African American vernacular English
AFRO-AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH
African American Vernacular English (AAVE), colloquially known as ebonics , a portmanteau of the terms ebony (ebony, dark wood) and phonics (sounds), African American English or African American Vernacular English, is a variant of English that is becoming increasingly recognized worldwide. The use of Afro-American Vernacular English has been expanding for a long time and gaining greater visibility in the media, so much so that, in 1996, in the city of Oakland, in the United States, the Education Department started to recognize this variant, making its use official. institutions across the city. The fact ended up generating controversy, since most people still stigmatize the variant for not having the same characteristics as standard English.
The controversies and prejudice that revolve around this variant occur due to grammatical, phonetic-phonological, lexical and several other particularities pertaining to this language. However, even with their differences, Rickford states that “like all spoken languages, AAVE is extremely regular, rule-governed and systematic”.
But where did this variant come from, which has been the subject of so many controversies and discussions? In this second chapter, we will approach its emergence, its characteristics and the way in which Afro-American Vernacular English influences the sociocultural identity of each speaker. In order to understand the origin of Afro-American Vernacular English, we will need to contextualize it with the history of Afro-Americans, aiming at socio-historical events that potentially contributed to the development of that variant.
The Origin of African American Vernacular English
Afro-American Vernacular English is believed to have emerged from the trading of slaves from West and Central Africa, who arrived in America around the 16th century to work in the southern colonies of the United States. The British, upon arriving on the West and Central coast of the African continent, were faced with blacks who would be enslaved and who would work in the colonies. Such individuals, however, came from completely different linguistic contexts, causing major problems when communicating.
Landowners and people with great purchasing power needed to communicate with their slaves. This was not possible, as one did not understand the other’s language. In this way, in the search for the exercise of communication, the first contact of their languages arises – English and Gullah , a language spoken by inhabitants of the west side of Africa.
From these two languages, English and Gullah , variants of African languages emerged from these two groups that used them, thus creating pidgin . Pidgin emerges as a simplifying language for understanding between two linguistic communities due to the need for communication. This language is developed by speakers who do not share a common language.
According to Rickford (1998), a pidgin has a highly restricted role, used for limited communication between speakers of two or more languages who come into contact with each other repeatedly, through trade, enslavement or migration. “A pidgin generally combines elements of its speakers’ native languages and is typically simpler than those native languages, as it acquires fewer words, less morphology, and more restricted phonological and syntactic options.” 7 However, an important fact that should be highlighted is that pidginundergoes a process of transformation, which occurs from the moment native speakers start to use it as their first language. When a certain linguistic community starts to make pidgin its main language, it automatically ends up evolving into creole.
Slaves living in the southern colonies of the United States maintained minimal contact with the pure English language. Many slaves who were placed there spoke other variants of the language, such as Creole, for example. The speech of slaves influenced the pronunciation and lexicon of the whites who inhabited that region. In this way, black speaking began to incorporate some characteristics of the English language, and a process of decreolization took place.. Decreolization is a process by which a creole language approaches a prestige language – in this case, English. In that region, the most used language variants were Standard English and others similar to this linguistic structure. Thus occurred the mixing of languages, leading to decreolization and giving rise to Afro-American Vernacular English. Note that the origin of this variant is related to the slave trade and slavery. Now we will pay attention to the characteristics of that variant and, later, to the cultural identity of the speakers who use it.
Characteristics of African American Vernacular English: lexical, phonological and grammatical characteristics.
African American Vernacular English is a variant of American English. Like all linguistic variants, it is also influenced by extralinguistic factors. As an example, we have social class, age group, profession, education and gender, as we saw in the first chapter. In terms of its origins, African-American Vernacular English has its historical roots coming from the Creole English of the times of slavery. From the point of view of Variationist Sociolinguistics, even though Afro-American Vernacular English is known for its particularities, called “slang” and “non-colloquial” expressions, there is nothing wrong with this variant, since it is used to communication, expressing thoughts and ideas. We will show its characteristics below.
Afro-American Vernacular English is known for its lexical characteristics and there are several expressions popularly used by its community belonging to the United States. In fact, it is possible to observe that the particularities of this variant are not valued by higher strata. However, it is noted that these same particularities were expanded, due to several factors: one of them, for example, is the rap musical style, in which it is possible to observe this characteristic lexicon present in the songs, in words like bagged, dragged; bounce, to leave; celly, cellphone; chill out, to stop action or hang out; crib, man; say, to understand; dog, friend; dope, excellent, cool, nice; rollin, high on drugs; yo, a call to somebody.
