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The Origins of AAE

April 16, 2009

Where did African American English come from? Who were it’s first speakers? And what relevance does this information have on speakers of AAE today?

This video gives a fascinating look into the origins of AAE, as told by some of it’s speakers. It also presents examples of Gullah, another African-based creole.

There are three main theories about the origins of AAE circulating in academic circles today.

1. The Anglicist position proposes that AAE is a British-dialect based variety of English with little or no outside influence from African languages. Support for this theory comes from the records of several African American communities in Nova Scotia and the Dominican Republic whose dialect (presumably) has remained constant throughout the years

2. The Substratist position proposes that African American English is very heavily influenced by West African Languages with marginalized input from English.

3. The Creolist position, (and the unofficial position of this blog) holds that African American English developed from a mix of both African languages and English. During the time of the slave trade, a lot of different African peoples without a common language were forced together and their need to communicate resulted in a pidgin language which cobbled together aspects of many languages. This pidgin was simplified and incomplete until it was ‘creolized’ and began to have native speakers who perfected the grammatical forms of the language. The English influence comes from the white slaveholders, and all of these influences led to a language with a unique grammatical structure and vocabulary.

So why has AAE survived for so long, especially as it is a highly stigmatized dialect by mainstream American society? Part of its longevity is due to the prestigious role that it holds in the community. As the language of a marginalized group, AAE acts as a bonding element, and brings a sense of shared identity and history.

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