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from sea to shining sea

American Varieties:African American English

Origins: Dialect or Creole?

john jaugh and robert macneil at slavery museum, detroit

videoDr. John Baugh, Stanford University

Return to: African American English Index

There are two main hypotheses about the origin of African American Vernacular English or AAVE. The Dialectologist Hypothesis, a prevailing view in the 1940s, concentrates on the English origins of AAVE, to the exclusion of African influence.

The Creole Hypothesis, on the other hand, maintains that modern AAVE is the result of a creole derived from English and various West African Languages. (A creole is a language derived from other languages that becomes the primary language of the people who speak it.) Slaves who spoke many different West African languages  were often thrown together during their passage to the New World. To be able to communicate in some fashion they developed a pidgin* by applying English and some West African vocabulary to the familiar grammar rules of their native tongue. This pidgin was passed onto future generations. As it became the primary language of its speakers, it was classified as a creole. Over the years AAVE has gone through the process of decreolization - a change in the creole that makes it more like the standard language of an area.

*A pidgin is language composed of two or more languages created for the purpose of communication, usually around trade centers, between people who do not speak a common language. It is never a person's primary language.

Source: Bryan McLucas (Edited)


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