It is possible to observe the difference between the lexicon belonging to the African-American variant when compared with the lexicon belonging to the standard English. We will now proceed with the phonological features of Afro-American Vernacular English.
Let us now describe the phonological features of Afro-American Vernacular English, focusing on two specific features of this variant: the weakening of final consonant clusters, as well as the omission of prefix and accentuation.
Weakening of final consonant clusters
Considering the phonological characteristics of the variant, when it comes to the weakening of consonant clusters, it is possible to perceive the way in which the speaker pronounces some syllables weakly – or simply does not pronounce them. In writing, this weakening is represented by the presence of the apostrophe, characterizing the suspension of (-g), in gerunds (-ing), as, for example, in sleepin ‘, drinkin ‘, doin ‘.
Prefix omission and stress advance
Regarding the omission of prefix and the advance of the tonic accent, we can see that the apostrophe is also used in writing to represent precisely the omission that occurs in the pronunciation. The African American, instead of saying because , will say ’cause. The about becomes ’bout.It is common that we see such pronunciations present in rap and jazz music, as they are very striking expressions and characteristics of the African-American community. It is noticeable how much this particularity of the VATA has expanded through everyday language. Despite coming from the African-American linguistic community, we see that whites also use this resource, even if not always with the same frequency. When it comes to stress advancement, it is possible to observe the way in which words such as police and motel are pronounced by African-Americans – a strong and accentuated way, such as police, motel .
The grammar of the IVAA, as we saw above when dealing with its origins, is influenced by African languages. Like other variants, African American Vernacular English is based on a system governed by grammatical rules, as we will see in the next section.
African American vernacular English shares most of its grammars and vocabularies with dialects other than English. But it differs in many ways, making it more different from Standard English than any other dialect spoken in the continental United States. 8
Omission of the verb to be
Something very common in African-American grammar is the omission of the copula, that is, the omission of the verb ser/estar (to be). If, in Standard English, the ideal form is They’re eating , in African-American Vernacular English we often find the equivalent They eating . Among the characteristics of Afro-American Vernacular English, this is the most present and also the most stigmatized.
Same verb form used for singular and plural
Speakers of African American Vernacular English often use the same verb form for both the singular and the plural. You can see the agreement problem in the sentence There she go . Note that the agreement is wrong, due to the fact that the second person is being referred to in the singular – the correct way to say the sentence is There she goes , in which the inflection of the verb agrees with the pronoun.
Omission of auxiliary will to indicate future
In addition to using the same verb form to designate singular and plural, African Americans often omit the auxiliary verb Will, which indicates future actions. So in their sentences, instead of saying There Will be no next time, as in Standard English, in accordance with African American Vernacular English customs, they will say the sentence There be no next time, where the verb will , future indicator, is being omitted.
Ain’t like denial
The particle ain’t is used to replace the auxiliaries didn’t, haven’t, hadn’t, doesn’t and don’t or the linking verbs isn’t, aren’t, wasn’t and weren’t in negative ways. As an example, when it comes to auxiliaries, we can mention the phrase I don’t like you (I don’t like you), which in Afro-American Vernacular English becomes I ain’t like you . Regarding linking verbs, we have as an example the phrase You aren’t my brother (You are not my brother), which in the African-American variant becomes You ain’t my brother .
In standard English, only a negative particle is used to indicate negation. In the Afro-American variant, the use of one or more negative particles in a single sentence is allowed. In Standard English, what would be I don’t know anything , in African American Vernacular English becomes I don’t know nothing or I ain’t know nothing .
After describing the characteristics presented, we noticed the great difference between the variant in question compared to standard English, in terms of not only the lexical issue, but also the grammatical structure, both syntactic and phonological. Next, we will discuss the Afro-American variant as a social factor and cultural identity of the speakers who use it.
African American Vernacular English as a Social Factor and Cultural Identity
In this section, we will discuss how issues such as social factor and cultural identity are linked to linguistic issues. Cultural identity is the set of particularities that characterize an individual. The construction of identity involves several social factors that belong to a certain identity group, whether for historical, ethnic reasons or for social conditions to which an individual or a group submits.