The Uniqueness of African American Vernacular English

Term Paper, 2014

17 Pages


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The origins of African American Vernacular English

3 Features of African American Vernacular English
3.1 Phonological features
3.2 Negation
3.3 Tense, mood and aspect
3.4 Vocabulary

4 African American Vernacular English using the example of
Zora Neale Hurston’s short story The Gilded Six-Bits

5 African American Vernacular English in Rap and Hip Hop songs

6 African American Vernacular English as language of education?

7 Conclusion

8 Bibliography

List of abbreviations

African American Vernacular English = AAVE

Standard American English = SAE

1 Introduction

The language, only the is the thing that black people love so much – the saying of words, holding them on the tongue, experimenting with them, playing with them. It’s a love, a passion. Its function is like a preacher’s: to make you stand up out of your seat, make you lose yourself and ear yourself. The worst of all possible things that could happen is to lose that language. There are certain things I cannot say with­out recourse to my language.

(Toni Morrison 1981)

With these words Toni Morrison, an American professor and novelist, probably expressed exactly what many African American people felt and still feel. In her statement she refers to the so-called “African American Vernacular English”, abbreviated AAVE, which is “a variant of English spoken mostly by black people in the United States.” (Jokinen 2008: 1) It is also known as “African American English”, “Black English Vernacular”, “Black Vernacular Eng­lish”, “Black Vernacular”, “Black English” or “Ebonics”. It is important to point out that not all African Americans inevitably speak this ethnolect and that there are also people with a non-African American background who nonetheless may speak it. (cf. Patrick 2007: 1) Fur­thermore, it is hard to define who actually speaks AAVE as some speakers may only use some features, e.g. vocabulary or grammatical aspects, of this variant. (cf. Jokinen 2008: 1)

AAVE is a variant of English that you can see and hear every day – it is present in the Internet and in many songs and that makes it so interesting to find out more about it and to get a better understanding of AAVE. In this paper, I will focus on different aspects. I will start dealing with the question “Where does AAVE come from?” under point two and will continue with a brief overview of some basic grammatical features of AAVE in point three. Under point four, I will present and discuss a concrete example of a text, in which AAVE plays an important role, namely in the short story The Gilded Six-Bits of Zora Neale Hurston, written in 1933. Afterwards, under point five, I am going to talk about AAVE in Rap and HipHop songs as there can be found a considerable number of this kind of music all around the world and, under point 6, I will deal with the controversial question whether AAVE should be taught in schools or not. Finally, in the conclusion of my paper, I would like to let the uniqueness of AAVE and the importance of recognizing this variant of English parade before one.

2 The origins of African American Vernacular English

Where does AAVE come from? This is the question I would like to deal with in this section. The first Africans came to the United States as slaves from 1619 to 1808. (“Because of the history of slavery and racial issues AAVE has been and is still a politically sensitive subject in the United States.”) (Jokinen 2008: 1) Due to the fact that they came from the continent “Western Africa”, they all spoke different languages and therefore tried to learn English after their arrival in the United States. Because of the lack of contact between the white people and the black slaves, they were not able to learn the language properly. Instead, they learned Eng­lish with much influence of their own native language. In how far their native language actu­ally influenced the learning of the English language is not quite sure.

(cf. Madhloum 2011: 13)

However, there are basically three different views with regard to the origins of AAVE, namely the “Afrocentric view”, the “Eurocentric view” and the “Creolist view”.

The Afrocentric view states mainly that

the features that AAVE uses originated from Africa [and that] [t]he slaves converted the English language to the patterns of the Niger-Congo languages” (Madhloum 2011: 13) [...] [whereas the Eurocentric view says that] African slaves learned English from white settlers, and they did so relatively fast and successfully, retaining little trace of their African linguistic heritage. (Rickford 1997: 4)

The third view, the Creolist view, states “[...] that many African slaves (with the help of Eng­lish) created a pidgin language.” (Madhloum 2011: 14) A pidgin language is a blend of the vocabulary of one major language with the grammar of one or more other languages. According to the Creolist view, African people used their self-created pidgin language to sim­plify the communication when both parts do not speak the same language. The pidgin lan­guage can become a Creole language “when it becomes established and also becomes the primary tongue among its users.” (Madhloum 2011: 14)

As linguists do not agree on the origins of AAVE, we cannot decide whether one of these views regarding the origins of AAVE is more correct or less correct than the other.

3 Features of African American Vernacular English

3.1 Phonological features

In this section I would like to mention some typical phonological aspects with regard to AAVE. However, I will not mention all of them as this would exceed the scope of my paper.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

(cf. Universität Duisburg Essen 2013)

3.2 Negation

As negations are used quite often in AAVE it is an important aspect. There are mainly three different types of negation:

- The use of double negation

(1) Example:

a. Standard American English (SAE) speakers would say : “John doesn’t do anything today.”
b. AAVE speakers would say: “John don’t do nothing to­day.”

- The use of “ain’t” as “haven’t”, “hasn’t”, “am not”, “aren’t”, “isn’t”, “don’t”, “doesn’t”, “didn’t”

(2) Example:

a. SAE speakers would say : “I didn’t know that.”
b. AAVE speakers would say: “I ain’t know that.”

- The use of “ain’t but” and “don’t but” in order to replace the word “only”

(3) Example:

a. SAE speakers would say : “Mary is only seventeen years old.”
b. AAVE speakers would say: “Mary ain’t but seventeen years old.”

(cf. Madhloum: 21-22)


Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Uniqueness of African American Vernacular English
Humboldt-University of Berlin
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
580 KB
AAVE, Black English, ebonics, black vernacular
Quote paper
Lea Lorena Jerns (Author), 2014, The Uniqueness of African American Vernacular English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Uniqueness of African American Vernacular English

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