Charles E. DeBose
African American Church Language (AACL) refers to a distinctive sub-variety of African American Language (AAL) that is used in markedly sacred contexts. Given its frequent use in African American worship by fluent speakers of Standard English, it is not adequately characterized as dialect. The ability to communicate artfully and well is highly valued in African American culture, and cultivated through distinctive ways of speaking known in secular life by such names of signifyin and playin the dozens. In the domain of Black Church life they bear such names as preachin, prayin, testifyin, moanin and The Amen Corner. The diverse genres of Black performance have in common such African continuities as call and response, improvisation, poly-rhythms and a sacred to secular continuum. We conclude that AACL is best characterized, not as a dialect, but as a classical language, and the H variety in a situation of diglossia.
While African American male comedians have community license to deploy features of African American Language (AAL) as a tool for building solidarity and authority essential to successful performance, African American women seeking careers in comedy lack such license. As a result, they may face high levels of heckling and sexist harassment. The female comedians presented in this chapter employ a broadly vernacular AAL. But within it, they draw on features specifically associated with African American women to create a women’s style. This African American Women’s Language (AAWL) is a variety of AAL containing a multidimensional array of lexical, discursive, prosodic and other features associated with African American women conversing with close friends. The style that the comedians create builds a “friendship” and solidarity with female audience members which discourages the occurrence of sexist heckling and harassment.
Erica Britt and Tracey L. Weldon
The goal of this chapter is to provide an overview of the emerging body of research aimed at examining the use and perception of African American English (AAE) by middle class speakers. While many scholars have pointed out that AAE falls on a continuum of social dialect features that reflect a speaker’s socioeconomic status, among other factors, the use of AAE by middle class speakers has often been overlooked in favor of the idealized, vernacular speech patterns of working class African Americans and urban African American male youth. Yet, an emerging body of research provides evidence that the use of AAE by middle class speakers is rich and dynamic, reflecting the complex social, economic, and professional domains that shape middle class African American life and linguistic behavior. Finally, we reflect on linguistic definitions of the AAE continuum vis-à-vis middle class speakers.
African American English in the Mississippi Delta: A Case Study of Copula Absence and r-Lessness in the Speech of African American Women in Coahoma County
The chapter presents a quantitative analysis of copula absence and /r/-lessness of African American English (AAE) by African American women in Coahoma County located in the Mississippi Delta. The results of the current quantitative study show that (1) there is a connection between Coahoma County AAE and older, diasporic AAE varieties and English-based Caribbean creoles through the analysis of copula absence; (2) there are statistical differences in the production of the two features based on the women’s township; and (3) the educational level of the women and of their parent(s) plays a role in the production of both features.
John Victor Singler
In the years from 1822 to 1860 and beyond, 16,000 African Americans immigrated to West Africa to a colony created for them that became the sovereign nation of Liberia. The language of the immigrants and their descendants, Liberian Settler English (LSE), is a source of evidence as to the character of the 19th African American English (AAE) that the original Settlers brought with them from the United States. The apparatus of internal change has had nearly two centuries in which to operate in LSE. Ongoing language contact has meant that LSE has been subject to a range of external linguistic forces. Nonetheless, this enclave variety shows individual AAE features to be of long standing, including ones that have been proposed as relatively recent innovations as well as those that resemble features of Gullah.
Howard Rambsy II and Briana Whiteside
The goal of this chapter is to explain how Black poetry corresponds to African American Language practices. We highlight how poets utilize distinct lexicon, vocabulary, proper nouns, historical figures, and verbal practices such as signifying in order to present ideas that are culturally and socially salient in African American communities and throughout its literary sociohistory. We also point out how African Americans express themselves by drawing on the poetic inspiration of Black poets. Ultimately, Black poetry, especially spoken word poetry, serves as a repository of African American Language (AAL), and conversely, AAL serves as a vital storehouse of expressions and ideas for Black poets.
This chapter utilizes a language ideology perspective, grounded in a raceclass historical analysis, to overview the relationship between African American Language and the education of US slave descendants from the 1950s through the end of the twentieth century. The historical overview summarizes and critiques “language programs for the disadvantaged,” linguistic cognitive deficit theories about Black people, and reading programs designed for “teaching Black students to read.” The chapter provides an indepth discussion of the educational and public controversy around Martin Luther King Jr. Schoolchildren, et al. v. the Ann Arbor School District Board (197779; popularly known as the “Black English Case”) and the equally controversial 1996 Oakland, California School Board Resolution on Ebonics. Given current crises in Black youth communities (e.g., schooltoprison pipeline for Black males), the overview concludes with a clarion call to all those committed to educational equity and social justice.
Sonja L. Lanehart
In this chapter, I define and discuss difficult terms related to language and identity in the African American community. In doing so, I discuss the contradictions we find in studying the language and identity of people in the African American community that arise from within and without, as well as conundrums resulting from these contradictions. In examining these contradictions and conundrums, I discuss identity and community of African Americans through their language attitudes, beliefs, practices, and ideologies via linguistic pride and acceptance, linguistic prejudice, and linguistic shame and denial of African American Language. I conclude with some observations about language and identity in the African American community as well as suggestions for future research.
Renée A. Blake, Cara Shousterman, and Luiza Newlin-Lukowicz
The ever-increasing numbers of second generation West Indian Americans affects the ethnic landscape and raises the question of what is African American Language in New York City today? In this chapter, we examine the English spoken by children of Black West Indian immigrants to New York City and their African American counterparts. The results of this research point to a similar linguistic repertoire for both groups of Black New Yorkers, with subtleties evident at the quantitative level. While both groups are quite /r/-ful, Caribbean American-identified Blacks have higher rates of /r/-fulness than African American-identified Blacks. Moreover, while both groups show the tensing and raising of /ɔ/ typically associated with New York City, there are differences in the length of the off-glide. Finally, while the realization of /oʊ/ is closer to a New York realization than the Caribbean Creole English varieties, off-glide differences exist between the two groups.
Jennifer Bloomquist and Shelome Gooden
This chapter examines variation in the North Midlands African American Language (AAL) varieties in Pittsburgh and the Lower Susquehanna Valley (LSV). The focus is on phonological/phonetic, lexical, and to a lesser extent syntactic variation. We review historical information on settler groups and African American presence in earlier periods in both areas and discuss implications for influence on the contemporary AAL. The results of a new data analysis of vowel variation in the LSV are compared with existing reports for Pittsburgh AAL. Whereas LSV AAL shows some similarities to Pittsburgh AAL (e.g., the pool/pull merger), it lacks other features (e.g., the cot/caught merger, which is pervasive in Pittsburgh AAL). We also find differences between LSV AAL speakers who seem to want to identify as both “authentically Black” and local and Pittsburgh AAL speakers who are concerned with differentiating themselves from Whites and where sounding “local” tends to be equated with “Whiteness”.