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African American English

High School 9-12 Levels

African American English

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No topic in  sociolinguistics has been studied more than the history and the structure of African American English (AAE). Also referred to as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), Black English, and Ebonics, there is debate on the status of African American English as a distinct dialect of American English spoken by many African Americans or as a language in its own right. (See Rethinking Schools, “The Real Ebonics Debate.")

Over the past 50 years, linguists have conducted a great deal of scientific research on AAE, but the public has not been well informed about what language features characterize this dialect and where it came from. This unit presents several hypotheses about the development of African American English, looks at how schools have addressed African American English, and investigates the influential role that African American English plays in modern culture and society. The unit promotes student awareness of a dialect that is likely to fascinate them and challenges predominant stereotypes.

AAE or AAVE must be distinguished from hip-hop, or Hip-Hop Nation Language (HHNL). HHNL, popularly used by young people, refers to the mode of speaking associated with hip-hop culture—not the same thing as AAE/AAVE. AAE/AAVE has been spoken in America for centuries and thus has a much longer history than HHNL, which has been around only for several decades. AAE is spoken by a wide range of people throughout the United States, while hip-hop vocabulary tends to be specialized and used only among distinct social groups. However, most importantly, even while AAVE and HHNL share a rich and vibrant vocabulary, HHNL does not differ structurally, whereas African American Vernacular English has its own syntactical structure, and may incorporate slang vocabulary but is much more than simply the use of slang.

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Key Ideas

  • AAE has a grammatical system that is as systematic as that of Mainstream (Standard) American English. It is not a substandard, uneducated, or lazy way of speaking. For more information about this topic, click here.
  • There is debate about some aspects of the history of AAE, but researchers agree that its roots are as deep as those of other social and regional varieties of American English.
  • Despite this history and linguistic standing, there are often negative social consequences to speaking AAE. Speakers of AAE face discrimination because of persistent false stereotypes, for instance about the relation between academic ability and ways of speaking. Speakers may face discrimination via language profiling, which can occur during phone conversations.
  • Not all African Americans speak AAE, and not all speakers of AAE are African Americans. Some African Americans may speak Mainstream (Standard) American English, and some non-African Americans may choose to incorporate AAE features into their speech.
  • AAE has important social functions: Using AAE features signals solidarity with others who use this dialect.

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Key Terms

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NCTE Standards Addressed by this Unit

Standard 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

This unit addresses style shifting in oral communication depending on audience and purpose.

Standard 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

This unit supports students’ learning about the patterns of language structure and language use that characterize AAE, as well as attitudes toward this and other dialects.

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Student Objectives

Students will:

  • Understand the inaccuracies of language stereotypes in society and their implications.
  • Understand the roots of African American English and the role it plays in American culture.
  • Identify some of the linguistic features that characterize African American English and the patterns of their use.
  • Understand the importance of tailoring speech and writing to a particular audience, purpose, or genre.
  • Increase their understanding of the consequences of dialect prejudice.

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Using the Unit

Before You Teach

  • Read background information. The Baron essay, "Hooked on Ebonics," and the Eble essay, "Sociolinguistics Basics," are both accessible to non-linguists. Further background is presented below
  • Determine which activities best match your objectives. The exercises on the use of the uninflected verb be (exercises 9a and 9b under the activities and assessments section) help students understand that AAE is rule-governed, just as other language varieties are. They stress that AAE is not simply slang or lazy English. This exercise will be more effective when used in conjunction with Wolfram’s exercise on a-prefixing in Appalachian English.

Teaching The Unit

  • The material in this unit is likely to spark discussion and elicit strong opinions. To foster constructive dialogue, it will help to establish clear guidelines as to what kinds of comments are acceptable and unacceptable while also providing an opportunity for everyone to be heard. Ground rules may include the following:
    • Use “I” statements instead of statements that reflect generalizations.
    • Address ideas, not individuals: In responding to others’ comments, students should make sure not to attack the person but to address the ideas expressed.
    • It is important not to discount or ignore the experiences other students report, but it is also important to distinguish between personal opinions and scholarly research.
  • Many people in the video discuss how they tailor their speech to a particular audience while still maintaining an ethnic identity. Stress to the students the importance of learning to adjust speech and writing style to a particular audience or setting. This perspective balances respect for AAE with the need for proficiency in Standard English (see NCTE Standard 4).

