from sea to shining sea

American Varieties

African American English

Immigrant groups from every part of the world have routinely brought their language to the United States except one: African Americans.
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What are the origins of the variety that has been described as Black English, Black English Vernacular, African American Vernacular English, Ebonics and African American English?

When  Worlds Collide
The roots of AAE remain controversial.

Hooked on Ebonics
Validating home language produces results.

john baugh and robert macneil at slavery museum, detroit

videoUp From Slavery
John Baugh discusses the creole origins of African American English.

Walt Wolfram tells us that while debate about language origins and evolution is common, the history of race relations in American society makes the case of African American English, popularly known as Ebonics, somewhat special. The broad path of historical development seems obvious, he explains. Africans speaking a rich assortment of West African languages such as Mandinka, Mende, and Gola-among many others-learned English subsequent to their shackled emigration from Africa to North America. But the process of this shift and the possibility of lingering linguistic effects centuries later from the ancestral languages of West Africa , remains a matter of controversy and intrigue.

Observations about African American speech have never been far removed from the politics of race in American society, so that it is hardly surprising that the status of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) has been-and continues to be-highly contentious and politically sensitive. Learn More

Suggested Reading/Additional Resources

Sponsored by:

National Endowment for the Humanities Hewlett Foundation Ford Foundation   Arthur Vining Davis Foundations Carnegie Corporation

National Endowment
for the Humanities

William and Flora Hewlett


Rosalind P.

Arthur Vining
Davis Foundations

Corporation of New York