Linguistic Аspects of Black English

Theme: Linguistic Аspects of Black English.


Introduction: ………………………………………………………………...3

Chapter I. Historical Review of Black English……………………………...8

1. The Origin of Black English………………………………………….…. 8

2. Development of Pidgin and Creole ……………………………………..12

Chapter II. Development of the U.S. Black English……………………….17

1. Differences of Black English and Standard English,

British English and British Black English…………………………………17

2. African American Vernacular English and its use in teaching process...24

Chapter III. Linguistic Aspects of Black English………………………….32

1. Phonetic peculiarities …………………………………………………..32

2. Grammar peculiarities………………………………………………....36

3. Lexical peculiarities……………………………………….……….…..49

Conclusion: ………………………………………………………………54

Bibliography: ………………………………………………………….…56



The topic of Black English is very actual in terms of sociolinguistics and language interaction development, in racial relations and ethnic cultures. Through understanding Linguistic Aspects of Black English we can observe peculiarities of language development and culture of people.


The aim of this work is to research the linguistic aspects of Black English language.

Objectives of the paper are:

- to analyze the origin of Black English.

- to analyze the development of Pidgin and Creole.

- to consider differences between Black English, Standard English,

British English, and British Black English.

- to investigate the African American Vernacular English and its use in

teaching process.

 - to research the phonetic peculiarities of B.E.

- to investigate the grammar peculiarities of B.E.

- to consider the lexical peculiarities of B.E.

Black English is a social dialect of American English, originated and formed as a result of language interaction in the process of historical development.

The topic of the diploma work is to study Black English as a sociolect of American variant of English language, analyze its linguistics aspects, especially phonetic, grammatic, lexical formed in the process of historical development. The historic development and linguistics characteristics make up the core content of work. Black English is the communicative and social system, originally created at the intersection of three dimensions – social class, ethnic and territorial

Black English is a term going back to 1969. It is used almost exclusively as the name for a dialect of American English spoken by many black Americans.

Black English is a variety of English, spoken in America and it is the subject of many controversies, the problem being that of whether considering it a language, a dialect or simply a slang talk. This language variety, also known a Ebonics, is nearly as old as Standard American English, but it has often been misinterpreted as defective, it has never been standardized and has always had lower status compared to Standard American English.

From the 1960’s to the present, African American English has increasingly become also acceptable term for Black English , and the corresponding official name for the language variety used by Africans Americans is thus African American English or African American Vernacular English (AAVE).(15,65)

Black English Vernacular (BEV) as coined by William Labov in 1972 defines the variety American English spoken by Black People. Its pronunciation is in some respects common to Southern American English, which is spoken by many African Americans in the United States and by many non-African American.

Ebonics is a recent and controversial neologism, coined by Robert L. Williams during a 1973 conference in St. Louis, Missouri, “cognitive and Language Development of the Black Child”. It is a blend of ebony (a synonym for black that lacks its pejorative connotations) and phonics (pertaining to speech sounds) and by definition it refers specifically to an African-language-based Creole (from an earlier pidgin) that has been relexified by borrowing from English, resulting in what African Americans now speak in the United States.(34,54)

Black English is complex, controversial, and only partly understood. Records of the early speech forms are sparse. It is unclear, how much influence black speech has had on the pronunciation of southern whites; according to some linguists, generation of close contact resulted in the families of the slaves owners picking up some of the speech habits of their servants, which gradually developed into the distinctive southern ‘drawl’. Slave labor in the south gave birth to diverse linguistic norms; former indentured servants from all parts of the British Isles, who often became overseers on plantations, variously influenced the foundation of Black English. First the industrial revolution then the Civil War disrupted slavery and promoted African-American migration within the U.S., s a result of which slave dialects were transplanted from Southern plantation to the factories of the North and Midwest. There was a widespread exodus to the industrial cities of the northern states, and black culture became known throughout the country for its music and dance.

