African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a dialect that is spoken in some Black communities. Usually, lower-income Black families use this type of dialect. Of course, there is an ongoing debate on whether AAVE is a separate language and if it should be considered a language. Some scholars will tell you that AAVE is it’s own language and deserves respect, not mockery. However, why pay attention to AAVE and what effects does it have on American society?
I don’t think it’s difficult to believe that Black culture has developed its own dialect. This dialect has been around for centuries and in modern times it’s called AAVE by scholars and referred to as Ebonics in the commercial world. Ebonics is a combination of Ebony and phonics. When combined it means Black sound. I will use the term interchangeably within this blog post.
For those of my readers who aren’t familiar with AAVE, I’ll give you a brief description. People who speak AAVE pronounce their consonants different from SAE. For example, the pronunciation of salad will be salat. Usually, the sound “d” is replaced with the sound “t.” Also, if you pay attention to the dialect you can tell that some terms are shortened and sounds of consonants are slurred together or not pronounced. In other words, this dialect can be seen as a pidgin language. The definition of pidgin is “a grammatically simplified form of a language, used for communication between people not sharing a common language. Pidgins have a limited vocabulary, some elements of which are taken from local languages, and are not native languages, but arise out of language contact between speakers of other languages.” In terms of AAVE, it’s a mixture of American English and “black” English. When slaves were forced to America, they had to learn the language in order to communicate in American society. However, we can’t dismiss the fact that Blacks weren’t allowed to read or write. They weren’t even allowed an equal education. Imagine being forced to a foreign land and being denied the chance to freely understand that culture. Most scholars will report that AAVE began when Blacks were brought to America. AAVE is a broken language sometimes correlated to creole.
The definition of creole is “a mother tongue formed from the contact of two languages through an earlier pidgin stage. Creole is a term that is related to Haitian people. According to some, Haitian people speak a broken or slang french. In addition, the creole dialect among Haitian people does not receive the respect it deserves.
Ebonics gained global attention in 1996 when Oakland, CA School Board passed a resolution declaring that AAVE was to be the native language of 28,000 African American students. The school board recognized that their students spoke a different dialect and tried to incorporate that the curriculum. Of course, there was some negative backlash for this. Students were going to be taught SAE via Ebonics. However, many didn’t understand that Oakland’s school system wasn’t trying to disgrace AAVE. They were trying to integrate African American Vernacular into everyday learning. Rev. Jessie James said, “They’re not trying to teach Black English as a standard language. They’re looking for tools to teach children standard English so they might be competitive.” If you don’t know SAE then you’re going to have a hard time communicating on a wider scale.
American society has unconsciously integrated and accepted AAVE into its artistic culture but not it’s academic world. From what it seems, American society appreciates and enjoys AAVE when it comes to the arts but it’s shunned in the academic world. Only those who truly recognize AAVE as a dialect are willing to understand and help those who use it. Realize that I’m referring to anyone. Not only do Black people use it, anyone who grows up in an urban culture where AAVE is spoken is most likely going to speak it. They can be Black, Asian, White, anything. So there isn’t just a push to just teach Black children how AAVE differs from SAE and why they need to learn SAE. The long lasting debate on whether AAVE should be considered a language or a dialect isn’t helping the overall problem; children are failing and have a hard time communicating on a wider scale because they aren’t being taught how to bridge AAVE to SAE.