After You Teach

  • Rather than addressing language diversity only in an isolated unit, teachers can address this dimension of language across the language arts curriculum. Interest in and respect for language diversity and the function and value of vernacular varieties of English (see NCTE Standard 9) can be reinforced by tying the information in this unit to units on poetry, writing style, African American writers (e.g., Maya Angelou, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Richard A. Wright), or culturally conscious writers (Stephen Crane, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Harper Lee, etc.).

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Video Sections Used in this Unit

Do You Speak American? is available on both DVD and conventional videotape. Guides for accessing specific sections of the video have been formatted as follows:

Description/Episode         DVD Section      VT Time Code     Running Time                        

Hip Hop (DYSA/1)                   1.11                       [01:50:16]              (4:06)
For more information on accessing the video click here.   


In this unit:         

Springville: African American English in Texas (DYSA/2)   2.6   [01:27:18]   (8:33)

African American English in Detroit (DYSA/1) 
1.9   [01:38:41:]   (5:39)

Dialect in Schooling, the 1979 Ann Arbor decision
(DYSA/1)    1.10    [01:44:20]  (5:56)   

Hip Hop (DYSA/1)
*    1.11   [01:50:16]   (4:06)   

African American English in California
(DYSA/3)   3.3   [01:9:13]   (5:50)


*Material may not be suitable for all audiences. The hip hop performance contains strong language that teachers may find inappropriate for in-class viewing.  Teachers should preview this section before using it in class.

Total time of video segments: 34:04 (time without the starred section, 25:58)

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Description of Video Segments

Springville: African American English in Texas (DYSA/2)   2.6   [01:27:18]   (8:33)
features two linguists, Dr. Guy Bailey and Dr. Patricia Cukor-Avila, and the research they have been conducting over 17 years in the rural community of Springville, Texas. The segment includes a brief interview with Willie (a pseudonym), an elderly African American man from the community, as well as Library of Congress recordings of former slaves made in the 1930s. Dr. Bailey and Dr. Cukor-Avila discuss how the speech found in the Library of Congress recordings and among elderly African Americans in Texas is more similar to the speech of elderly European Americans than the speech of younger African Americans is to younger European Americans. The implication is that the speech of Blacks and Whites is diverging (that is, becoming more dissimilar), rather than converging (becoming more similar)—the opposite of what one might expect in a society that no longer has legal segregation. (Of course, de facto racial segregation exists across America where neighborhoods tend to be either largely White or largely Black.)

African American English in Detroit (DYSA/1)   1.9   [01:38:41]   (5:39)
identifies Detroit as a hub of African American culture since the 1960s. MacNeil and linguist Dr. John Baugh visit the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. They discuss the history of African American English beginning with enslaved peoples in West Africa, whose voices can still be heard among speakers of Gullah who now live mostly in the Sea Islands area of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. Dr. Baugh demonstrates research he has been conducting by using different accents in calling rental agencies. His research shows that callers may be subjected to linguistic profiling, which is analogous to the more straightforward racial profiling that some people experience.

Dialect in schooling, the 1979 Ann Arbor decision  (DYSA/1)   1.10   [01:44:20]
(5:56) introduces key members of a class action lawsuit in 1977-1979, Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Childrenv.Ann Arbor School District Board, (link to AAVE Class Action Suit). Three African American mothers argued that their children were being treated unfairly in their mostly White school because of their language. Interviews with three of the students; a mother; the case social worker, Ruth Zweifler; and one of the prosecuting lawyers, Kenneth Lewis, revisit the case and its continuing implications in schools today.