Many historical events have had an effect on Black English. One of this was the early use of English-based pidgins and creoles among slave populations, as almost all Africans originally were brought to the United States as slaves. Pidgin is a variety of a language which developed for some practical purpose, such as trading, among groups of people who did not know each other’s language. Creole is a pidgin which has become the first language of a social community. (17,124)

Black English was investigated in the USA by D. Crystal (“The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language ”,” English Language”), by C. Baugh and T.Cable (“History of the English Language”) , in Russia by R.V. Reznic, T.S. Sookina, (“A History of The English Language”), by A.D. Schweitzer (“The Social Differentiation of English in The USA.”), in Kazakhstan by F.S.Duisebayeva (“ Linguistics Aspects of Black English”) but there are no monographic research of B.E. in our country. ( 12,8,9,13,1,10)

Theoretical base of research are comprised by the works of D.Crystal, C.Baugh and T.Cable, A.D.Schweitzer, F.S. Duisebayeva and etc.

Theoretical significance.

The investigation of Black English Language and its linguistic aspects contribute for a further development of sociolinguistics theory, American studies etc.

The practical significance.

This material can be used as teaching manual in the process of teaching English Language, Lexicology, History of the English language, Area studies.

Methods of research.

The following methods are used in the paper: comparative, descriptive, analytical.

The structure of work.

The diploma work consists of an introduction, three chapters, conclusion and bibliography.

The introduction covers topicality, aim, objectives, and theoretical base of research, theoretical significance, the practical significance, and methods of research and the structure of work.

Chapter I. Development of Black English presents historical review of Black English, analyses of the origin of Black English, the development of Pidgin and Creole.

Chapter II. Development of the U.S. Black English considers differences of Black English and Standard English, British English and British Black English, A.A.V.E. and its use in teaching process.

Chapter III. Linguistic aspects of B.E analyses the phonetic, grammar, lexical peculiarities of B.E.

Conclusion present the results of the investigation.

Bibliography covers 39 units of materials, used in the diploma paper.

Chapter I. Historical review of B.E.

1. The Origin of Black English.

According to J.L. Dillard some 80% of black Americans speak the Black English, and he and many commentators stress its African origins. The history of Black English in the United States is complex, controversial, and only partly understood. Black English is a term going back only to 1969. It is used almost exclusively as the name for a dialect for American English spoken by many black Americans. Records of the early speech forms are sparse. It is unclear, how much influence black speech has had on the pronunciation of southern whites; according to some linguists, generation of close contact resulted in the families of the slaves owners picking up some of the speech habits of their servants, which gradually developed into the distinctive southern ‘drawl’. (33,23)

 From the early 17-th century, ships from Europe traveled to the West African coast, where they exchanged cheap good for black slaves. The slaves were shipped in barbarous conditions to the Caribbean islands and the American coast, where they were in tern exchanged for such commodities as sugar, rum, and molasses. The ships then returned to England, completing an ‘Atlantic triangle’ of journeys, and the process began again. The first 20 African slaves arrived in Virginia on a Dutch ship in 1619. Britain and the United States had outlawed the slave trade by the American Revolution (1776) their numbers had grown to half a million, and there were over 4 million by the time slavery was abolished, at the end of the United States Civil War (1865).

The policy of the slave-trades was to bring people of different language backgrounds together in the ships, to make it difficult for the groups to plot rebellion. The result was the growth of several pidgin forms of communication, and in particular a pidgin between the slavers and the sailors, many of whom spoke English.

The black slaves who were arriving in Jamestown, Va. In 1619. Manhattan Island in 1635 and Massachusetts in 1638 have used the Afro- European varieties for communication among themselves. In 1692, justice Hathorne recorded Tituba, an African slave from the island of Barbados in the British West Indies, speaking in the pidgin of the slaves. Tituba was quoted as saying “He tell me he God,” The words of the phrase are English, but the structure and grammar of the phrase are congruous with that pf the West African languages that Smitherman identifies. (32, 8)

During the early years of American settlement, a highly distinctive form of English was emerging in the island of the West Indies and the Southern part of the mainland, spoken by the incoming black population. The emergence of slave trade was a consequence of the important of African slaves to work on the sugar plantations, a practice started by the Spanish in 1517.

