Education and Attitudes towards AA(V)E

African American Vernacular English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

23 Pages, Grade: 2,0




I. General Information about AA(V)E
A. The Origin of AAE
A.1. The British Settler Theory
A.2. The Creole Theory
A.3. African Languages
B. Speechpatterns in the US
B.1. People who use SE
B.2. People who do not speak SE fluently

II. Linguistic Features of AAE
A. Lexical Items
A.1. Habitual Be
A.2. Do and Go
A.3 Inflections in AAE
B. Grammar
B.1. Early AAE Tense and Aspect
B.2. Contemporary AAE

III. Education
A. Famous Cases (Problems in educating black children)
A.1. Ann Arbor Case (King Case)
A.2. Oakland School Board
B. Strategies to improve teaching
B.1. Classroom Strategies
B.1.a. Reading Strategies
B.1.b. Writing Strategies
B.2. Teachers Training and Recommendations
C. Attitudes toward AAVE and SE
C.1.Parents Attitudes toward AAVE
C.2. Children’s Attitudes toward AAVE
C.3. Teachers’ Attitudes toward AAVE
C.4. Employer’s Attitudes toward AAVE


Cited Works

Internet sources:


The United States have witness a problem concerning educating African American students in elementary schools and high schools. One suggestion was that made in order to learn Standard English (SE) better is African American Vernacular English (AAVE) ought to be taught at schools to highlight the differences between the two dialects in order for the children to master their studies and to succeed not only at school but also later at college. The problem is that many teachers, but also parents, have negative attitudes toward teaching AAVE at school because they think that this is “bad” English and does not help to facilitate their lives. But I argue in order to get positive attitudes toward AAVE one has to understand the complexity of that dialect which furthermore needs to be translated to the teachers’ training programs to help children acquire SE and master their lives.

I. General Information about AA(V)E

A. The Origin of AAE

Many articles have been pubished on the topic of the origin of AAE. And there has been much discussion on whether it developed from colonial English spoken by the early settlers or if it stems from a creole or pidgin-like language and hence can be seen as a creole nowadays. Fact is that both theories have staunch supporters and are also hotly disputed but which theory is the corect one?

A.1. The British Settler Theory

Slaves were very uncommon at the time when the British settlers arrived and settled in the new colonies in the seventeenth century. The first slaves arriving in the colonies were only imported “in exchange for food” and worked as domestic workers “with the same socioeconomic status of indentured servants as many Europeans” (Salikoko S. Mufwene 237). Since they lived and worked among white Europeans they were forced to speak the same language as their white counterparts. That is also confirmed by Salikoko S. Mufwene when saying that “the low proportion of Africans and their sparse distribution among

Europeans just did not favor the development of separate varieties of English” which furthermore leads to his Founder Principle that says that “newcomers to the region would have sought to adapt to the local norm(s) rather than to impose their own” (238/240).

This implies that the Africans had to adopt the variety spoken by the settlers because otherwise the slaves could not interact with the white majority because the setllers did not speak African languages. This also means that children who were born and raised in the colonies were taught to speak British English. And so they did not have the chance to learn their native African languages. Furthermore in the eighteenth century, slaves from St. Kitts were imported to the colonies but, according to Mufwene, due to hardly “half the total colonial population...linguistic developments on St. Kitts were similar to those in Virginia. It is unlikely that the Kittian slaves imported to Virginia would have brought with them a sociolect that was more divergent from colonial English than what was being developed by the local slaves” (238-9). John Rickford, on the other hand, does not agree with this theory and suggests that the “slaves might have arrived speaking a pidgin or mesolectal creole, especially if they had been in Barbados for some time and were not merely trans-shipments from West Africa” (242). So there is no agreement on this theory but that does not imply that it could not be true.

A.2. The Creole Theory

Another theory that is very prominent is the creole theory, saying that slaves who were imported to the US already spoke an English-based pidgin or creole which furthermore developed into a creole when settling down in the new colonies. That dialect which was brought to the colonies seemed to include the “presence of early pidgin/ creole varieties...they were more likely to have been imported than home-grown because the mesolectal creole speech was present in Barbados from the seventeenth century” and furthermore, according to John Rickford, “it is likely that a creole was either developed or maintained” (241-3). Other scholars, like Mufwene, do only agree in parts. He argues that:

“...Caribbean English vernaculars would have influenced the development of

African American English (AAE) varieties either by favoring these options which they shared with the Virginian vernacular or by adding to variation...But in no case could we assume that Caribbean slaves brought with them an already developed basilect from which AAE would have developed. Besides, there is no particular reason why the African slaves in North America would have shifted to the Caribbean vernaculars or taken them as their models” (240).