Hip Hop (DYSA/1)   1.11  [01:50:16]   (4:06)
features interviews with and performances by members of the hip hop group Athletic Mic League, who talk about some of the words that they use to describe their hip hop performances. **Material may not be suitable for all audiences. The hip hop performance contains the strong language that teachers may find inappropriate for in-class viewing.  Teachers should preview this section before using it in class.

African American English in California (DYSA/3)   3.3    [01:9:13]   (5:50)
investigates African American English in California. This section begins with a brief interview with Steve Harvey, a radio DJ, actor, and stand-up comedian. He discusses the need for a range of speech styles to meet the communicative demands of various situations. Next, Daniel Russel, an elementary school teacher, uses a videogame of Jeopardy to teach style shifting skills (sometimes called codeswitching, a term more appropriately applied to switching between two languages) to his Academic English Mastery class. Also interviewed is program director Noma LeMoine, who describes the success the program has had in teaching minority children Standard English by using their proficiency in their home dialects.

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Background Information

Brief History of AAE

Even after decades of research on African American English (AAE), there is still no consensus as to exactly how it has developed. Although there are several theories, the two most prominent are featured in Do You Speak American? One theory suggests that when slaves of different language backgrounds were transported from Africa to America, they developed a pidgin—a simplified version of a language used for communication between people or groups who do not have a common language. This language subsequently developed into a full-fledged creole language that children acquired in their homes. (Some creole languages—languages that have developed out of pidgins and have acquired native speakers—have the word creole in their names—for example, Hawaiian Creole—while others do not—for example, Gullah.) It is believed that the Gullah spoken to this day on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia closely resembles the language used by slaves on plantations. Because plantation slaves were not taught English and had limited contact with English speakers, some features of this creole were passed from generation to generation. These features have survived post-slavery because as AAE developed, it became more than just a means of communicating between groups: It is a source of solidarity among people who use it.

A second theory is that slaves in the South worked alongside indentured servants who spoke non-mainstream varieties of English. African American slaves learned English from these indentured servants (often of Scots-Irish descent). People who believe this explanation for the beginning of AAE say that it explains similarities between AAE and other non-mainstream varieties of English (such as Appalachian English, which shares some linguistic features with AAE).

It is important to note that these theories are not mutually exclusive. The true history of AAE may lie somewhere in between or in both of these theories. It is possible that language developed differently depending on factors such as the number of slaves and indentured servants on a plantation, the crop that was being grown, and the role that overseers played. Whatever the origin of AAE, we do know that it has changed considerably over time, as can be seen by comparing modern day Gullah and AAE, which are quite different despite sharing some characteristics.

The Great Migration of African Americans north and then west, beginning in 1890 and continuing until the 1970s, is responsible for spreading AAE throughout all of the United States. African Americans moved in large numbers to Northern cities such as Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia to find better jobs and better living conditions. Often, African Americans, as with almost all other immigrants to a new geographical area, settled in their own communities. While this is a common sociological pattern to seek out one’s own community, the social force of racism also served to keep African Americans within geographical boundaries. From not selling homes to African Americans in white neighborhoods to White flight into the suburbs, racism contributed significantly to social an geographical separation between European and African Americans.. Because AAE in all parts of the country has roots ultimately in the American South, we find less regional difference in the speech of African Americans than in that of European Americans—although some regional differences in AAE do exist.

Although AAE is clearly stigmatized in modern American culture, it continues to be spoken by millions of people. The reasons for this are many. Within the context of the community, AAE is a valuable resource and an important aspect of group identity. Not speaking AAE can lead to being considered an outsider. A person with in-group status will often have access to local resources and networks that outsiders will not have. In this sense, using AAE in the community can be as valuable and important as using Standard English in mainstream professional situations. Because of the insiders’ prestige that AAE carries, it continues to be an important resource and symbol of solidarity for African Americans.
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The Features of AAE: A Brief Overview

Although it is not possible to give a complete list of AAE features here, a few features will illustrate the systematic structure of this dialect. (See the Resources section of this unit for more detailed information on this topic.) This overview simplifies the patterns and structures to make them easier to understand. (Many of the features that typify AAE are also found in older Southern White English.) It is important to keep in mind that speakers of AAE do not always use AAE features when they could do so. Like all speakers, they shift between less formal and more formal varieties of English.
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Grammatical Features

  • Copula absence: “They hungry.”

