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African American Vernacular English Study Essay

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Updated: May 17th, 2019

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) belongs to one of the dialects in the English language. This linguistic variety is also called Vernacular Black English, Black Vernacular English, or African American English. The dialect is also known Ebonics outside the professional linguistics community.

AAVE is mostly spread in the United States and in the Caribbean region and premises on grammar, vocabulary, and structure peculiarities originating from West African and Vernacular English. The language dialect gains momentum in discussing social, historical, and political controversies.

The current debates relate specifically to the number of people speaking this language because there are no strict rules defining the fact that an individual makes use of the variety.

Some of the linguists are inclined to think that AAVE speakers should employ specific grammar structures whereas others believe that applying a combination of lexical, stylistic, and grammar peculiarities features the African American language-speaking group.

To define the origins and current characteristics of the African Vernacular language, analysis of historical perspective is required. The historic controversy particularly refers to the fact that AAVE developed beyond the interaction between West African groups and Vernacular English groups (Sidnell n. p.).

Within this perspective, West African speakers borrowed the English language structures while working on plantation in the southern regions, including South Caroline and Georgia. They learnt from small number of Native Americans, predominantly the indentured laborers.

There is also an assumption that these historical events led to the emergence of a rudimentary pidgin that later influenced the development of the Creole language (Sidnell n. p.). The second side of debate focuses on the scenario that suggests the development of contact language, an early version of African Vernacular English through the second language acquisition.

Under these circumstances, West Africans who migrated to plantations supposed to have a restricted access to genuine grammatical structures and models because the percentage of native speakers they communicated with was extremely law.

According to this hypothesis, the second language community might borrow English vocabulary garnered from rare encounters and adjust them to the grammatical pattern that existed in the dialects of West Africa. At this point, the theory of universal grammar would have had a potent impact in the above-described processes.

The above-presented assumption is not accepted by a number of scholars who insist that demographic conditions in the Caribbean and US regions differed much. As a result, these conditions required for development of Creole were never met.

The evidence illustrates that a number of similar features belong to those of AAVE. They can also be found in varies of UK and US English. Both hypotheses are partially reasonable and, therefore, it can be suggested that African Vernacular English developed through restructuring borrowed and native elements; at the same time, the language possesses distinctive features from older dialects of English.

A number of research studies have been dedicated to the analysis of phonology and pronunciation that influence the perception and understanding among speakers of both Africana and English ancestry.

In this respect, Treiman has presented the scientific analysis of devoicing that is heavily used by AAVE speakers to define whether it affects adults’ spelling, including African American and White speakers at college (338).

The scholar has chosen the words rigid and ballot that pronounced by the identified groups using their dialect variety (Treiman 338). It has been discovered that African Americans devoice the final /d/ at the end of the word rigid and they are more likely to confuse between /d/ and /t/ in comparison with White speakers.

However, both groups mispronounce the sounds when spoken by African American teacher participating in the research rather than by native speaking teachers. As a result, the diverse phonological characteristics of AAVE and native speakers can create a number of challenges in terms of spelling the worlds.

The emphasis placed on phonology and syntax provides a wider picture on the issue. According to Treiman, “the degree of ambiguity in the spelling of a segmenrt may differ from one variety of English to another, resulting in dialect differences in spelling” (341). Such an assumption has social implications.

In particular, African Americans are reported to have lower level of literacy skills due to the extensive use of AAVE. Although the influence of dialect is implicit, specific features of AAVE can have a direct impact on spelling and reading (Treiman 342). Therefore, the social perspective of using the variety should not be underestimated.

Deeper examination of African American language traditions is closely associated with such social aspects as creating identities, stereotypes and prejudices, and power relations.

At this point, Ball and Lardner focus on “developing an appreciation for the power of language as …established positions of power and prestige through uses of “the word” in the African American rhetoric tradition” (11).

Therefore, the African American variety of English language refers not only to grammar and vocabulary attributes that make the differences, but also to social and cultural dimension they form in society.

Apart from social and historical controversies, African American variety of the English language influence educational sphere as well. The necessity to start exploring AAVE can help most teachers understand deviations that AAVE speakers resort while learning the Standard English language.

In fact, differences in speaking and pronouncing words are often disregarded in society until it comes to the classroom setting. Therefore, the significance of recognizing unique grammatical structures and forms that are used in communication is enormous.

For instance, the verb be is frequently employed in African American vernacular speech to refer to a constantly repeating action. Such phrases as “He be early” or “He be late” denotes that a person used to coming early or late. Such peculiarity harbors many negative perceptions and responses on the part of the users of standard English who shape prejudiced assumption about these individuals.

In particular, Compton-Lilly explains “many native speakers of standards English assume that nonstandard speakers are ignorant, laze, and less capable intellectually” (46). The commonly accepted prejudice is that AAVE speakers could speak appropriately once they make efforts.

In fact, failure to learn the differences is mostly linked to collective and personal identities, the idea of membership, as well as adherence to African culture. Therefore, the educators should take language differences as a source of negative perceptions into deeper consideration to define new strategies for alleviating the challenge.

In particular, Compton-Lilly enumerates a number of specific pronunciations and sounds that could be unfamiliar to non-native speakers, including sounds [ð] and [θ], as well as such word ending as –er that is mistakenly pronounced as ah (48). Despite the evidence discrepancies in background knowledge, there is no ground to assert that African American variety is a serious obstacle to a learning process.

Demanding the AAVE speakers to use Standard English points to the educators’ preference that encourages the principles accepted in dominating culture. Standard English, however, is not communicatively superior to Ebonics, but this culturally predetermined phenomenon closely relates to the way power relations are shaped in our society.

Due to the fact that the dominating society expect minority groups to be able to speak standard English and that general public has failed to develop appropriation for dialect forms of the language, our task it to help student to gain knowledge and resources to have an equal access to power institutions.

The above-presented position requires the researchers to rethink their stereotypes concerning the origins of African American community to define new educational strategies that could improve their spelling and reading skills.

Moreover, they should withdraw the longstanding Eurocentric view on education. According to Madhloum, “the sense of community is an explanation for the evolution of AAVE. Many Americans did not belong to the community of the white people…and where driven into ghettos” (n. p.).

Therefore, although considering cultural and social aspects is important, its influence on the learning process should not be prioritized.

In conclusion, an extensive overview of historical, social, and educational constrains that AAVE speakers face relates to stereotypes and prejudiced outlook on their origins and history.

In particular, history of slavery in the United States, ghetto culture, and existence of marginal cultures are among the main reasons why educators are reluctant to understand the challenges that African Americans confront while learning standard English.

In order to improve educational opportunities for students, the teachers should change their strategies and delve into the study of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

References

Ball, Arnetha and Ted Lardner. African American Literacies Unleashed: Vernacular English and the Composition Classroom. US: SIU Press. 2005, Print.

Compton-Lilly, Catherine. “Nuances of Error: Considerations Relevant to African American Vernacular English and Learning to Read.” Literacy, Teaching and Learning 10.1 (2005): 43-58. ProQuest. Web.

Madhloum, Haider. African American Vernacular English – Origins and Features. US: GRIN Verlag, 2011. Print.

Sidnell, Jack. “African American Vernacular English (Ebonic)”. Language Varieties. n. d. Web.

Treiman, Rebecca. “Spelling and Dialect: Comparisons between Speakers of African American vernacular English and White Speakers”. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 11.2 (2004): 338-342.

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