First the industrial revolution then the Civil War disrupted slavery and promoted African-American migration within the U.S., s a result of which slave dialects were transplanted from Southern plantation to the factories of the North and Midwest. Slave labor in the south gave birth to diverse linguistic norms; former indentured servants from all parts of the British Isles, who often became overseers on plantations, variously influenced the foundation of Black English. There was a widespread exodus to the industrial cities of the northern states, and black culture became known throughout the country for its music and dance. (15, 36). Black English was born of slavery between the late XVI c.- early XVII c. and middle XIX c. and followed black migration from the southern states to racially isolated ghettos throughout the United States.

Slave labor in the south gave birth to diverse linguistic norms; former indentured servants from all parts of the British Isles, who often became overseers on plantations, variously influenced the foundation of B.E.V. first the industrial revolution the Civil War disrupted slavery and promoted African American migration within the United States, as a result of which slave dialects were transplanted from Southern plantation to the factories of the North and Midwest. An artifact not of race but of a speech community, Black English originated as a pidgin (a simplified language used in a commercial context to facilitate communication among speakers of different languages) that the slaves coming from a variety of language backgrounds used to communicate among themselves.

In the XVIII century, more records of the speech of slaves and the representations of their speech were produced. In fact, J.L. Dillard claims that “By 1715 there clearly was an African Pidgin English known on a worldwide scale. In 1744, an ad in The New York Evening Post read: “Ran away … a new African Fellow named Prince, he can’t scarce speak a Word of English.” In 1760, an ad in the North Carolina Gazette read: “Ran away from the Subscriber, African Born, speaks bad English. In 1734, the Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury read: “Ran away …; he’s Pennsylvanian born and speaks good English.” (33, 16)

Quotations from Black English speakers became abundant in the records of Northern states by about 1750, nearly half a century before the earliest records in the Southern colonies were found in Charleston, S.C. (10, 1)

Black characters made their way into show business in 1777 with the comical Trial of Atticus before Justice Beau, for Rape. In this farcical production, "one of our neighbor's," says "Yes, Maser, he tell me that Atticus he went to bus 'em one day, and a shilde cry, and so he let 'em alon". Much like Tituba's statement, the statements above use English vocabulary, yet the structure and grammar of the statements well in keeping with that of the West African Languages.

Other informative evidence in tracing the development of Black English lies in newspaper ads reporting runaway slaves. In locating and identifying a runaway slave, the slaves' speech played an instrumental role. It is important to remember that the slave trade was not outlawed until 1808, and even then it was not strictly adhered to. Smitherman reports that "As late as 1858, over 400 slaves were brought direct from Africa to Georgia". Consequently, there was a constant influx of Africans who spoke no English at all. This produced a community of people with a broad array of mastery of Black English and even Standard English. (32, 84)

 This is made clear when we see the newspaper ads that reported runaway slaves. This stratification of language is vital in the development and the development of the perception of Black English, if it is remembered that not all Blacks were slaves in Early America. Successful runaways were likely to be those who attained a relative mastery of Standard English. The mastery of Standard English would prove invaluable to a slave who had to travel a long distance across American soil to win his freedom. Further more, early Black writers, such as Frederick Douglass, wrote in the Standard English of his time. A mastery of Standard English was also beneficial in passing as a free Black. In a very real and disturbing way, Black English became the language of slavery and servitude. (35, 212)

 During the Civil war period, abolitionists made the speech of slaves know to all serious readers of that era. Writers such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Thomas Halliburton produced many works that indicated their knowledge of the existence of Black English. While the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves were significant historical events, their impact was mitigated severely by the Jim Crow era. Although everyone labeled "Negro" by the Jim Crow laws did not speak Black English, it is safe to assume that those Blacks who did speak Black English far outnumbered those who spoke Standard English.

2. Development of Pidgin and Creole.

In this part we introduce pidgin languages and their characteristics. A pidgin is a system of communication which has grown up among people who do not share a common language, but who want to talk to it other, for treading or other reasons. The characteristic of a pidgin is that it is no one’s native language: it is a second language for all its speakers. This is true of a pidgin whether it is still in the process of formation or it has been around in a stable form for hundreds of years as West African Pidgin English has. However, it is possible for a pidgin to become a native language for some or all of its speakers.

