Ebonics. Black English. African American Vernacular English. It’s a dialect that goes by many names. While they may not ring a bell, you’ve probably have heard it spoken before in television, movies or music. Ever heard someone drop the “is” and replace it with “be”? Or drop the “has” in “has been”? Does that same person also have an affinity for double negatives? Do they drop the “g” in -ing verbs? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you’ve come across AAVE. Now perhaps you’re thinking to yourself…
“But isn’t all this just improper grammar? Slang? Or a lazy way of talking?” And the answer to this is no. No, it is not.
AAVE is recognized by most linguists as its own dialect of English with its own grammar, vocabulary and phonology. It’s not “slang”. It is an entirely different way of speaking. And while certainly not spoken by all African Americans, it is a form of speech in its own right and shouldn’t be stigmatized. It’s origins, while a little tricky to trace back definitively, are confirmed to be influenced by several African languages. AAVE is thought to most likely be a hybrid of these languages and standard English.
As stated earlier, AAVE follows a strict and unique set of grammar rules, like any other dialect and it is very possible to use them incorrectly. For example, to the untrained ear, it may just sound like AAVE just deletes random words. And while it does delete words, it does so in a very deliberate way. YouTuber and linguistics enthusiast Xidnaf provides the best examples of this.
“In General American English, we tend to use contractions. So ‘she is the one’ is shortened to ‘she’s the one’. However, we cannot shorten ‘I don’t think she is’ to ‘I don’t think she’s’. In AAVE where General American English will contract, they will delete. So ‘she is the one’ becomes ‘she the one’. But ‘I don’t think she is’ cannot become ‘I don’t think she’.”
Another example of AAVE’s intricate grammar is “the habitual be”. Completely unique to AAVE, “the habitual be” is often mistranslated, mistakenly identified as an unconjugated “is”. In actuality, it is the complicated tense system used in AAVE. An example of this is “He be working Tuesdays” translates to “He is frequently working on Tuesdays”. This complicated tense system is not found any other form of English and is heavily influenced by several African languages
Besides, several non-black people speak AAVE without even knowing it. Several now-common words have also originated from early versions of AAVE including jazz, banjo, uptight and “hip” (the adjective not the bone). Not to mention the numerous phrases that have permeated its way into the English language from just the past three years alone. Fleek, trap, shade and bougee were all commonly used in the Black community before they were snatched into the mainstream and stripped of their African American Vernacular roots.
Well now that all this information confirming that AAVE is an actual dialect with nothing “sloppy” about it, why is AAVE still not being treated as such? Honestly speaking, rarely any American ever calls British English, another dialect of English, “broken” or “improper.” It is very simple.
One cannot deny race, while not the only cause, does play a large part in the stigma against AAVE and how people perceive it. It is no coincidence that AAVE is oftentimes associated with low intelligence, education, and income as well as Black people. That is of course until it finds its way into popular consciousness. Then it is no longer “broken English” but a fun new trend until it fades into obscurity. Just as with a lot of things associated with Black culture, it carries the stigmas that were arbitrarily placed upon it deliberately and maliciously by small minded people who fear the unknown.
Everyone’s language is valid and deserves to be treated as such. The sooner people begin to understand this, then the closer people will become.