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Vernacular English Language of African Americans

Socilinguists refer to African American Vernacular English (AAVE) as "Black English" or "Ebonics." Although some aspects of Ebonics are distinct, some of its structures are similar to those of other varieties of linguistics spoken in the United States of America and the Caribbean region, both standard and non-standard English. Since 1996, whether African America Vernacular is a separate language or a variant of a Standard language has been a point of contention. As a result, this essay will examine different aspects of Ebonics and how it differs from Standard English.
General Characteristics
Linguists have associated African American English with the Creole dialect of English spoken by various people throughout the world. Ebonics share similar pronunciation, vocabulary and grammatical structures with most West African languages. Similarly, other features of the language are common in American South English dialects. Black speakers mostly use Ebonics, this suggests that the language has its origin in black speech. The African American English distinguish itself from the Standard American English and other dialects of English through the following facets:

Phonological elements that are defined in Creole and dialects of different languages in West African and the emergence of other dialects of English, for example, the Newfoundland English.

The application of double negation in the language

Idiosyncratic vocabularies

Unique use of verb tense and aspects

Ebonics has also contributed to some phrases and words in Standard American English; such phrases include yam, banjo, and goober. Some slang used in American English such as cool, off the chain, and ashy also originates from the African America Vernacular English. Rickford et al. (11817-1182) a critique of African America Vernacular English describes the language as sloppy and simple. Rickford et al. (11817-1182) add that this language is a native dialect and therefore, more inaccurate and only qualifies to be a linguistic fad but not a standard language. Boutte (38-45), disagrees with such arguments, pointing out that most Black Americans do not even know the language and do not speak it.

Phonetics of Ebonics

Ebonics and Standard English sometimes differ regarding pronunciation. The study of such difference in pronunciation and accent is known phonology (systematic patterning of sounds in language). It is important to note that phonology does not include spelling. The way a word is spelled is mostly not an indication of the way the word should be, or much less is pronounced.


In Ebonics when two consonants end a word, for example, st in the test, the last consonant is deleted, in this case, t would be eliminated, and the word would be pronounced as tes. In Standard English, this also happens, but it occurs systematically, while in AAVE the consonant cluster is reduced inconsistently. This incidence of reduction depends on the situation in which the sound occurs. Jones (403-440) identifies the following factors to affect the frequency of a reduction in a consonant cluster (although these factors are conclusive). If the next word starts with a consonant, there are higher chances that they would be reduced than if the next expression starts with a vowel. For example, West side is expected to become Wes side, than in a word like West End.

In Standard English, the sound th is used as both unvoiced sound and voiced sound. Unvoiced in words such as thought, and thin, expressed in words such as that and they. In Ebonics, the pronunciation depends on where a word is found. For instance, at the beginning of a word, the sound th is pronounced as d. Therefore words like the that and they would be pronounced as de, dat and dey, respectively. Between words, th is mostly pronounced as f. Hence, words like nothing would be pronounced as nufin (Boutte 38-45).

Syntactic features

Standard English applies the conjugated verb be in various sentences. In Ebonics, this verb is never included. The regularity of inclusion also depends on different environments. For example, a simple sentence like; She is at home, in AAVE it would be She_ at home. In Ebonics, verbs are mostly used without ending or any supporting adjective in the past tense. Standard English; She has been away, AAVE; She been away. The verb done, is also used interchangeably in standard English it is said; He has eaten his supper. In AAVE it is said; He done eat his supper (Boutte 38-45).

Ebonics have a different way of making negation, just like in Standard English. Ebonics uses Ain’t to negate verbs. AAVE applies Ain’t in the place of have not/ haven’t. For instance, in Standard English it is said, I have not seen him, in AAVE it is said I ain’t seen him. Sometimes Ain’t is represents did not/ didn’t. For example, I ain’t step on no grass.

There are also several words used in Standard English, and in AAVE, but do not have the same meaning. For example AAVE, the phrase bad is used to denote good as opposed to in standard English. For example; in AVVE one can say Me love her really bad man! To mean he loves her very much, or Me like im bad, to mean I like him very much.

Morphological features

Contrary to Standard English, the African American Vernacular English uses multiple negations within a statement with a determination of strengthening a negation and not counteracting. This kind of negation is also dubbed as a negative accord since the divergent elements must approve each other. In other words, all must be affirmative or all in the negative. For instance, I ain’t gonna give nufing to no one. Secondly, an existential word there is replaced by it. For example, It ain’t no food and the hotel. There is no use of (s) at the end of plural words, for example; She away for three year now.

Lexical features

Ebonics does not have a vocabulary separate from the Standard English. However, Ebonics speakers use some unique words and use various English words different from their standard meaning. Different words used in Standard English also have their origin for AAVE, they include banana, Okra, and yam among others. In some instances, the words are taken from AAVE and given an English meaning, for example; hep hip- Used to mean well informed is derived from the Wolof (West African dialect) which means to open an individual’s eyes and be aware of what is going on.

Pragmatic Features

For various people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think about African American Vernacular culture, is the street gangster life, use of slang words like ‘phat’ to mean Excellent and bling to mean expensive jewelry. Ebonics speakers have established themselves as rappers and hip-hop musicians, which has attracted a broader fan base including non-Ebonics speakers. Currently, Ebonics is spoken by various age groups, and there no specific region that speaks this language. The language is recognized both inside and outside the African American Community (Fisher and Diane 634-648).

Work Cited

Boutte, Gloria Swindler. “Kindergarten Through Grade 3: Four Things to Remember About African American Language: Examples From Children’s Books.” YC Young Children, vol. 70, no. 4, 2015, pp. 38–45. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Fisher, Douglas, and Diane Lapp. “Learning to Talk Like the Test: GUIDING SPEAKERS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH.” Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, vol. 56, no. 8, 2013, pp. 634–648. JSTOR, JSTOR,

Jones, Taylor. "Toward a description of African American Vernacular English dialect regions using "Black Twitter."" American Speech 90.4 (2015): 403-440.

Rickford, John R., et al. "Neighborhood effects on the use of African-American vernacular English." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112.38 (2015): 11817-11822.


September 11, 2021

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