Pidgins have been variously called ‘makeshift’, ‘marginal’, or ‘mixed’ language. They have a limited vocabulary, a reduced grammatical structure, and a much narrower range of functions, compared to the language which gave rise to them. They are the native language of no-one, but they are nonetheless a main means of communication for millions of people, and a major focus of interest those who study the way languages change.

In many parts of the world pidgin languages are used routinely in such daily matters as news broadcasts, safety instructions, newspapers, and commercial advertising. And the more developed pidgin languages have been used for translations of Shakespeare and the bible. Pidgin grew up along the trade routes of the world- especially in those parts where the British, French and Dutch built up their empires. (8, 36)

Pidgin English’s are mainly to be found in to big families- one in the Atlantic, one in the Pacific. The Atlantic varieties developed in West Africa, and were transported to the West Indies and America during the years of the slave trade. In Africa they are still widely used in the Gambia, Sierra Lione, Liberia, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, and Cameroon. The Pacific varieties are found in wide sweep across the south- western part of the ocean, from the coast of chine to the northern part of Australia, in such part as Hawaii, Vanuatu, and Papua New Guinea. In the Americas, they are found, in a developed form, in most of its islands and on the mainland, spoken largely by the black populations. Estimates very, but probably about sixty million people speak or understand one or other of these forms of English.

Pidgins often have a very little life span. While the Americans were in Vietnam, a Pidgin English grew up there, but it quickly disappeared when the troops left. In similar way, many pidgins which grew up for trading purposes have ceased to exist, because the countries which were in contact stopped trading with each other. On the other hand, if a trading contact is very likely learn each other’s language, and there will then be no reason for the continued use of the pidgin.

A very significant development then took place. People began to use the pidgin at home. As children were born into these families, the pidgin language became their mother tongue. When this happened, the status of the language fundamentally altered, and it came to be used in a more flexible and creative way.

The term Creole comes from Portuguese cariole, and originally meant a person of European descent who had been born and brought up in a colonial territory. Later it came to be applied to other people who were native of these areas and then to the rind of language they spoke. Creoles are now classified as English based, French based, and so on- though the genetic relation ships of a Creole to its dominant linguistic sector is never straightforward, as the Creole may display the influences of several contact languages in its sounds, vocabulary and stubby. (17, 22)

A Creole is a pidgin language which has become the mother tongue of a community- a definition which emphasizes that pidgins and Creole are two stages in a single process linguistics development. First, within a community, increasing numbers of people begin to use pidgin as their principle means of communication. As a consequence their children hear it more than any other language, and gradually it takes on the status of a mother tongue for them. Within a generation or two, native language use becomes consolidated and widespread. The result is a Creole, or “creolized” language.

Despite the existence of many political and cultural differences, and then considerable geographical distances separating some of the countries involved there are striking similarities among the English based Creole languages of the world. This identity can bee seen at all levels of language structure, but is most dramatic relation to grammar. It can be explained, according to the Creole hypothesis, as a consequence of the way this languages have developed out of the kind of Creole English used by the first black slaves in America and the Caribbean. (17, 36)

 This language it is thought was originally very different from English, as a result of its mixed African linguistics background, but generation of contact with the dominant white English population have had an inevitable effect, drawing g it much closer to the standard variety. There are certainly many differences between the various Caribbean creoles and between these and the varieties of Black English Vernacular used in the United States and the English based Creoles of West Africa; but the overall impression is one of a family of languages closely related in structure and idiom.

The switch from language to Creole involves a major expansion in the structural linguistics resources available - especially in vocabulary, grammar, and style, which now have to cope with the everyday demands made upon a mother tongue by its speakers. (18, 55)

The main source of conflicts is likely to be with the standard form of the language from which it derives, and which it derives and with witch it usually coexists. The standard languages have the status which comes with social prestige, education and wealth; the Creole has no such status its roots lying in a history of subservient and slavery. Inevitable, Creole speakers find themselves under great pressure to change their speech in the direction of the standard- a process known as decreolization.

