perfective). Also indicated an
ungrammatical sentence in a
 She been tardy twice this semester.
 She been tardy twice last semester.
Been works something like standard
English have/has/had/been.
 He
been there before.
 They been there and left before I got
It can be used when time doesn’t
He been there.
Aspect: Completive Done
Indicates recently completed action
done my homework yesterday/
When used with other verbs, done
focuses on the recentness of the
done finished my homework (today).
 I done finished my homework
Relative Clauses
 He
got a gun sounded like a bee.
 I had uncle was one of the world’s
heavyweight contenders.
 My youngest sister, what live in
In SAE a relative clause is introduced
by which, that, who, whose and
whom as in the following phrase:
The women who won the prize.
Summary and difference between
is a dialect of English with its
own set of phonological and syntactic
rules that are similar to the rules of
other dialects.
 AAVE in turns has affected the
dialects of the south where there has
been contact.
 It has a distinctive aspect system,
which makes it different from other
dialects of English.