Phonological Features of the Consonant System of African American Vernacular English


Term Paper, 2011
15 Pages

Excerpt

Inhalt

1 Introduction

2 Theories about the development of AAE

3 The loss of final consonant sounds

4 Realization of /θ/ and /ð/ as [t,f] and [d,v]
4.1 General Procedure
4.2 Sex and Age

5 Devoicing and the correlation of d Variable with Social Class
5.1 General procedure
5.2 Percentage of t and /Ø/ Realization
5.3 Percentage of t and /Ø/ realization in vocalic and non- vocalic environment
5.4 Percentage of t and /Ø/ realization when followed by a voiceless consonant, voiced consonant and pause

6 R and l: liquid vocalization
6.1 General procedure
6.2 Percentage of r Absence
6.3 Environments where unconstructed /r/ can appear

7 Additional phonological features

8 Conclusion

Bibliography

1 Introduction

This term paper will give a descriptive summary of the sound patterns used in African American vernacular English, but will also go further by discussing the linguistic environments in which such patterns occur. It is restricted to the phonological features of the consonant system of African American vernacular English (AAVE) and does not deal with the characteristics of the vowel system. Furthermore, this term paper should show that speakers of AAVE do not haphazardly insert and delete sound and that it is not fair to evaluate the sounds as “lazy speech” since the patterns used in the sound system of AAVE are completely regular and the way in which sound combinations occur, is very systematic and based on defined rules. This work also tries to make clear what AAVE is and in which ways it is different and similar to general American and Standard English.

The first chapter introduces two different theories about the question how African American English might have been developed. In some contexts, it has been suggested that the pattern of final consonant sounds in AAE has similarities with the pattern of final consonant sounds in West African languages.

Part two deals with the feature of consonant cluster reduction, which has received the most attention in the phonological studies of AAE. Speakers do not always say the same thing the same way all the time, of course, so the percentage rate of reduction may be greater for some speakers than others

Chapter 3 focuses on the fact that interdental fricatives, represented orthographically by th in Standard English, are often realized by labio- dental fricatives among some AAE speakers. It reveals that voicing value of consonant sounds plays a major role in the production of sounds. For example /f/ and /v/ occur in environments in which voiceless th and voiced th occur in Standard English.

Part 4 concentrates on the feature of devoicing and especially on the correlation of the variable /d/ with social class. Data adopted from Wolfram helps to study the speech of Negroes from several socio- economic levels and shows the relationship between the use of sound patterns and extralingusitic factors.

Chapter 5 continues the discussion of consonants, focusing on the liquids /r/ and /l/. It explains environments in which /r/ is not produced by speakers of AAE.

The last chapter lists some other phonological features of AAVE, but not in a detailed way, as there is not enough data available.

2 Theories about the development of AAE

Linguists developed different theories regarding the source of African American English. Since there are only a few records of oral language from earlier periods, it is hard to prove each theory[1]. It is also possible that these theories have worked together and no matter how AAE was build up, “today it is a distinct dialect with its own usage conventions“ [2].

One theory says that the slaves may have developed a language, which combined elements of their traders’ various languages and terms from their native African dialects in order to communicate. The pidgin, which included elements of the West African languages and English, was not made up of function words, like articles or prepositions until it developed into a creole over time[3]. Children of those who speak pidgin were born and the AAE developed more features and a grammar[4]. Through the contact with American English speakers, a decreolization process occured according to this theory and AAE started to resemble SAE more closely[5]. Supporters of this theory argue that AAE might have been a pidgin taking in consideration that AAE shares some words and structures with some of the Caribbean creole languages[6].

On the other hand there are linguists saying that the slaves only would have had contact with a few native English speakers[7]. They learned English as a second language from people who did not speak non- standard English instead of being forced to develop a pidgin[8]. In comparison to the other theory, they did not interact with SAE speakers, but rather talked with people “who used nonstandard English dialects on their own”[9]. Proponents of this theory corroborate their theory with the fact that some features of AAE also existed in older varieties of English in earlier time periods and in nonstandard dialects like the Appalachian English. According to this theory, AAE can not be considered as a separate language, but as a dialect of American English[10].