One consequence of this is the emergence of a continuum of several varieties of Creole speech, at varying degrees of linguistics ‘distance’ from the standard- what has been called the ‘post- Creole continuum’ Another consequence is an aggressive reaction against the standard language on the part of Creole speakers, who assert the superior status of their Creole, and the need to recognize the ethnic identity of their community. Such a reaction can lead to a marked change in speech habits, as the speakers focus on what they see to be the ‘pure’ form of Creole- a process known as hyper- realization. (22, 248)

When a pidgin becomes a native language for some of its speakers, it said to become a Creole. This means that it is a language which has passed through a pidgin stage, and has now become the language of a community. Children growing up in that community speak the Creole as their native language. Very often, of course, there are other languages spoken in the community as well. Some children who speak the Creole may also speak other languages.

 When a pidgin becomes a Creole, it may change its character somewhat. The differences are subtle and difficult to study, and a great deal has been written on this subject with little agreement being reached. However, we can say that where there are differences between the pidgin and the Creole, these will be related to the new functions which the Creole has taken on. It no longer serves just as a means of communication between adults with no other language in common; it is now a language through which children experience the world, develop their knowledge and mental capacities, and grow up.

Creolized varieties of English are very important throughout the Caribbean, and in the countries to which Caribbean people have emigrated- notably Britain. Black English in the United States is also Creole in origin.

There is often conflict between the Creole and Standard English in these places. The Creole gives its speakers their linguistic, as an ethnic group. Standard English, on the other hand, gives them access to the rest of the English-speaking world. It is not easy for governments to develop an acceptable language policy when such fundamental issues are involved. Social and political circumstances vary so much that no simple generalizations possible- except to emphasize the need for standard English users to replace their traditional dismissive attitude towards Creole speech with an informed awareness of its linguistics complexity as a major variety of modern English. (25,485)

Chapter II. Development of the U.S. Black English.

1. Differences of B.E. and Standard English, British English and British Black English.

Black English has features unique to its subsystem as well as features of the general system of English grammar. It has its own rules of grammar and phonology. One dominant characteristic is the amount of fluctuation in forms and constructions. Almost every statement about Black English includes a qualification such as "may occur", "sometimes", "often" or "generally." The same speaker will pronounce a plural ending on one occasion and on another occasion will drop it. One sentence will have ain´t for the past negative and the next didn´t or even ditn´t.

A device called "sweet talk" also appears in Black English. This means that new forms are often created to fit a particular setting or situation. In the rules of Standard English grammar "sweet talk" would be considered bad English because of its ignorance of grammatical rules. In Black English "sweet talk" serves to establish a verbal superiority: he who masters the language can control the communication and will thus also control the personal or group relationships of the situation. It is easy to see the connection between "sweet talk" and the language games often played on street corners by black children or the "rap battles" which are a part of current popular culture.

Another device is known as "eye dialect". This refers to changing the spelling of words without changing their sound, in order to characterize a speaker. For example, "was" can be spelled "wuz", although both are pronounced the same. The "wuz" spelling characterizes one as the speaker of a particular dialect, with its particular social connotations.

-British Black English.

In the 1950s and 1960s people from the Caribbean migrated to Britain in relatively large numbers. Most of these settled in cities, especially in the large English cities, and in most of these communities people from Jamaica were more numerous than people from other parts of the Caribbean. Although the Caribbean is made up of many different islands and mainland territories, including many where an English Creole is not spoken, British Black English is most similar to Jamaican Creole, because of the larger number of Jamaicans who settled in this country.

Linton Kwesi Johnson is probably the best known poet in Britain who is currently using Creole. His verse is spoken against a musical background (dubbing) and distributed on records, tapes and CDs. The poem "Sonny's Lettah", appeared in print in his anthology "Inglan' is a Bitch" (1980) and was recorded on his album Forces of Victory. (34)

“Mama, a jus couldn't stan up an no dhu notin so mi juk one ina im eye an him started to cry mi tump one ina him mouth an him started to shout mi kick one pon him shin an him started to spin mi tump him pon him chin an him drop pon a bin an crash an DEAD. Mama more police man come down an beat mi to di groun' dem charge Jim fi sus dem charge mi fi murder”

Now here is the same passage written in a phonemic orthography devised by Le Page and Cassidy for the Dictionary of Jamaican English (1980):

“Mama a jos kudn stan op an no du notin so mi juk wan ina him ai an him staatid to krai mi tomp wan ina him mout an him staatid tu shout mi kik wan pan him shin an him staatid tu spin mi tomp him pan him chin an him drap pan a bin an krash an DED. Mama Muor pliisman kom doun an biit mi tu di groun dem chaaj Jim fi sos dem chaaj mi fi morda.” (34)

People of Afro‑Caribbean descent who have been born in Britain nearly always learn the local variety of British English as their first language. Usually, they speak and understand Creole as well (though how well they know it varies from person to person) but use it less often than British English. Especially in private, informal conversations, both British English and Creole may be used. When a speaker "switches" from one language variety to another in the course of the same conversation ‑ sometimes even within one sentence ‑ this is called code switching. It is common behaviour among bilinguals of all kinds (though in some communities, it is frowned upon).

The following is an extract from a conversation among some young women in London. Most of the conversation is in British English but the speaker B. switches twice into Creole (underlined):

B       it's that same guy that you go back to and have the

         best life cause you know that guy you know ( what

C ( yeah

B        to expect you two can sit down and (.) sort out

          Where you went wrong=

C       = yeah that's it, yeah

B       an' you might end up marryin' that guy me know who

         me want marry a'ready! (softly) so, you know it's

         just ( * * * (inaudible)

C       ( * * * (inaudible) gonna marry

J        you see this is what I'm saying about Graham right,

         I don't really know but you know when you see

         someone and I tell you I did like Graham from the

         First time I saw him, I mean it does take time

         gettin' to know the right person

B       Let me tell you now wiv every guy I've been out wiv,

         it's been a ‑ a ­whole heap o' mont's before I move

         wiv the nex' one!

J        Next one, yeah!

The two switches to Creole by speaker B are both marked by a noticeable change in the pronunciation (not shown in the transcription), for example, "whole" is pronounced /h l/. In the "British English" parts, the speakers have fairly strong London accents (e.g. "with is pronounced" /w v/) but in the "Creole" parts, the phonemes and intonation patterns are pronounced as in Creole.

Linguists have identified many reasons for code switching. One persuasive theory is that in some bilingual communities, the language which has a longer association with the community (in this case Creole, which has its origin in the Caribbean) is used as a sign of solidarity, to signal membership of a group and show closeness to other group members. Research has shown that in the Afro-Caribbean community, Creole is often used to emphasise an important point (only in informal, personal conversations). There is no "right" or "wrong" answer to the question of why a speaker switches at a particular moment (usually they are not aware of switching). If you know any bilingual speakers, you might try recording them in conversation with other bilinguals to see whether, when, and in what ways they code switch. (16. 37)

The following Creole creative writing narrative was written by a London school pupil of Caribbean descent.

“Bull, Babylon, the Wicked

One manin in January me and my spars dem was coming from a club in Dalston. We didn't have no donsi so we a walk go home. De night did cold and di gal dem wi did have wid we couldn't walk fast. Anyway we must have been walking for about fifteen minutes when dis car pull up, it was this youthman ah know and him woman. We see sey a mini cab him inna. Him sey "How far you ah go?”(30,335)

Me sey "Not far, you ketch we too late man”.

Anyway before me could close me mout de two gal dem jump inna de car, bout sey dem nah walk no more. Me an Trevor tell dem fi gwan. And de car pull way.

Next ting me know me is about 50 yards from my yard and is the wicked dem just a come down inna dem can. At first me wanted fi run, but Trevor sey "run what" "After we no just kool". We don't have no weed or money pon us. Dem can't do notin. (30, 336)

Next ting we know dem grab we up anna push we into dem car. Me and Trevor put up a struggle but after a few licks we got pushed in. "Now then you two "Rastas" been ripping off mini cabs haven't you?” "We aren't "Rastas" and we don't know what you are talking about". "Save all that until we get to the station Rastus my son". Den him get pon him radio, and tell the station that him ketch the two responsible for that hold up of the mini cab. Trevor luk pon me I could see that he was worried.”

Thus we define the differences between Creole and British English:

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