    AAE speakers will occasionally omit any form of the verb to be in sentences that require a form of to be in Standard English. Example sentences would include She going or They hungry. But am and past tense was and were are never left out; thus you would never hear sentences like *I going or *They hungry last night.(The asterisk that precedes these sentences is a convention that linguists use to mark forms that would not be characteristic of a particular speech variety.)

  • Habitual be: “We be playing basketball after school.”

    Perhaps the most stereotypical feature of AAE is what linguists refer to as habitual be: using the unconjugated form of the verb to be to signal a habitual or regularly occurring action, as in sentences like We be playing basketball or She be working late, which mean “We play basketball from time to time” or “She works late a lot” (but which do not mean “We are playing basketball right now” or “She is working late right now”). Despite the stereotypes, people who use this feature do not use it in all sentences with the be verb, and they do not suffer from a lack of ability to conjugate be. Rather, uninflected be is used only to refer to habitual or regularly occurring actions. In other types of sentences, speakers of AAE will use inflected be or no be verb at all, as in We’re playing basketball right now or We playing basketball right now. Note that Standard English does not have a special form of the be verb to indicate habituality. It uses an adverb or adverbial phrase with the verb to indicate this meaning (We usually play basketball; She often works late).

  • 3rd person singular–s deletion: “He jump high.”

    Another common feature of AAE is omitting the –s with verbs following a third person singular subject (compare Mainstream English I jump, you jump, we jump, they jump--but she jumps).

  • Double negatives: “Ain’t nobody can beat me.”

    Also common in AAE is what is called double negatives, as in We don’t know nothing bout nobody. White Appalachian dialect speakers also use this construction—and it can be found in Chaucer and Shakespeare!
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    Pronunciation Features

  • AAE also has distinctive pronunciation features. Perhaps most stereotypical is pronouncing these, with, and birthday with a “d”, “t”, or “f” replacing the “th” sounds of Mainstream English (“dese,”“wit,” and“birfday”).
  • Another pronunciation pattern of AAE is “g-dropping” at the end of –ing words, as in fishin and fightin. (It is important to note that this pronunication is not unique to AAE speakers but is used by speakers of Standard English, as well, in casual speech.)
  • AAE speakers often tend to drop the second (or third) consonant sound in a string of consonants occurring at the end of words. For example, the word mist may be pronounced as “mis.” Interestingly, mist and missed are pronounced exactly the same in English, and the same process can make the word missed come out as “mis”—thus giving the illusion that it is a present tense verb instead of a past tense verb (for more information about how this process works, including when it is more or less likely to occur, see Eble’s article "Sociolinguistics Basics.")
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    The Ann Arbor Decision

    Differences in speech between Blacks and Whites have consequences in all aspects of society, none more crucial than education. Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children v. Ann Arbor School District Board determined the responsibility of teachers to accommodate the speech of African Americans and other non-mainstream English-speaking children. The lawsuit was filed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1977 on behalf of 15 African American children. These children all resided in the Green Road housing project in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and attended Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, a predominately White school in suburban Ann Arbor. The children were disproportionately placed in special education classes and speech/language pathology services. The plaintiffs argued that the school was failing to properly educate the children by not taking into account their cultural and language background. It was these actions and inactions that essentially handicapped the students.

