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Black English

African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also referred to as Black English, African American English, and Ebonics, is a rule-governed variety of English spoken by some African Americans in the United States. Most linguists agree that the dialect has its roots in the Creole language developed as a result of contact between West Coast Africans and European traders. Creole, brought by slaves to North America, went through further transformation as a result of contact with southern white varieties of English. Social isolation and segregation of African Americans further increased the divergence of the dialect from other dialects of English spoken in the United States.

The dialect differs from Standard American English (SAE) in phonology (e.g., "bafroom" for "bathroom"), morphology (e.g., nonobligatory plural with numerical quantifier; "two dog" for "two dogs"), and syntax (e.g., habitual or general state marked with uninflected "be"; "she be fussing" for "she is fussing now"). The features are optional and the frequency of their use varies as a function of the speaker, inter-locutor, and context.

Controversies surrounding AAVE center on its legitimacy as a distinct dialect of English, the extent to which its linguistic features differ sufficiently from SAE to be considered a distinct language, and the extent to which its linguistic features result in mutual unintelligibility between speakers of the AAVE and SAE. Some critics of AAVE view it as being "broken English" and its use as a deficit to be corrected. Others have argued that AAVE is a unique language just as French and Russian are unique languages. AAVE is neither; it is a rule-governed variety of English. The differences between the two dialects has the potential of penalizing AAVE speakers who are assessed with test instruments that do not take into consideration the features of their dialect. Further, the sociopolitical reality dictates that educators facilitate the acquisition of SAE while respecting the legitimacy of AAVE.


Baugh, John. Beyond Ebonics: Linguistic Pride and Racial Prejudice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Mufwene, Salikoko, John Rickford, Guy Bailey, and John Baugh, eds. African American English. New York: Routledge, 1998.

Wolfram, W., C. T. Adger, and D. Christian. Dialects in Schools and Communities. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 1999.

Aquiles Iglesias

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Social Issues ReferenceChild Development Reference - Vol 2