Although they differ in their opinions, Rickford in African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution, Educational Implication assumes that “the blacks varied at least between pidgin, creole, standard least some pidgin/ creole speech was an element in the formative stage” of AAVE (243). So this theory is also disputable as it seems. Nobody really knows if the slaves spoke a creole-like language which they integrated into their English which could have developed into AAVE or Black English

(BE) many blacks speak nowadays.

A.3. African Languages

That African languages are part of AAVE is undeniable. West African languages definitely influenced the English spoken by African Americans nowadays, especially in the lexicon. But to make the connection to the creole hypothesis; to say that AAVE was influenced by African languages also means that this accounts for the creole theory, as Johanna DeStefano describes BE, because “there is also evidence that there was a creole input into Black English...certain patterns occuring in Black English came from earlier Creoles which were the result of languages in contact such as colonial American English and various African languages” (5). But when one talks about the lexicon of BE we must also take into account the cultural heritage that it brings along with it. The cultural heritage can be found in music, Blues to be specific, because the cultural heritage “is based on oral creativity and on transmission through the spoken (rather than written) word” (David Dalby 7). But more and more words that appear in songs, may also appear in the speech of blacks in America. They use phrases and words not only from music, but also from other fields that are incorporated into English. Such Africanisms which came into BE as loan words are, for instance, banana, yam, benne, cooter for turtle, or pinder (see Dalby 8) Some of these words are still used , some of them are used in certain regions only. Other words that originate in BE are, for example, banjo, bad-eye, bo etc. (see Dalby 12-3). So we see that the African heritage can still be retraced in contemporary BE spoken by African Americans and that many terms belong to the field of music, if not to African culture as a whole.

B. Speechpatterns in the US

AAVE is, of course, not used by every speaker in the same way as one may think. Each individual uses BE at different times, in different situations, and in different ways due to the linguistic spectrum that AAE offers them. They can vary their speech as they want to depending on their social status, their interaction with whites, and another factor that is important is where they live; whether in a rural or in an urban area.

B.1. People who use SE

When one thinks about AAVE or BE one tends to think that all blacks speak the vernacular not taking into account if they were raised in a black community or are still living there that emphasizes their black culture. It is wrong to think that all black people in America speak the vernacular. There are blacks who do not speak the vernacular because they never learned it whatever reason there may be. May it be that they grew up in a white community among white people exclusively or may be they were raised among blacks who also did not speak the vernacular. What is important to know is that blacks are not only required but also highly advised to speak SE “as part of their qualification for...highly visible positions”, also “most adults have the ability to shift their speech styles depending on the social situation and their relative linguistic dexterity” (John Baugh 26). Especially if blacks want to be in the limelight be it on Television, or in the movies, or in politics, African Americans need to be able to speak SE in order for everyone to understand them.

B.2. People who do not speak SE fluently

Those who do not shift or are not able to speak SE fluently may be of lower social status or remain in a black speech community. People who do not manage to speak SE perfectly “span a linguistic continuum between standard English and non-standard black vernacular English” (Baugh 27). Blacks who do not need to speak or use SE maintain their dialect at best when they are among others who use BVE. Baugh suggests “those who maintain BVE tend to interact with other blacks, who are primarily members of the working class, in their living, working, and recreational domains” (27). He also says that BVE is spoken by people “who have limited contact with standard English speakers”. So the best way to think about BE speakers, who maintain their dialect, are not only those who live in a cultural environment among other blacks who do not speak much SE but rather

BVE and live off a working class existence. That speech pattern also translates to the next generation. When the AAVE speakers only speak BVE at home, the children may acquire that dialect as a native one, according to Baugh, “depending on their individual experiences and linguistic exposure, they may or may not attempt to learn BVE as a second dialect” (28-9). So when parents want their children to succeed at school they must teach them SE but that only works when they also speak SE at home. This is certainly easier for those children who were raised in a middle class context; but still there is a chance for working class children to acquire SE at school.

II. Linguistic Features of AAE

A. Lexical Items

Lexical items are very important indicators which signal that AAE is different from SE. Speakers of AAE use verbs like do, go, and be in different syntactic structures than speakers of SE would do. AAE speakers use auxiliary verbs differently to stress their cultural heritage and linguistic ability. These lexical items are at the same time uniquely used in BE.

A.1. Habitual Be

The habitual be is very interesting to explore because AAE is the only dialect that uses be in situations a SE speaker would not dare to use; even though it can also be used as in SE which, then, marks the existence of something. A SE speaker does not understand, for example, the be + n construction used in a sentence like “ I been know your name” because a SE speaker would rather say something like ‘I (do) know your name’ or ‘I knew your name’ (Labov 36). The be + n construction, as Labov implies, expresses the “’remote present perfect’ conditions that were so a long time ago, and are still so” (39). Another example for be constructions is ”’They be hitting on peoples’ which cannot accurately translated” into SE (Labov 35). Since it is an habitual be it can have many meanings and can also be used in so many constructions what SE does not permit. But due to the richness of BE in creating meaning SE speakers never know what exactly the BE speaker would want to say if one is not familiar with the features of BE and how they work in a sentence.

Guy Bailey, for instance, conducted a study on the usage of habitual be. He compared rural and urban children as well as adults and concludes that “rural children manifest the same tendency to use be 2 before v + ing for durative/habituals as the urban children do” but he also suggests that among rural children there is “one group of children...adopting the urban pattern...while another...maintain the older rural pattern” (301). While urban children and teenagers use be 2 + v + ing as markers for durative/habituals, according to Bailey, “adults never do” (303). Obviously children living in cities or towns use the be + v + ing construction more often than their rural counterparts. A reason could be that in an urban environment there are more whites and black teenagers compete with them; so they want to set themselves linguictically apart. But the reason why adults do not use the same construction is maybe because they want to sound like whites; because they may need it for their jobs or, in general, because they want to assimilate themselves to the white norms.

A.2. Do and Go

Do has the same meaning in SE as in BE but is can be used in different forms. In SE it is used to emphasize an action but, according to Labov, “it has lost its content...or [it is used to] carry the negative particle n’t” (36). When done is used they want to express the “’perfective, events that are completely and/or really so” (Labov 39). Also when been done is used BE speakers want to “express events that have been completely accomplished in the past and are separated from the past” (Labov 37). To express future perfect BE speakers use be done which translates into will have in SE and, according to Labov, refers to “events in the future that are completely, really so” (39). As to SE, another form of don ’ t or didn ’ t translates into BE ain ’ t but that “can [also] correspond to standard haven ’ t, hasn ’ t, amn ’ t, isn ’ t and aren ’ t” (Labov 48).

Another verb that is used differently in BE is go. It also has the same meaning in BE as compared to other dialects of English. Speakers of BE do not simply use the verb go they add n but don’t write it gone but rather gon ’ and it means “future and less really so” (Labov 39). Maybe not all of the do and go forms are frequently used whether at school or in recreational means; but still because of the variety of all these forms (including be + n) AAE or BE is highly stigmatized in the classroom.

A.3 Inflections in AAE

Another important feature in the speech of black Americans is the inflection of word endings. There is a tendency to del]ete final consonants like “/r/, /l/, /t/, /d/, /v/, and other consonants” and so “the relation between the spelling forms and the spoken language can be much harder to figure out learing to read and write” as Labov suggests (43). Another problem occurs for African American children when trying to acquire SE, which is that many of them have problems with the suffix -ed, especially marking the past tense, because the past tense suffix -ed only has two similar sounds /d/ and /t/. That confuses children who learn SE. Labov figured out why BE speaking children have so much difficulty in acquiring the suffix -ed for past tense. He states four points: “first, it is always present more often than the /t/ or /d/ in consonant clusters that do not signal the past tense, like fist or old. Second, when -ed follows a /t/ or a /d/ as in wanted, and a vowel breaks up a cluster, the final -ed is always present. Third, the past tense -ed is dropped less often before a vowel, and more often in difficult consonantal combinations like in mixed batter. Fourth, the -ed never occurs where it is not wanted” (40).

Other examples from Labov (see 43-4) for the /t/ or /d/ deletion are: paste = pace, pant = pan, missed = miss, fanned = fan, told = toll, went = when. Examples for the merger of /i/ and /e/ before /n/ are send = sinned = sin or penned = pinned = pen = pin; there can also be a deletion of l and r like in told = toll = tore = toe or sold = soul= sore = so (mainly in the south of the USA) or sore = Saul = saw (mainly in the north of the USA). Generally, blacks tend to say God for guard or Jew for jewel; they also say hail for held because of the tensing of /e/ before /l/ and yet another pronunciation feature is the monophthongization of /ay/ as in mire = mar = ma or towel for tiled or pow for piled.

B. Grammar

To understand features like be, go, or do in AAE one must understand the complex tense and aspect system that English has. The tense/aspect system has changed and established itself throughout the last centuries and is an important feature to explore in order to issue the messages of blacks in America.


Excerpt out of 23 pages


Education and Attitudes towards AA(V)E
African American Vernacular English
Free University of Berlin
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
545 KB
AAVE, African American vernacular English, Black English, American English, Linguistics and Attitudes towards African English in the USA, Black US English, African American English
Quote paper
Magister Anke Werckmeister (Author), 2007, Education and Attitudes towards AA(V)E, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Education and Attitudes towards AA(V)E

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