Articles and Essays, Questions, Words & Works of Others

African American Vernacular English and a lay brief history of dialect integrity!

As posted to the United Front-Civil Rights Organization:

posted by Lex Scott

 

When white people or teenagers in general use it, they are still using AAVE (African American Vernacular English). It’s not only used by African Americans anymore, since our culture is mixed, and (especially suburban teenage male) whites were sold Black culture in pop culture (namely hip hop in the late 80s), and people who are not Black/African American feel a right to co-opt it. Also, I think since AAVE is an American dialect, Americans in general (of all colors and creeds) might use it sometimes, in certain settings–whether an authentic way they learned to talk or not, a later adopted dialect. I agree it can make people sound “uneducated,” but that’s because of race (and class) hegemony pushing whiteness=rightness in education.

The responses to the original anonymous Tumblr post point out that there is a grammar system, i think it’s also called a pattern of syntax, to “You [delete to-be conjugation] + article + noun object-of-sentence” or “You [delete to-be conjugation] + adjective.” And that in fact it *matches* the grammatical system (or pattern of syntax?) of Standard American English (SAE), or “proper” English.

Of course in actual life, in reality, at a job interview or in a professional situation, yeah, it sounds uneducated or is considered unprofessional–but that’s because the Anglo dialect (SAE) is the one given clout. It’s also why AAVE is termed a “vernacular,” language spoken in daily life, colloquially.

African American Vernacular dialect functions with the same if not more complexity as Standard American English.**

See, even though AAVE (and other dialects) actually have grammar or syntax patterns = rules…they’re devalued simply because they’re not the norm (SAE) that white Americans developed for English, by natural random language evolution and on purpose, especially for education and for professional speaking.

Ask yourself: How does it sound when someone speaks with a British cockney accent? Educated or uneducated?

If you are a person who’s not African American and/or did not learn to speak AAVE growing up, do you ever say phrases like, “Where you going?” or even “Where ya going?” These also omit the “are,” the to-be conjugation (though I don’t know if it is happening in the same way linguistically!).
And would you say this, would you speak like this in a job interview or in a professional setting?^^

**African American vernacular dialect functions with the same if not more complexity as Standard American English:

Because English is largely lacking in the subjunctive and other general or what-if verb tenses (cases? Linguists please help me out here!), or doesn’t have a different-sounding word or verb conjugation for the subjunctive or a certain verb tense, Africans who were brought here retained these tenses from their African languages. For instance, saying “She be…” + adjective or + -ing verb, using the infinitive auxiliary, or helping, verb is actually from Yoruba tribe language structure! And from some other African languages, if I remember right what I’ve learned. And it’s a structure **more complex** than that of English! It makes for an additional verb tense. English is missing this kind of verb tense and murky with others: for instance, describing a chronological spot on a timeline that’s distinctly in the present but also a lasting, though undefined, length or range–so when Africans from many different tribes were learning English, suddenly forcibly put into English-speaking American environments as slaves, people or a single person from one tribe mixed up with people from all different tribes who spoke different languages, and communicating, especially learning some English was a matter of life and death, these verb tenses / sentence structures stuck around! The African language infusions clarify the English or add to it.
(Linguists, please correct, if the infinitive in “pronoun + infinitive” structure is not an infinitive auxiliary!)

^^…What if in your job, and maybe in your life in all aspects, you never have to use “professional” speak…? When African Americans and other race people of color, and poor whites and light-skinned people before the category of “white” was so omnipresent as the norm, were kept out of “professional” jobs and business and life, there was no need to learn or adapt to “professional” English of the dominant educated class/race/group. So in that sense of course it is just as “professional” to use whatever dialect you speak–or even a different language or what’s called a “pidgin” (mixture of two languages into a business/commerce dialect) or a “creole”!  If you *are* a business person, say, a butcher or owner of a butchery, and you, say, talk to the German shepherd (no pun intended nor offense meant!) to get lamb and the Jewish Rabbi who speaks Hebrew to get Kosher meat and first-generation Italian immigrants and Irish immigrants, etc., will you speak perfect King’s English or Standard American English of the year 18-something-or-other or the early 1900s? If you are an African American who until segregation mostly was only interacting to do business with other African American people, except maybe sometimes with a few working-class People of Color and/or white, probably immigrant, people…what dialects of English would you speak?

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Articles and Essays, Happs!, Reviews, Words & Works of Others

Urgent Recommendation: Claudia Rankine’s CITIZEN

CITIZEN: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

Not racist? Hear, listen, and grasp social and race issues with the renowned author, playwright, and poet. “I don’t think we connect micro-aggressions that indicate the lack of recognition of the black body as a body to the creation and enforcement of laws.” Claudia Rankine said last fall in BOMB.
Wait, what’s a “microaggression”?? These words matter.
CITIZEN: An American Lyric divulges and dissects day-to-day, often sub-surface racism and its effects beyond the moment. Her fifth poetry book, it made history, nominated for two National Book Critics Circle Awards, for Criticism and for Poetry; it won the latter, along with the NAACP Image Award, PEN Open Book Award, and others, and is the only New York Times nonfiction bestseller of its lyric kind.
CITIZEN calls out in solidarity if you’ve ever been run into by an armored tank of racial marginalization or been caught in a nasty traffic jam of intersectionality. Rankine calls you to action if you give a hoot or are susceptible to participating in systemic racism. Cultural theorist Lauren Berlant described in the BOMB interview, “Citizenship involves metabolizing in the language of your flesh what you call the ‘ordinary’ injury of racist encounter.” Rankine’s prose details scene by the millisecond, along with internal reaction, piling on inevitable, immediate, smacking social resonance in fell swoop after fell swoop. Each scene rounds out with that “metabolizing” as it happens, or as its consequence plays out within black bodies and minds constrained by white hegemony and apathy.
Los Angeles’ Fountain Theater produced an adaptation in August, spotlighting the versatility of CITIZEN and Rankine’s multi-form and -genre work. Her dialogue and descriptions came to life on stage particularly smoothly: The ensemble cast rove among different characters, black actors facing white actors, playing out scenes of surprise verbal, contextual complicity or attack and slow-motion, time-stopped response, outburst, or restraint. Sitting, watching in your red theater seat became complacency; cringing and squirming in it were not enough.
In interactions of daily and professional life, how can white people stop colluding to enact racism, even if unintentionally? How can all people not commit and not accept racial microaggression? Recognition of such words and acts is a start.

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