3 The loss of final consonant sounds

A common phenomenon in AAE is the reduction of word final consonant sounds and is the most important variable in the sound patterns of Negro speakers[11]. There are explanations for cluster data, which discuss claims about the historical origin of AAE. One explanation is that the disappearing of consonants at the end of words is a result of consonant cluster reduction. A second explanation is that languages, from which AAE originated like Africa, also do not have consonant clusters and therefore speakers of AAE do not pronounce consonants at the end of words, but not because of the fact that they are deleted in certain environments[12].

Consonant clusters are reduced at the end of words when the following word begins with a consonant[13]. The word “desk top” could be pronounced [destp])[14]. When the cluster is followed by an obstruent with the same place of articulation, the final consonant almost always disappears in most varieties of spoken English, but in AAVE the loss of the second consonant is more frequent[15]. Besides it is also common in many varieties to say firs’ girl instead of first girl showing that the reduction takes also place when the cluster is followed by an obstruent with a different place of articulation[16] According to the voicing generalization, a final consonant is deleted if it agrees in voicing with the preceding consonant. In the word jump where /m/ and /p/ do not have the same voicing value, the cluster remains intact and is not pronounced without /p/[17]. It can be generalized that the cluster does not remain intact when it precedes a suffix beginning with a consonant (e.g –ly in friendly) but when it precedes a suffix beginning with a vowel, the cluster often remains intact (eg. able in acceptable)[18]. Actually, in some cases a cluster can be reduced although it precedes a vowel initial suffix for example speakers of AAVE tend to say coler instead of colder or spening instead of spending. Another way of formally characterizing consonant cluster reduction is the sonority analysis[19]. Consonants at the end of words are reduced if they appear too close in sonority. In the word fast, the /s/ and /t/ are too close in sonority which results in reduction whereas in a word like pink the consonants /n/ and /k/ are far enough apart in sonority and remain intact. However function words like don’t and can’t are not usually fully with the final t produced in comparison to a word like pink where the cluster nk remains intact.

The opposite process can also occur in so far as /t/ or /d/ is inserted right before the –ed suffix resulting in an additional syllable[20]. In AAVE some speakers produce the word as light skinned [skindid]. The t/d insertion is also influenced by the voicing properties which means that d is added if the word ends in a voiced sound while t is inserted if the word ends in a voiceless sound[21].

Whereas in Standard English the morphological status of the final consonant is less important than the influence of the following consonant, in Southern AAVE the elimination of a grammatical marker due to cluster reduction is less common[22]. If the reduced verb form of past tense is phonologically identical to the present verb form, consonant cluster reduction does only rarely occur in AAVE[23]. Clusters which are part of an inherent word base are more likely to undergo reduction than clusters that are formed through the addition of an –ed suffix. For example the /t/ in first apple is more likely to be lost than the /t/ in walked quickly[24].

4 Realization of /θ/ and /ð/ as [t,f] and [d,v]

4.1 General Procedure

In varieties of African American English, the pronunciation of /d/ for /ð/ initially and of /f, v/ for /ð, θ/ at the end or in the middle of a word is typical. It occurs “in some other non-standard dialects, but not in standard varieties“[25]. Besides, the variables /t/, /d/ and /Ø/ correspond to Standard English /θ/ and /ð/. Although the connection of the vernacular of New York City and AAVE came about long after the substitution of /d/ for /ð/, the New York working class substitutes /d/ for /ð/ as well. This phenomenon could have developed differently and independently from colonial sources[26]. In AAVE this feature is again very frequent but it lacks in data, which leads to the fact that the constraints for the features are unclear[27]. “Some AAVE speakers pronounce the word with variously as [wit], [wid], [wif] and [wiv]”[28]. When the voiceless dental fricative /θ/ is located at the beginning of a word, speaker of African American English realize it as voiceless alveolar plosive /t/[29]. The word thin would be pronounced [tin][30]. When the voiceless dental fricative /θ/ is situated in the middle of a word or word finally, it is realized as voiceless labiodental fricative /f/ which means that the word bath is pronounced [ba:f][31]. When the voiced dental fricative /ð/ is located at the beginning of a word like in this, speaker of African American English realize it voiced alveolar plosive /d/; so this would be pronounced [dis][32]. In addition, the voiced dental fricative /ð/ would be realized as a voiced labiodental fricative /v/ if it occurs word- medially or word- finally[33]. The word brother would not be pronounced [brʌðə], but [brʌvə][34].

