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date: 27 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

The genesis of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) has been contested territory for decades, marked by a heated debate between adherents of “creolist” and “dialectologist” explanations of its origin. While early scholarship had hardly any factual documentation to test these hypotheses, new resources documenting Earlier African American English usage have been unearthed since then. This chapter surveys these text types and sources as well as their contribution to our understanding of the diachrony of AAVE. The resources focused on include the WPA ex-slave narratives, the Library of Congress ex-slave recordings, Hyatt’s “hoodoo” transcripts, studies of diaspora varieties (notably from Samaná), historical corpora of letters written by semi-literate writers, and transcripts of early blues lyrics. Results imply that a simple dichotomy cannot do justice to the issue in question. The chapter concludes with a call for recognition of the internal heterogeneity of AAVE and its history and of compromise origins positions.

Keywords: dialect history, Blues lyrics, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), early African American English, WPA ex-slave narratives, semi-literate writers, Hyatt’s “hoodoo” transcripts, diaspora varieties

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