Features of African American Vernacular English in Snoop Dogg’s Rap Lyrics

Seminar Paper, 2016

14 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of content:

1 Introduction

2 What is AAVE?
2.1 Who speaks AAVE?
2.2 The origin of AAVE

3 Some important features of AAVE
3.1 Phonological features
3.2 Grammatical features
3.3 Vocabulary of AAVE

4 AAVE features in Rap and Hip Hop songs (Snoop Dogg)
4.1 Grammatical features
4.1.1 Zero copula
4.1.2 Omission of third-person singular –s in the present tense
4.2 1993 in comparison to 2015

5 Conclusion

6 Works cited

1 Introduction

English is a language with many varieties and also one of the most spoken languages in the world. The varieties of English are results of colonial expansion and may differ from each other in terms of pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is the variety that people associate with as the language used by the black community. The additional term vernacular refers to the speech style in everyday communication and differentiates black African American Vernacular English speakers from black speakers of Standard English (cf. Boyce Davies 2008: 17). Especially in rap and hip-hop music the number of black performers is very high since it was introduced as a new music genre. The style of language that is used in hip-hop lyrics is highly influenced by the African Americans (cf. Appiah et al. 2005: 42). AAVE is a variant of English that you can hear every day on the radio or television for example and that also makes it so interesting to analyze its use, features and origin.

First of all, this term paper will give some general information about the variety African American Vernacular English itself, its origins and who the speakers of AAVE are. Furthermore, it will give an overview of some features of AAVE and finally the analysis of two of the features on different rap songs from the famous rapper Snoop Dogg. The first feature that I will be looking at is zero copula and the second feature is the omission of the third-person singular –s in the present tense. In this term paper I will investigate the occurrence of these two features in Snoop Dogg’s lyrics from his first album Doggystyle and his latest album Bush and if they decreased or increased with time. Since music plays such a huge part in African American culture it should be possible to see these features of AAVE in the lyrics. The analysis will contain 16 rap songs from Snoop Dogg’s first album Doggystyle from 1993 and 10 rap songs from his latest album Bush from 2015.

2 What is AAVE?

AAVE stands for African American Vernacular English and is an ethnic variety that is spoken by African Americans. Especially by those who dealt with their progenitors being slaves in the past when America was divided into colonies. The term vernacular applies to the everyday speech of people in a community and it contrasts with the official standard form. Vernacular can also be seen as another term for non-standard and someone’s most relaxed speech style (cf. Boyce Davies 2008: 17). AAVE also has undergone many name changes with time for example “Negro Dialect, Substandard Negro English, Nonstandard Negro English, Black English, Vernacular Black English (VBE), Black English Vernacular (BEV), Afro-American English and now also referred to as African American English (AAE), African American Language (AAL), Black Talk, Ebonics and Spoken Soul” (Boye Davies 2008: 17). African American Vernacular English differs from Standard English grammatically, phonologically and lexically.

2.1 Who speaks AAVE?

Not all features and characteristics of African American Vernacular English exist in all African Americans’ speech; therefore it is very difficult to define how many people actually speak the language. African American Vernacular English is a collection of dialects and can be seen as the vernacular speech of blacks especially in the US, the Caribbean and Britain (cf. Appiah et al. 2005: 41). The author Gunnel Tottie found out that young AAVE speakers show more features of AAVE in their speech than older AAVE speakers. According to Tottie the reason for this could be the higher interest of younger people in rap music and its lyrics and that it gives the speakers the feeling of being part of a group and as well as belonging to a strong social network (cf. Tottie 2002: 228). Moreover, the social class and level of education of the speaker is important as well because well-educated middle-class African Americans show less features of the AAVE. Those African Americans identify more with the style of language used by the white middle-class speakers (cf. Tottie 2002: 226).

The estimated percentage of black people or African Americans who speak the African American Vernacular English is between 80 and 90 percent. The features of AAVE are especially noticeable in the working class and the poor population (cf. Lippi-Green 1997: 176).

2.2 The origin of AAVE

There are three theories about the origins of African American Vernacular English that linguists argue about. The first theory is that AAVE has its origin from a creole language that derived from an English-based pidgin.

The second theory is that African American Vernacular English was developed by cultural merging between a number of African languages, an English-speaking dominant culture and from the era of slavery (cf. Tottie 2002: 227). In this theory the history of AAVE begins with the arrival of the first African Americans in America as slaves under the power of white owners. These owners wanted the slaves to use English and to get rid of their African languages. Therefore, they insisted on the use of English or mixed a group of slaves who spoke different languages. The slave owners wanted to make sure that the slaves did not speak in African languages. Because of that the slaves used linguistic codes, dialects and body language to communicate with each other in a way the slaveholders could not understand. The slaves invented new words like ofays that means foes in pig latin and the black slang started growing. African American people were constantly creating new words and phrases by changing vocabulary, grammatical features and rhythm. Especially when it comes to rhythm hip-hop, rap and music are very important elements. For example in the 1930s someone who liked jazz was called a hep cat or a hepster and in the 1940s that turned into a hipster and a decade later the black hipsters got called cats (cf. Appiah et al. 2005: 42).

