African American Vernacular English
Origin of African American Vernacular English
historical usage of African American Vernacular English
From the 1700s well into the 1960s, the most widely accepted formal term for Americans of African descent was Negro, a word derived from the Spanish and Portuguese term for “black.” During the 1960s, studies of the dialect referred to Negro speech or Negro American dialect or Negro English, as in Walt Wolfram’s 1969 book, A Sociolinguistic Description of Detroit Negro Speech. However, some members of the designated community had felt for some time that the term Negro was uncomfortably associated with a long history of slavery, prejudice, and persecution.
The term Black had also been in use to designate people and things African American—often, however, accompanied by offensive connotations. But with growing militancy within the civil rights movement during the mid and late 1960s, Black, as in Black Power, Black pride, and Black people, became increasingly popular. By the 1970s, major linguistic studies—from scholars like William Stewart, William Labov, J. L. Dillard, and Geneva Smitherman—while often exhibiting strong differences of opinion about the nature and origins of the dialect, all referred to it as Black English. To counter the impression that Black English was spoken by all African Americans and the assumption that African Americans spoke Black English exclusively, some linguists inserted the term vernacular to indicate that this was a robust independent language associated with specific communities and used primarily in informal speech. We thus had the designations Black English Vernacular (BEV) and Black Vernacular English (BVE). Furthermore, many of its speakers were known to be bidialectal—fluent in both Standard American English (SAE) and Black Vernacular English (BVE) and able to “code-switch”—to shift from one form of English to another, appropriately accommodating different settings, occasions, and audiences.
The next change in popular nomenclature elevated geographic and ethnic heritage over reference to skin color. African American, found first in the literature of the mid-19th century, has not only been revived but has become, since the early 2000s, the designation of choice in referring to people. In turn, African American English , and its abbreviation AAE, as well as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and African American Language (AAL), have been seized upon as appropriate names by linguists now exploring and analyzing the dialect—its origins, its history, and its current characteristics.
Thus far we have neglected the terminological outlier Ebonics, a conflation of ebony and phonics, another name for the dialect, but not for the people who speak it. The word was coined in 1973 by Robert Williams, a social psychologist who sought a name that did not evoke, overtly or covertly, the concept of “nonstandard” English. It did not come to the attention of the general public, however, until 1996, when the Oakland, California, school board was mistakenly thought to be promoting the teaching of Ebonics in the schools. In reality, the board merely wanted teachers to be able to use examples of the dialect that many of their students already knew and spoke in order to show and teach them the contrasting equivalents in Standard English, much as one would teach English as a second language. Editorial articles and political cartoons misunderstood or misrepresented the school board policy, and the mocked and maligned idea of “teaching Black slang” was tied to the term Ebonics, which subsequently declined in use.
While popular for some time, the simple and easily understood designation Black English is not entirely accurate. It does not account for geographical distribution: AAVE is a North American dialect spoken primarily in the United States. The term Black English isn’t good at differentiating the language of African Americans from other varieties of English spoken by Black people globally. Black English is also too exclusive in connecting this dialect and the Black community. African American Vernacular English is not spoken by every African American, nor is it the only language spoken by African Americans.
Currently, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), a term once known only in the social sciences, is widely used. As its familiarity has increased outside of academia, it is also being replaced in some academic circles by African American Language (AAL). Ultimately, the public decides what words it will use—language, and the way we talk about it, is constantly evolving.
How to use African American Vernacular English in a sentence
Fluoride first entered an American water supply through a rather inelegant technocratic scheme.
Have you looked around the American Dental Association website for an explanation of how fluoridation actually works?
The best comparison here for an American audience is, well, Internet stuff.Trolls and Martyrdom: Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie|Arthur Chu|January 9, 2015|DAILY BEAST
Great American leaders have long contributed profound thoughts of tremendous consequence to the public discourse.Huckabee 2016: Bend Over and Take It Like a Prisoner!|Olivia Nuzzi|January 8, 2015|DAILY BEAST
Sadly, it appears the American press often doesn't need any outside help when it comes to censoring themselves.Politicians Only Love Journalists When They're Dead|Luke O’Neil|January 8, 2015|DAILY BEAST
We prefer the American volume of Hochelaga to the Canadian one, although both are highly interesting.
We can readily see how this might have been, from numerous experiments made with both American and European varieties.
Thomas Cooper, an English prelate, died; highly commended for his great learning and eloquence.
A fancy came into my head that I would entertain the king and queen with an English tune upon this instrument.Gulliver's Travels|Jonathan Swift
Dockier, a prominent leader of the Levelers, in the times of the English commonwealth, was shot by order of the government.