    Three mothers, as well as a social worker familiar with the housing project, Ruth Zweifler, sought the help of lawyers Gabe Kaimowitz and Kenneth Lewis. Together with linguists serving as expert witnesses, they convinced Federal Judge Charles W. Joiner that the children’s poor performance at school was not related to mental retardation, language disability, or behavioral problems and that the children were intelligent kids who could learn if taught appropriately. The judge found that the school board had failed “to recognize the existence of the language system used by the children in their home community and to use that knowledge as a way of helping the children learn to read Standard English. . . . No matter how well intentioned the teachers are, they are not likely to be successful in overcoming the language barrier caused by their failure to take into account the home language system, unless they are helped . . . to recognize the existence of the language system used by the children in their home community.” Because the court found that it was not African American English that was the barrier to attaining an education but rather the school’s reaction to AAE, teachers were ordered to attend workshops to learn how to better accommodate non-mainstream varieties of English into the classroom. The Academic English Mastery Program, demonstrated by videoDaniel Russel in Do You Speak American? is one concrete way of meeting the need to address linguistic diversity in education.
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  • Materials for Teachers

    Discussion Questions

    Select discussion questions that address your lesson objectives and tailor them to achieve the outcomes you expect.

     Springville: African American English from Springville, Texas   (DYSA/2)

            1. Slavery in Texas: The linguists Guy Bailey and Patricia Cukor-Avila maintain that the distinctive language variety used by African Americans was formed primarily in the 20th century and that it may still be becoming more dissimilar from mainstream American English. Have students discuss what might have caused a divergence of AAE from other varieties of English following the end of slavery. Why would a group develop and maintain a distinct variety of English?

            2. Slavery in Texas: MacNeil concludes section 2.6 by saying, “More separate languages mean more separate peoples.” Ask students whether they think that people in America are divided by separate languages. Do they think Americans are divided by the many varieties of English spoken here? Or, are there ways you see people choosing various modes of expression that originate in different speech communities? Have them think of examples in which people who speak different dialects of English cooperate. If any students are familiar with the language situation of another country, ask how is it the same as or different from the one here.

    African American English in Detroit  (DYSA/1)

            3a. Linguistic Profiling/John Baugh: The housing agents that Dr. Baugh calls make assumptions about him based on his voice and respond accordingly. Have students listen to Baugh’s production of African American English, Chicano English and Standard English. Does a person have to be African American to speak AAE? Does a person have to be Chicano to speak Chicano English? Is there a connection between ethnicity and Standard English? Have students explain their answers.

            3b. Ask students whether, to avoid housing discrimination, individuals should try to speak Standard English when they talk to rental agents? If an individual has not learned Standard English, can we fault him or her for not speaking Standard English? Should housing agents, and the broader society, be held responsible for their discriminatory attitudes and practices? Why or why not?

            3c. Have students discuss what assumptions they make when they hear a stranger on the telephone. Have them list and discuss some advantages and disadvantages of making assumptions about people they don’t know.

            4. Creole/Gullah, language mixing: In the film, we see that African Americans living on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia speak a language that is different from AAE. Ask students why it is different: What conditions exist in Africa and in the Sea Islands that have allowed the trade languages and Gullah to persist while African Americans in other parts of the country have changed their speech?

    Dialect in Schooling, the 1979 Ann Arbor decision   (DYSA/1)

            5. Ann Arbor, MI: MacNeil says: “When they spoke as they did at home—in African American English—their instructors simply assumed they couldn’t do school work.” Have students discuss what they assume about people when they hear them speak (e.g., age, sex, attitudes, personality). Have them speculate about what assumptions they think people make about them based on the way they speak. Which of these assumptions are likely to be right and which wrong? Are such assumptions similar to or different from those made about people based on visually observable attributes (e.g., sex or age)? Discuss the usefulness and the dangers of such assumptions.

            6. Ann Arbor, MI: The lawyer who tried the case, Kenneth Lewis, says that a person applying for a job in his law firm would require particular language skills—and that if he himself wanted to work as a DJ for an R & B (rhythm and blues) station, he would need a different set of language skills. Ask students whether one person can have two completely different sets of language skills. Have them talk about which different styles of language they feel competent using, in what situations they feel the need to shift their speech style, and what styles they think are most useful or important to have.

    Hip Hop (DYSA/1)

            7. Hip Hop: The hip-hop group, Athletic Mic League, uses a specialized set of terms such as pronasty and spittin’. Ask students whether they participate in any group (friends, sports team, band, etc.) that has its own set of words that outsiders may not understand? Are they new words or are they new meanings for old words? Why do groups use terms in unique ways?

