African American Vernacular English is not Standard English with mistakes

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Citation: Geoffrey Pullman (1999) African American Vernacular English is not Standard English with mistakes. The Workings of Language: From Prescriptions to Perspectives (RSS)




Describes how African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a dialect with "regular syntactic principles of its own" that also occur in other languages, such as:

  • omitted coupla
  • negative concord
  • dropped consonants

Points out that AAVE is not slang, slang being just different or differently used words within a language, nor is it a creole, or use of words within the grammatical structure of another language, and that "dialect" and "language" are the same concept, with different uses eg in language classification and to denote a relatively low prestige version of a language.

Having its own rules, AAVE can be used incorrectly, illustrated by an African American columnist, William Raspberry, using incorrect AAVE in order to criticize AAVE. As with other dialects, some speakers know multiple and can switch based on context.

Chapter written following media controversy over using AAVE (dubbed "Ebonics") in Oakland, California schools. Notes proponents got some things wrong (relation to African languages) but that teaching in dialects has been shown to speed learning, including of "standard" or high prestige versions, giving an example of instruction in rural Norwegian dialects in Norway for younger students.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

2016 discussion: