Anti-Racism 101

29 African American Vernacular English


“AAVE is an acronym for African American Vernacular English. Other terms for it in academia are African American Varieties of English, African American English (AAE), Black English (BE) and Black English Vernacular (BEV). In popular culture, it is largely misunderstood, and thought of as ‘bad English,’ ‘ebonics’ (originally coined in 1973 by someone with good intentions, from ‘ebony’ and ‘phonics,’ but now starting to become a slur), ‘ghetto talk’ (definitely a slur), and the ‘blaccent’ (a portmanteau word of ‘black’ and ‘accent’) that NPR seems to like using.

Why do I say it’s misunderstood? Because it is emphatically not bad English. It is a full-fledged dialect of English, just like, say, British English. It is entirely rule-bound – meaning it has a very clear grammar which can be (and has been) described in great detail. It is not simply ‘ungrammatical.’ If you do not conform to the grammar of AAVE, the result is ungrammatical sentences in AAVE.

That said, its grammar is different than many other dialects of English. In fact, it can do some really cool things that other varieties of English cannot.”

-Taylor Jones

Ebonics, people said, was simply a collection of ‘slang and bad grammar’—not nearly enough to make a language. The TV talking head Tucker Carlson, in a typically nasty flourish, called Black English ‘a language where nobody knows how to conjugate the verbs.’ The pungent reaction baffled linguists, who had long appreciated—and begun to seriously study—the ‘languageness’ of Black English and other informal speech variants, such as Jamaican Patois, Swiss German, and Haitian Creole.” –Vinson Cunningham