African-American Vernacular (AAVE) is the native variety of the vast majority of working- and middle-classAfrican Americans, particularly in urban areas, with its own unique accent, grammar, and vocabulary features. Typical features of the grammar include a "zero" copula (e.g., she my sister instead of she's my sister), simplification of the possessive form (e.g., my momma friend instead of my mom's friend), and complexification of verb aspects and tenses beyond those of other English dialects (e.g., constructions like I'm a-run, I be running, I been runnin, I done ran, etc.). Common features of the phonology include non-rhoticity (dropping the r sound at the end of syllables), the metathetic use of aks instead of ask, simplification of diphthongs (e.g., eye typically sounds like ah), a raisingchain shift of the front vowels, and a wider range of intonation or "melody" patterns than most General American accents. AAVE is used by middle-class African Americans in casual, intimate, and informal settings as one end of a sociocultural language continuum, and AAVE shows some slight variations by region or city.
African-American Standard English
African-American Standard English is the prestigious end of the middle-class African-American language continuum, used for more formal, careful, or public settings than AAVE. This variety exhibits standard English vocabulary and grammar but often retains elements of the unique AAVE accent. Most middle-class African Americans are typically bi-dialectal between this variety and AAVE, learning this variety through schooling. Adults will frequently even codeswitch between the two varieties within a single conversation.
African-American Appalachian English
The small numbers of black Appalachian Americans have been reported as increasingly accommodating to the Appalachian/Southern dialect commonly associated with white Appalachians. These similarities include an accent that is rhotic, the categorical use of the grammatical construction "he works" or "she goes" (rather than the AAVE "he work" and "she go"), and Appalachian vocabulary (such as airish for "windy"). However, even African-American English in Appalachia is diverse, with African-American women linguistically divided along sociocultural lines: culturally conservative and "proper" church-goers tending to use more Appalachian regional features, but "porch sitters" affiliated with nationwide black youth culture and music tending to use more AAVE features.
African-American Outer Banks English
African-American English in the North Carolina Outer Banks is rapidly accommodating to urban AAVE through the recent generations, despite having aligned with local Outer Banks English for centuries.
Older African-American English
Older or earlier African-American English refers to a set of many heterogeneous varieties studied and reconstructed by linguists as theoretically spoken by the first African Americans and African slaves in the United States. Of primary interest is the direct theoretical predecessor to AAVE. Mainly four types of sources have been used for the historical reconstruction of older AAVE: written interviews, ex-slave audio recordings, the modern diaspora dialects of isolated black communities, and letters written by eighteenth- and nineteenth-century African Americans. The use of the zero copula (the absence of is or are, as in she gonna leave), nonstandard plural forms (the three man, mans, or even mens) and multiple negatives (as in no one didn't leave me nothing) were occasional or common variants in these earlier dialects, and the latter item even the preferred variant in certain grammatical contexts. Other nonstandard grammatical constructions associated with AAVE are documented in older dialects too; however, many of them are not, evidently being recent innovations of twentieth-century urban AAVE.
Sea Island Creole English, or "Gullah", is the distinct language of some African Americans along the South Carolina and Georgia coast. Gullah is an English creole: a natural language grammatically independent from English that uses mostly English vocabulary. Most Gullah speakers today probably form a continuum with the English language. A sub-dialect of Gullah is also spoken in Oklahoma and Texas, known as Afro-Seminole Creole.
There is a long tradition of representing the speech of blacks in American literature. A number of researchers have looked into the ways that American authors have depicted the speech of black characters, investigating how black identity is established and how it connects to other characters. Brasch (1981:x) argues that early mass media portrayals of black speech are the strongest historical evidence of a separate variety of English for blacks. Early popular works are also used to determine the similarities that historical varieties of black speech have in common with modern AAVE.
As there is no established spelling system for AAVE, depicting it in literature is instead often done through spelling changes to indicate its phonological features, or to contribute to the impression that AAVE is being used (eye dialect). More recently, authors have begun focusing on grammatical cues, and even the use of certain rhetorical strategies.
Portrayals of black characters in movies and television are also done with varying degrees of authenticity. In Imitation of Life (1934), the speech and behavioral patterns of Delilah (an African American character) are reminiscent of minstrel performances that set out to exaggerate stereotypes, rather than depict black speech authentically. More authentic performances, such as those in the following movies and TV shows, occur when certain speech events, vocabulary, and syntactic features are used to indicate AAVE usage, often with particular emphasis on young, urban African Americans:
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