February is Black History Month. For many, it’s a time to pay homage to the Black community’s contributions to society and culture on a global scale. Through various articles this month, we are honoring the multi-faceted role the Black community plays in our daily lives, more specifically, within the language world. Our mission at KUDO is to break language barriers. We’re dedicating this article to the education and de-stigmatization of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Ebonics.
What is African American Vernacular English?
Depending on which expert you cite, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is either a dialect or group of dialects of the English language, a language in its own right. AAVE, often referred to as Ebonics (coined from the combination of the terms “ebony” and “phonics”), is mainly used within the African American community in the United States and Canada. This language or dialect is as systematic and complex as any other dialect but is often met with negative connotations (www.readingpartners.org).
Linguists have theorized several possible origins for AAVE. Common theories include: an alternative form of English spoken by enslaved people and indentured servants, a version of commonly known English influenced by specific West African languages, and a variant of English meshed with Caribbean and Creole (www.linguisticsociety.org). Although there is some disagreement regarding a direct point of origin, these specialists concur that AAVE is a valid form of English and requires proper recognition.
Why is this important?
At KUDO, we understand that language isn’t merely a means of communication. Language is culture; it is a way of life; it is a force that simultaneously gives us individuality and unites us as humans. This being said, the neglect of certain languages can prove to be very harmful to those who employ their use. This language discrimination also has real consequences in the forms of exclusion, prejudice, and racism.
What does language discrimination look like?
One place that language discrimination commonly shows up is in the courtroom. There are documented instances where witnesses are deemed less credible and scrutinized for their use of AAVE, in some cases having impacts on the verdict (researchgate.net). Court reporters also have a history of transcribing AAVE inaccurately; a recent study showed that 40% of court reporters transcribed AAVE incorrectly (nytimes.com). Phrases like “I been went there” may be understood as “I went there.” But to speakers of AAVE, “I been went there” means “I went there a long time ago.” These transcription errors can often influence official court records and harm defendants.
The rejection of one’s language, in some cases, can be the rejection of heritage and culture that have real-life consequences. Labeling AAVE as invalid and improper solely because it does not adhere to commonly spoken English standards highlights the ideology and behavior that KUDO strives to avoid.
As we continue to push for a more inclusive world, it’s crucial to acknowledge and honor the cultures surrounding us. And as a language company, we are especially excited to celebrate the role that languages and dialects have in cultural and historical preservation.
Interested in taking a deeper dive into the history of AAVE? Listed below are some articles and book lists.
Are you ready to have more accessible and inclusive meetings and events? Join a live demo, and learn how to expand your reach globally, ensuring you have the power to understand and be understood.