    African American English in California   (DYSA/3)

            8. Steve Harvey: Steve Harvey says that to get by in America you have to be able to switch between different ways of speaking. Have students evaluate the difference between being able to switch between different varieties of English and being able to switch between different languages.

            9. Academic English Mastery program: The program director, Noma LeMoine, says that it’s important not to devalue students “by virtue of their cultural and linguistic differences” because this would alienate them from education. Ask students whether they think the Academic English Mastery program values cultural and linguistic differences, based on what the video shows. Discuss whether some students’ language is preferred at your school (or at another school with which students are familiar), and have them give examples to support what they say. Ask whether they or their friends have ever had any difficulty at school because of their home language.

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    Student Activities / Assessments

    Select activities that address your lesson objectives and tailor them to achieve the outcomes you expect.

    1. Journal, portfolio, or writing assignment: Any of the discussion questions above could be used as a journal writing prompt, a possible portfolio writing, or other general writing assignment.

    2. Ann Arbor, MI: The lawyer who tried the case, Kenneth Lewis, says that a person applying for a job in his law firm would require particular language skills—and that if he himself wanted to work as a DJ for an R & B (rhythm and blues) station, he would need a different set of language skills. Have students consider their own career goals and discuss what language styles will be useful.

    3. Academic English Mastery Program: Have students imagine that they have a friend who is having difficulty in school because of his or her home language. Students can write a letter to their teacher or principal describing their friend’s predicament, making suggestions about how classes could change to address his or her home language. (Referring to segments from Ann Arbor and the Academic English Mastery Program may help in this activity.)

    4. Read (and respond) assignment: Have students or groups of students read the essays by Eble, "Sociolinguistics Basics," and Baron, "Hooked on Ebonics," and present overviews to the class.

    5. Vocabulary, Hip Hop: Manyhip-hop artists pride themselves on their lyrical ability and spontaneous creativity. The hip-hop group Athletic Mic League created the word pronasty by combining professional and nasty and defined it as having professional lyrical ability. As the Athletic Mic League has done, have students combine a mainstream word with a word used with their friends or words they find on an AAE word database. Have them create their own new word and use it in a sentence.

    6. Literature-based exercise: Many people believe that hip-hop and rap use only language that is offensive, homophobic, and sexist. Have students find examples of hip-hop with a political/social/spiritual message and analyze it as poetry, identifying poetic devices such as meter, rhyme, and metaphor. This assignment can be extended to include a comparison of the devices used by African American poets like Langston Hughes or other Harlem Renaissance poets. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech also offers a rich text for analysis since it illustrates combining AAE discourse features and Standard English features for maximal rhetorical resonance.

    7. Research report: Have students create a chart comparing issues and events relating the Ann Arbor, Michigan, case and the Oakland, California, Ebonics policy. Have the students present their chart and discuss arguments supporting and opposing AAE in the classroom.

    8a. Habitual be Exercise. One of the most noticeable features of AAE is the use of uninflected be to indicate habitual or recurring actions, as in a sentence like “He always be late for dinner.” This use is called habitual be. Habitual be is NOT typically used in sentences indicating long-term states or one-time actions. For example, speakers of AAE would say “He’s nice” or “He nice” rather than “He be nice” and “He’s late tonight” or “He late tonight” rather than “He be late tonight.”

    The following dialogue demonstrates how speakers use habitual be. (This dialogue is invented in order to show the use of habitual be; it is not a transcript of an actual conversation.) In this exercise, have students locate all the uses of the to be verb, including habitual be. In each case, have them state what form of be is used and why. Have them support their answers by referring to the context surrounding the to be verb each time it is used. (For habitual be, they should have supporting clues from the context that imply a recurring act.) Remind students that the inflected forms of to be in the present tense are am, is, and are (as well as contracted forms).

    Mary: How’d you like pastor’s sermon today?

    Katrina: Oh Momma! He be preachin’ ’bout curing world hunger every week! Sometimes, his sermons be gettin’ me so hungry!

