You ain't no never say that! - Ebonics as a linguistic variety and attitudes towards it.

Seminar Paper, 2003

18 Pages, Grade: 2+ (B)


Table of Contents

1. Curse or blessing: about the black language variation in America

2. About standards and variations in American English – scientific approaches

3. Characteristic features of AAVE
3.1. Phonologic features of AAVE
3.2. Morphological and syntactical features of AAVE
3.3. Differences in Lexis

4. Black English, AAVE, Ebonics: a recognized & independent language by law

5. Voices of America: attitudes towards the concept of Black English

6. Being an African American in statistics

7. About the new black intelligentsia and black ghetto kids

8. The role of Ebonics and why black skin doesn’t make you black automatically

9. Then why are there bad attitudes coming from the black society within?

10. What is there left to say?

List of References

1. Curse or blessing: about the black language variation in America.

There are several definitions about what language variations are and numerous labels have been given to them. A. D. Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Manchester, for example distinguished four different kinds of dialects that can be found in almost every language.[1] According to Edwards the Standard Dialect is that variety, which is most commonly used in everyday life, in media, government, religion – and on every other occasion “when speech most closely resembles the written form”.[2] Geographical Dialects evolve out of isolation of groups of speakers of one language. The more time passes, the less theses speakers will sound the same and differences in pronunciation, grammar and lexis will occur, creating regional divergences of the source language. The same can happen in microcosmic relation, for example in urban life, where sharp differences in speech between speakers not only reflect but also reinforce social distances. Variations here are called Social Class Dialects. Last not least, Edwards determines the Ethnic Dialect as a variation that “often contains reminders of the ‘native’ language, the intrusion of ‘foreign’ sound, words and structures, and it often reflects the residential and perhaps occupational segregation.”[3]

And this is what the whole issue of Ebonics, of Black English, of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in America deals with. It raises questions: What is Black English and what characterizes it? Is it a dialect, a language? How does segregation show in the use of a language, and what is the public opinion towards black slang? What do the blacks think about their own way of communication? This paper will take a close look at these questions and will show aspects of controversies in America’s current public discussions. It will show that the concept of Ebonics is mores than just a plain way of speaking and how a language – at the same time – can be a symbol of status as well as a social curse to a whole culture.

2. About standards and variations in American English – scientific approaches.

A variation of a language premises that there is a standard form of it. The question is: What is the standard language and does it exist in North America? The linguist Kenneth G. Wilson defines his theory of Standard English (StE) as follows: “Ideally, Standard English is the language acceptable and normative among reputable people in reputable circumstances - the prestige dialect recognized throughout the area and populations to whom the standard applies.”[4] But according to H. Kurath, author of A Word Geography of the Eastern United States, the US is linguistically divided into three major parts: The Northern, Southern and Midland English - which again is subdivided by the North Midland American English and the South Midland American English. These variations differ mainly in pronunciation but also in lexis, hardly in Grammar though.[5] So although there is no clear scientific answer to the question what exactly Standard American English is, it has been agreed upon that it is the language, which is spoken and understood by most of the people - that is the white people.

Towards Ebonics, there are two diverging opinions about the classification of AAVE: Dialectologists see Ebonics as variety of the Southern American English. It was in the southern states, where slaves imported from Africa learnt their English in the 17th, 18th century. Whereas they understand all features of Ebonics to be dialects of Standard English, creolists see Black English as a kind of independent language - comparable to Gullah (the Sea Island Creole), which is still spoken by about 100,000 speakers along the coastline. What can be agreed upon though, is that Black English possesses certain features that do not occur in Standard English. One of its

most prominent qualities is its oppositional nature towards the language of the whites., a current website for scientific research on black topics, goes one step further and arguments that

from the first, African Americans confronted the reality of white power and the need to avoid or subvert white domination. Anthropologist James Scott has noted that slaves circumvented this scrutiny by using "linguistic codes, dialects, and gestures" that were "opaque to the masters and mistresses." Black Vernacular English continues to reflect these power realities and sharply delineates those who are within and those who lie without the group boundaries. In black slang of the mid-20th century, whites were "ofays," pig latin for foes. As linguist Roger D. Abrahams observed, many African Americans believe that "Black English has been maintained ... because whites cannot understand it."[6]

3. Characteristic features of AAVE

3.1. Phonologic features of AAVE

William Labov, professor of Linguistics at the University of Philadelphia, found out several phonological characteristics of AAVE - among them the phenomenon of r - and l -lessness: When articulating, most AAVE-speakers tend to drop the r -consonant, especially when situated after vowels or at the end of a word. In communication the deletion of r becomes noticeable in words like ever or after, where they are pronounced with a schwa instead of er. By performing a phonological minimal pair analysis with mother tongue speakers, Labov also discovered that l“is often replaced by a back undergrounded glide and disappears entirely, especially after back rounded vowels.”[7] When vocalizing pairs like toll and toe or tool and too or help and hep, no significant difference was able to be heard, so all pairs are homonyms in AAVE.

