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date: 18 November 2017

Abstract and Keywords

African American women’s speech styles are critical to any understanding of the African American speech community. Many great American novels rely on the subtleties of African American women’s language (AAWL) to tell both the American and African American story. Yet in linguistic study, women’s language has mainly been viewed as the result of, and indistinguishable from men’s usage. In the 1970s, as the field of sociolinguistics grew, research focused on males and tended to incorporate female data in the overall description of the speech community—if at all. This occurrence influenced our understanding of language in the African American speech community in general and women’s language in particular. This chapter critically analyzes relevant theories and research on AAWL and reviews and critiques ideological, cultural, and social arguments that helped shape these theories. It also considers the role of respectability in arguments about African American women’s innovative and conservative language use.

Keywords: African American women’s language (AAWL), African American speech community, conservative language, respectability, sociolinguistics

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