The third theory about the origin of AAVE is that it derived from West African languages however this theory is not accepted among professional linguists (cf. Tottie 2002: 227). African American Vernacular English is a language that will remain as long as the African Americans continue to attend their own churches, create their own forms of music and entertainment as well as live in their own communities (cf. Appiah et al. 2005: 43).

3 Some important features of AAVE

3.1 Phonological features

Phonology is the study of the use and organization of sounds in a language. African American Vernacular English has different kinds of phonological features. One feature is the final consonant reduction where the final consonant is not realized when the consonant sequence is followed by an obstruent that has the same place of articulation. For example phrases like first time are produced like firs’ time. But it is also possible that the consonant is reduced when the cluster is followed by an obstruent with a different place of articulation. For example first girl is produced as firs’ girl. The following sound and the morphological status of the final consonant are important in order to explain consonant reduction in AAVE (cf. Bailey et al. 1998: 86).

Furthermore, the sound of /ð/ is pronounced differently in AVVE. The sound /ð/ in initial position is replaced by the sound /d/, so this or that become dis and dat. The sound /ð/ in medial position becomes a /v/ sound so for example mother is pronounced as mover. Another process is the substitution of /f/ for /θ/ as in souf for south (cf. Bailey et al. 1998: 87).

Another feature is the unstressed syllable deletion that is very frequent in African American Vernacular English. For example about is produced as ’bout. Also the deletion of /l/ is a common feature of AAVE where for example bell is pronounced like [beʊ] and pool like [puʊ] (cf. Bailey et al. 1998: 88).

3.2 Grammatical features

One very important feature of African American Vernacular English grammar is the copula and auxiliary absence. The absence of the copula verb be or other reduced forms is one of the most discussed features of AAVE. An example for copula absence is He tall instead of He is tall or They feeling fine instead of They are feeling fine (cf. Wolfram 2008: 517). The linguists John and Russel Rickford did a study with different groups of AAVE speakers from different countries on zero copula. They found out that copula deletion was least present before a noun, more frequent when it was followed by an adjective and most frequent when it was followed by gon(na) (cf. Rickford et al. 2000: 116).

Additionally, another grammatical feature of AAVE are negations; these can be double negations or multiple negations. An example for negation is “It wasn’t nothing” or “They didn’t do nothing about nobody having no money or nothing like that” (Wolfram 2008: 523). The inversion of the negative auxiliary and indefinite subject is another example for the negative pattern in the grammar of African American Vernacular English. For example “Don’t nobody like him” or “Ain’t nobody home”. The Standard English form for these examples would be “Nobody likes him” and “Nobody is home”. The term ain’t is used in African American Vernacular English where “be”, “am not”, “isn’t”, “aren’t” and “haven’t” or “hasn’t” would be used in Standard English. Examples of the use of ain’t are “She ain’t here” or “She ain’t been there lately” (cf. Wolfram 2008: 524).

Furthermore, another AAVE characteristic is the omission of third-person singular –s in the present tense. In Standard English you need to add an -s or –es to verbs with third-person singular subjects like in She sees but in African American Vernacular English it would be She see. With the omission of the third-person singular –s AAVE is also making the rules of English more regular because there are also no special endings for verbs with other subjects like in I see, you see, we see and they see (cf. Rickford et al. 2000: 111).

3.3 Vocabulary of AAVE

The vocabulary of African American Vernacular English also differs from other varieties of English. There are for example words with African origin that got adapted into the English language like “juke”, “tote”, “voodoo” or “jam”. But there are also English words that have taken on new meanings between African speakers as you can see in (1):

(1) attitude self confident

bad very good

brother a black man

cool excellent

gig job

(Tottie 2002: 225).

Furthermore, AAVE has some verbal constructions that have special meanings, for example come, which indicates annoyance like in “He come walkin’ in here like he owned the place” (Tottie 2002: 226). Moreover, call oneself also has a special meaning like in “He calls himself a singer” which indicates that the person thinks that he sings good but in reality he does not (cf. Tottie 2002: 226).


Excerpt out of 14 pages


Features of African American Vernacular English in Snoop Dogg’s Rap Lyrics
Varieties of English: New Englishes
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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rap, aave, hiphop, africanamericanvernacularenglish, english, dialect, snoop, dogg
Quote paper
Seda Evirgen (Author), 2016, Features of African American Vernacular English in Snoop Dogg’s Rap Lyrics, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/322299


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