No, it’s not TikTok slang.
In the melting pot of American dialects, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) stands out as a vibrant and culturally significant linguistic variety. Formerly referred to as Ebonics, a term coined by Black psychologist Robert Williams–who is also a co-founder of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi)–AAVE has evolved over time and plays a substantial role in shaping American language.
According to the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, The origins of African American dialects can be traced back to the forced migration of African people during the transatlantic slave trade. Separated from their homelands, enslaved Africans developed unique linguistic forms, blending elements from their native languages with those of other African tribes and European colonizers. The Gullah Geechee language, originating in the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia, represents a vibrant example of this amalgamation. Similarly, Tutnese, spoken by African Americans in Tutwiler, Mississippi, showcases the adaptability of language, blending African roots with the linguistic influence of the American South.
The term “Ebonics,” emerged in the 1990s as a linguistic identifier for African American speech. Williams, also a founding member of the Association of Black Psychologists (ABPsi), aimed to challenge the prevailing notion that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) was mere slang or improper English. However, the term became a source of controversy, leading to a shift in nomenclature to AAVE. This change reflected a desire to move away from the negative connotations associated with “Ebonics” and assert the legitimacy of AAVE as a distinct linguistic system.
The age-old debate surrounding the incorporation of AAVE in educational settings often involves concerns from some parents who prefer their children to adhere to Standard American English. Critics argue that parents, educators, and policymakers should advocate for a practice known as code-switching, where individuals alternate between AAVE and Standard English based on the context. Proponents of code-switching suggest that it prepares students for success in diverse linguistic environments, including academic and professional settings. However, this approach has also faced criticism, with some arguing that it perpetuates linguistic biases and implies that AAVE is inherently inferior.
AAVE influences American society across various areas. Its impact spans cultural expressions like music and literature, shaping genres such as hip-hop and influencing renowned authors. AAVE’s presence is notable in social media, contributing to internet slang, memes, and viral content. It has influenced everyday communication, introducing phrases like “cap” and the now-co-opted “woke” into mainstream English. AAVE serves as a marker of cultural identity and empowerment for African Americans, challenging linguistic norms and fostering inclusivity.
AAVE stands as a treasure, sharing the rich history, creativity, and enduring spirit of Black American communities across generations. Most importantly, it’s ours.
Cover Photo: African American Vernacular English plays a substantial role in shaping American language / Design by Madison Echlin