History of English in the US and of African American Vernacular English in particular

Term Paper, 2008

18 Pages, Grade: 1.7


Table of content:

1. Introduction

2. History of America
2.1 Colonial period
2.2 National period
2.3 International Period

3. American English

4. African American Vernacular English
4.1 History and origin
4.2 Features of African American Vernacular English

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Before starting to write this paper I thought about a subject which would be very interesting and quite relevance. First I wanted to write about American English, because after several vacations to the United States I got very interested in the American language and where there are differences to other english speaking countries. But only writing about the American English seemed a little bit boring to me. So I decided to work on American English and its varieties. I abandoned that idea for the sake of a more detailed work on African American Vernacular English. From the very start I was very interested in African American Vernacular English. In this work I also wanted to include a bit of history. I consider that history is an important influence on the present, not only regarding language but everything. History shows us the roots of things and a person who knows history avoids doing the same mistake again. In case of AAVE the language is indeed connected to the history of the African Americans, to the history of slavery and so to the history of the United States of America. For me it is also important to give a wide range on the knowledge about AAVE, a frame of history starting with the broad picture about the settlement and the rest of the history of the US. Then I will look on the history of the African Americans and the origin of their language. Finally a description of AAVE and its features follows. The question this essay deals with was mostly inspired by the controversal views about the origin of AAVE: Namely the Creole-based and the dialect theory. Those might be “only” theories about the origin of AAVE but assuming one of those theories is correct defines a certain point of view on AAVE. Is AAVE “only” a dialect derived from a pidgin which developed somewhere in the Caribbean or on in West Africa or is AAVE a dialect which developed in the same manner and at the same time like all the other American dialects? Is it correct to compare AAVE to Standard English listing the mistakes this variety makes or should it rather be compared to other varieties?

2. History of America

A permanent settlement of America by English settlers began in 1607 with the foundation of Jamestown which was the first of the 13 original colonies. But this was not the first attempt to colonise the New World. The Icelandic Leif Eriksson discovered America supposedly around the year 1000. He landed in Newfoundland and founded a temporary colony there though it was abandoned after a short while. In 1492 Christopher Columbus discovered America searching for a route to India via the Atlantic. He also tried to establish a colony later on but also failed. An attempt of colonisation by Englishmen preceded the Jamestown colony only by 19 years in 1587: “The lost colony of Roanoke” Due to various problems the English were not able to resupply the colony in the next 3 years. An expedition in 1590 found the colony deserted.

2.1 Colonial period

As mentioned above Jamestown was the first of the original colonies. It was established by the London Virginia Company in the hope to find gold and due to that reason the expedition consisted of miners, goldsmiths and so on. They expected to get food by trading with the Native Americans. But the region suffered from the most severe drought in centuries and the natives refused to trade their anyway sparse amounts of food. Two thirds of the settlers died in the first winter. Gold was never found but in 1612 the colony started to sell Tobacco, which proved to be quite a source of income. Tobacco plantations required a lot of hard work so in 1619 the plantations started to use slaves for cheap workers.

The next wave of settlement came in 1920 and 1929 with the Pilgrims and the Puritans. They established the Plymouth colony and the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Both groups emigrated for religious reason. The Pilgrims were separated from the Church and fled to the Netherlands in 1605, the Netherlands being a safe place for prosecuted people at that time. In 1920 they joined with other Separatist in England and sailed for America. The Puritans left England also for religious reasons: They wanted the Church of England to resemble the Protestant Church of Europe so they took the possibility to establish a new church in America.

The last of the 13 colonies was Georgia founded in 1733. The 13 colonies could be divided in 4 main regions (from north to south): New England, the Middle Colonies, the Chesapeake Bay Colonies and the Southern Colonies. To the north of these English colonies were French colonies and to the south Spanish colonies.

In the end of the 17th and in the 18th century there were several conflicts between the British and the French Colonies. The one remarkable territorial change was that Britain now controlled the former French colonies in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Hudson Bay. The final war was called the French and Indian or the Seven Years War (1754 – 1763). The ended by the treaty of Paris in 1763 by which France ceded Canada and all the territory east of the Mississippi to Britain and the French territory west of the Mississippi was ceded to Spain. This marked the beginning of the national Period.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: http://geo.msu.edu/extra/geogmich/americans.html