4.2 Sex and Age

In Wolfram’s book “Detroit Negro speech”, the percentage of /f/, /t/ and /Ø/ realizations for the variable /θ/ determined by sex and age is given due to a tabulation procedure. 9.6 per cent of the female Upper Middle Class Negro Informants realize /f/, /t/ or /Ø/ for the variable /θ/ compared to 14.6 per cent of the male informants of the same social class. The comparison of other social classes shows consistently a pattern of sex differentiation. For example 47.5 per cent of the female Upper Working Class Negro Informants realize /f/, /t/ or /Ø/ instead of pronouncing /θ/, but 72.3 per cent males of this social class tend to realize /f/, /t/ or /θ/ for the variable /θ/. Taken as a whole, the females have less /f/, /t/ or /Ø/ realization and come closer to approximating the Standard English norm than the males do[35]. Taking a look at the other tabulation procedure, which presents the percentage of /f/, /t/ and /Ø/ realization for the /θ/ variable for adults, teenagers and pre- adolescents, two differences are significant. Firstly, the high percentage of non- /θ/ realization among the Lower Middle Class Negro Informants aged between 14-17 is remarkable. Only 7.0 per cent of them realize the variable /θ/ as /f/, /t/ or /Ø/ whereas 34.0 per cent of the teenagers and 11.2 per cent of the adults do so. Secondly, the low frequency of /f/, /t/ or /Ø/ realization for the variable /θ/ among the adults of the Upper Working Class Negro Informants is striking. 34.2 per cent of them realize /f/, /t/ or /Ø/ while 66.0 per cent of the adolescents and 73.2 per cent of the teenagers do so.

5 Devoicing and the correlation of d Variable with Social Class

5.1 General procedure

Baran and Seymour (1976) made a research on AAE communication disorders where children had to identify minimal pairs in which one final consonant was voiced and in the other word voiceless. When Whites listened to blacks, the Whites had difficulties in distinguishing the words in the pairs and made the most errors. Furthermore blacks listening to whites “mistook words ending in a voiceless consonant for its counterpart ending in a voiced consonant”[36].

[...]


[1] (cf. Amberg and Vause 2009: 155)

[2] (cf. Amberg and Vause 2009: 157)

[3] (cf. Amberg and Vause 2009: 155)

[4] ibid.

[5] (cf. Amberg and Vause 2009: 156)

[6] (cf. Amberg and Vause 2009: 155)

[7] ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] (Amberg and Vause 2009: 155)

[10] op. Cit, note 157)

[11] (cf. Wolfram 1969: 50)

[12] (cf. Green 2002: 107)

[13] (cf. Amberg and Vause 2009: 158)

[14] op. Cit., note 157

[15] (cf. Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, Baugh 1998: 86)

[16] ibid.

[17] (cf. Green 2002: 111).

[18] Op. Cit., note 112

[19] (cf. Green 2002:115)

[20] ibid.

[21] Op.cit, note 116

[22] (cf. Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, Baugh 1998: 86)

[23] 2001. The Language Sample Project, Realization of Interdental Fricatives, http://www.ic.arizona.edu/~lsp/Features/Realization.html (visited 11.08.11)

[24] (cf. Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, Baugh 1998: 87)

[25] (Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, Baugh 1998: 87)

[26] Op. Cit, note 87

[27] (cf. Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, Baugh 1998: 87)

[28] (Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey, Baugh 1998: 87)

[29] 2001. The Language Sample Project, Realization of Interdental Fricatives, http://www.ic.arizona.edu/~lsp/Features/Realization.html (visited 11.08.11)

[30] ibid.

[31] ibid.

[32] ibid.

[33] ibid.

[34] ibid.

[35] Wolfram 1969: 92

[36] (Green 2002: 116)

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Title
Phonological Features of the Consonant System of African American Vernacular English
Author
Year
2011
Pages
15
Catalog Number
V300341
ISBN (eBook)
9783656979739
ISBN (Book)
9783656979746
File size
519 KB
Language
English
Tags
phonological, features, consonant, system, african, american, vernacular, english
Quote paper
Hanna Krause (Author), 2011, Phonological Features of the Consonant System of African American Vernacular English, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/300341

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