Another characteristic is the use of the alveolar d for voiced StE th. The loss of interdentally fricatives comes apparent in word like the, there, that or those that a AAVE-speaker pronounces as de, dere, dad and dose. This use of language can also be heard in other varieties of StE though it is mostly black speakers who use the d at the beginning of a word.[8]

There is a considerable list of other phonological features in AAVE, such as the final consonant weakening (last consonants are pronounced weakly or not at all, e.g.: pas’ for past[9] ), absence of a distinction between i and e before nasals (e.g.: tin / ten) as well as consonant cluster simplification.[10]

3.2. Morphological and syntactical features of AAVE

The AAVE also has no marker for the third person singular present tense in verbs and auxiliaries. A black speaker skips the verbal s -suffix: “the man walk.”

Accordingly, the negation of this sentence is: “t he man don’t walk.” And whereas in StE “he has a bike”, in AAVE “he have a bike”.

The auxiliary have is not obligatory in AAVE and thus forms of it can optionally be omitted: “I been here for hours”. The same rule can be applied on contracted forms of future will and conditional would: “he go away” for “he’d go away” or “he’ll go away” in StE (relating to the r - and l -lessness in AAVE).

Concerning copula, Labov reports that “wherever Standard English can contract, Black English can delete is and are, and vice-versa.”[11] Possible black counterparts of the StE-sentence “she’s nice” can accordingly be “she’s nice” as well as “she nice”.

Another characteristically feature of AAVE is the omission of the copula be (copula deletion). While in StE, forms of be are often contracted in sentences (e.g. “w hat’s your name?”) the Black English will omit it completely (“w hat your name?”). Only exception is the contracted form of m and its full form am, which is always present when the subject is I.

Differences between StE and AAVE also become apparent when taking a closer look at ways of negation. While in StE only a single negation is necessary in order to negate a sentence, black speakers tend to make use of multiple negations: “You ain’t never go nowhere.” The use of a in’t, mainly belonging to the black lexis, is a single negative that can have several applications and is often used instead of “don’t”, “didn’t”, “hasn’t” or “isn’t”.

3.3. Differences in Lexis

Additionally to these features mentioned, AAVE and Standard English also distinguish in a large variety of differences in lexis: Words like “bad” and “mean” (Michael Jackson: “I’m bad.”) have positive connotations in Black English. Other words like “brew” (> beer), “strides“ (> shoes), “pluck” (> wine) or “rags” (> fine cloths) are linguistic conventions only in black contexts. “Gray”, “paddy” and “o fay” are all terms for labelling a white man, while a dark male is called “head”, “boot”, “Uncle Tom” (comp. Uncle Tom’s Cabin) or “oreo” (a kind of American cookie that is black to the outside).[12] It is important to mention that Black English vocabulary is constantly expanding; due to the creative character of the language, new words, names and phrases are created and word meanings are shifting in semantic field.


[1] Edwards, J. A., Language in Culture and Class.

[2] Edwards, J. A., 1976, p. 46.

[3] Edwards, J. A., 1976, p. 48.

[4] Wilson, 1993.

[5] Hansen, 1996, p. 94.

[6] Sellman, 2003.

[7] Luelsdorff, 1975, p. 13.

[8] Ferguson, 1981, p. 101.

[9] for a complete list of word-finals consonant clusters in AAVE consult: Wolfram, 1969, p. 51.

[10] for further reading on AAVA phonology: Luelsdorff, 1975.

[11] Luelsdorff, 1975, p. 17.

[12] Hansen, 1996, p. 99.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


You ain't no never say that! - Ebonics as a linguistic variety and attitudes towards it.
University of Cologne  (English Seminar)
2+ (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
458 KB
Ebonics, Black English, African American Vernacular English, AAVE, USA, Blacks
Quote paper
Andre Vatter (Author), 2003, You ain't no never say that! - Ebonics as a linguistic variety and attitudes towards it., Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: You ain't no never say that!  - Ebonics as a linguistic variety and attitudes towards it.

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free