2.2 National period

The Seven Years War and the events following in its wake ended up in the American Revolution in 1776. “The Seven Years War had been very expensive for Britain. Government expenditures more than doubled during the war, and consequently taxes in Britain were at an all-time high” (Algeo 2001: 20). On the one hand the government needed more money and on the other hand the people in Britain already paying the heavy taxes thought the colonies should also contribute since the war had actually started in America. So the government applied two ways of raising more funds in America. First of all they raised a lot of different taxes on all sort of things and secondly there was the royal proclamation of 1763: It set up a border through the Appalachians which defined two different areas. In the eastern area the colonists were allowed to settle wherever they wanted in the western area though they were not. The colonists were largely refused rights to settle there. All the land west of the border must first be purchased from the Indians by a Crown official, who then of course decides what to do with it and who would be allowed to settle down there. What the government tried to achieve by that was of course total control about the further settlement and the exclusive trade with the Native Americans. This trade (furs etc.) guaranteed a large quantity of money. Of course neither the taxes nor the royal proclamation of 1763 strengthened the support of the colonists for the Crown. They felt restricted and exploited by the British government.

The government raised a number of taxes on trade but the Stamp Act of 1765 was exceptional. It was the first tax which could not be masked as necessary for regulating the trade between the colonies and Britain. It was obviously just there to raise funds.

The Act put a tax on a variety of paperwork, such as bills of lading for shipping, legal documents, and newspaper advertisements. This tax affected most directly colonists like merchants, lawyers, journalists, and bankers, who were also the most powerful of the colonists. (Algeo 2001: 21)

The first time the Stamp Act was introduced in the Netherlands in the 17th century after a contest for inventing new taxes. This tax was quite common in Europe and accepted in Britain so the government never anticipated problems in the colonies. Though those arose quickly and even riots broke out in a number of cities. The colonies petitioned the British parliament to repeal the tax. Britain gave in and the tax was repealed though relations between Britain and the New World were strained more than ever.

The next tax the Crown invented was imposed on basic goods of everyday use. Again the colonies didn’t accept the tax and simply stopped importing those goods. The British government reacted by rescinding the taxes on everything but tea. In 1773 the Crown granted the East India Company the right to sell tea directly to the colonists. That made tea cheaper for the colonist and raised the margin for the East India Company but the colonial merchants of course lost money by this. So this time the merchants were outraged and they reacted by sending shipments of tea back to England or even impounding them. In Boston an event took place which was later on called the “Boston tea party”

The colonists took control over the ship and throw the whole load of tea into the ocean. Britain reacted by closing the port, replacing the local government for their own and quartering troops in peoples houses.

In 1774 the colonies reacted to those “intolerable acts” by meeting at the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia. They stated that the colonies where subject to the King but not under the legal control of the British parliament. The Congress wanted to Britain to acknowledge that by the means of the economical power of the colonies. They wanted to solve the conflict in a peaceful way. But despite their efforts fights had taken place in several colonies and the Congress ordered an army raised. In 1776 the Declaration of Independence was written and the War of American Independence started. It started as a civil war between colonists loyal to the Crown and those not involving British troops of course. In 1778 though, France aided the colonies and Spain joined in 1779, the Netherlands in 1780. The Americans succeeded and the conflict ended by signing a treaty in 1782 and several other treaties afterwards (Peace of Paris). America was ceded all the territory east of the Mississippi, Britain kept Canada and Spain got Florida.

All the time the colonies had experienced themselves as separate from each other, as “squabbling among themselves and their traditions were diverse, in spite of their being English” (Algeo 2001: 23). Still the former colonies signed a Constitution in 1789 and George Washington was chosen to be the first president.

In the beginning of the 19th century the westward expansion of the United States started. In 1801 Jefferson arranged the Louisiana Purchase from France more than doubling the territory of the Union. France sold the land because Napoleon simply needed the money for his war back in Europe. Only after the States bought the land they sent expeditions to discover what they had bought exactly.

In 1819 Florida was acquired after the first Seminole War. The War between the native Seminoles and the United States started because of skirmishes between settlers and Natives.

In 1820 American settlers began to move into Texas with the permission of the Mexican government. After a victory over Mexican forces in 1836 Texas declared its independence and in 1845 it voluntarily joined the Union. Mexico already announced before the admission into the union that they would not accept that and so the Mexican-American War started (1846 - 48). The Americans won and they gained half a million square miles of stretching their territory to the Pacific Ocean (California). The newly gained area filled with settlers during the gold rush of 1849.

The Gadsden Purchase of 1854 brought a relatively small strip of Mexican territory into the Union, but it was vital for building a railroad across the Southwest.


Excerpt out of 18 pages


History of English in the US and of African American Vernacular English in particular
University of Duisburg-Essen  (Geisteswissenschaften)
English in North America
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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1490 KB
history, english, african, american, vernacular
Quote paper
Alissia Wiener (Author), 2008, History of English in the US and of African American Vernacular English in particular, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175068


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