    Mary: Oh, now stop it! You’re gettin’ on my nerves today. I’m gonna fix dinner as soon as I can. I tell you, child—it’s a good thing I be prayin’ for you!

    Katrina: Sorry, momma. I know you always be telling me to think before I speak. It’s just—when it come to food, I be forgettin’ myself. The pastor is a nice man, and you’re the best momma ever!

    9b. Quiz

    For each sentence pair below, ask students to choose the one sentence in which habitual be would be used in AAE and explain their choice:

    1. a. Sometimes my ears be itchin’.

    b. My ears be itchin’ right now.

    2. a. Momma be workin’ today.

    b. Momma be workin’ every day.

    3. a. I be tellin’ you just now, I ain’t hungry!

    b. I always be tellin’ you I ain’t hungry, but you never listen.

    4. a. That baby be so cute!

    b. That baby be laughin’ and playin’.

    5. a. They be singin’ ’cause they in the choir.

    b. They be singin’ so loud right now I can’t hear myself think!

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    • Bailey, Guy, Natalie Maynor, and Patricia Cukor-Avila. Emergence of Black English: Text and Commentary. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, 1991.
    • Green, L. J. African American English: A linguistic introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
      A linguistic introduction to the history, sounds, and structures of African American English. This text examines the linguistic and social status of African American English and its use in modern American culture.
    • Lippi-Green, Rosina. English with an accent. New York: Routledge, 1997.
      Attitudes toward accents and dialects, including AAE, are institutionalized in courts and perpetuated in the media and at work. Those whose accents are not considered prestigious may suffer discrimination.
    • Rickford, John R., and Russell J. Rickford. Spoken soul: The story of Black English. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2000.
      This engaging and comprehensive account of Black English (also known as African American English [AAE]) includes discussions of the artistic forms associated with AAE, pronunciation and grammatical patterns, the history of AAE, AAE and education, and language and identity. This is a must-read for anyone interested in getting the real story on African American English—what it is, what it isn’t, and how it got to be the way it is.
    • Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin that talk: African American language and culture. New York: Routledge, 1999.
      This volume brings together Smitherman’s writings on the interrelationships among language, education and culture in African America.
    • Wolfram, Walt and Natalie Schilling-Estes. American English: Dialects and variation 2nd ed. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2005.
      Intended for readers with little or no background in linguistic science, this college-level textbook includes a chapter on AAE as well as chapters on the range of regional, social, and ethnic variation in American English; language and gender; style shifting; the history of English in America; and the general nature of language variation.
    • Other:

    • Adger, C.T., and N. Schilling-Estes. African American English: Structure and clinical implications. CD-ROM. Rockville, Md.: American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 1994.
      Intended for training speech/language pathologists, this resource identifies and exemplifies features of AAE.
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    Video Key:

    DVD Episode & Chapters: For DVD users, DYSA has been broken down into episodes and chapters. (The term chapter is industry standard for sections or "breaks" programmed into the DVD video. A number indicating the DYSA episode will always be followed by a number indicating the DVD chapter within an episode. (i.e. 1.2 is Episode 1, Chapter 2. The numbers 1.2 appear on-screen for DVD users.) DVD users may watch a DYSA episode straight through or alternatively, jump to specific sections of the program by referring to a main menu available on the DVD.

    Chapter Description
    Chapter (or section) descriptions are available on-screen for DVD users only, and include a text description along side  the episode number and the chapter number within the episode (i.e. 1.2 Pronunciation in Maine). Videotape users will need to refer to printed versions of the curricular units to benefit from the chapter descriptions.

    Running Time The running time indicates the length of the section of video.

    Videotape (VT) Time Code Videotape users should fast forward or rewind to the corresponding number displayed in the videotape counter window in the front of the videotape playback device. (i.e. Videotape users should insert the videotape in the player and shuttle to [01:27:19] in the counter window to see the beginning of the Springville,Texas section.)

    Back to Video Sections Used in this Unit

    The Do You Speak American? curriculum was made possible, in part, by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the authors.


    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