13 African American Language is Good English

Zachary Martin

Introduction

Let’s start off with a quick activity called “Sonnet or Song”. All you have to do is read the following quotes and guess if it’s from a Shakespearean sonnet or song.

  1. “Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”
  2. “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”
  3. “All the world’s a stage, /And all the men and women merely players;/They have their exits and their entrances; /And one man in his time plays many parts, /His acts being seven ages.”
  4. “If I told you that a flower bloomed in a dark room, would you trust it?”
  5. “Every man has his own heaven/The difference is the way that he envisions it/So if you make your heaven pictureless/By the time you die, you’ll be drifting in an imageless field/So fill your heaven full of blessed thoughts/…/I got a question: If a man can make his own heaven/Then can he make his path to get to it too?”
  6. “As a wise lady once said, love the skin you’re in cause beauty has no rules. If they’re tryna sell an impossible dream to a fool, then you ain’t the fool to buy one.”

(Answers will be found at the end of the chapter.)

 

African American Vernacular English, or AAVE, is good English. We are taught to believe that the people who use Black English are ignorant thugs and gangsters with nothing going on in their heads. The media is mostly at fault for this because of the way they portray black people. We’ve all seen a show or movie where some black man/woman gets educated and becomes a CEO or something and they talk like a straight white man or woman. Then they go home to their family of gangbangers and/or drug dealers or talk to an old friend, who does some blue collar work, and they all use AAVE. The same principle applies to books. I’m reality AAVE is a rich language parallel to English rather than a twisted sub genre. African American English is crucial to establish credibility/ developing a rapport with the reader,  and keeping the reader’s attention.

Disclaimer: From this point on the chapter will be written exclusively in  AAVE.

Establishing Credibility and Developing rapport

If this whole chapter was written in the voice we’re taught to write in you’d probably just see me as some white boy writin’ about somethin’ they don’t know nothin’ about. You wouldn’t know I’m black by my name so you’d just ignore this whole chapter. Rappers and black writers use this same typa’ code switchin’ to establish credibility with their audience. Imagine if rappers spit the way we’re taught to write. It’d come off as stiff and bland. They’d also seem like fakes so their careers wouldn’t really pop off. By using AAVE people ban show that they ain’t just talkin’, but in reality they actually know what they’re talkin’ about.

The same thing applies to writtin’. No one wants to read ‘bout quantum physics from a theater major. You wanna read about characters you can relate to, you lose that when you dismiss AAVE as “Bad English”. Many of the depictions of black people written by white people sound like their only point of reference was Black Dynamite.When a character say a line like, “Ain’t nothin’ in the world get black dynamite more mad then some jive *ss sucka dealin smack to the kids!” it sounds like more of a bad stereotype then anything.

Keeping the Readers Attention

When your telling a story the whole goal is to entertain the reader. Bland word dumps are boring and won’t entertain no one. The more entertaining you can make your writing the better it will be recieved. AAVE does that by changing the way you write and addin’ a lil’ bit of style to it. If ya’ speakin’ in a way ya’ comfortable with it’ll be easier for you to write the way you want. Remember AAVE is a language parallel to English but still somewhat seperate, like British English. It’s like a a Puerto Rican talkin’ to a Columbian, both of ‘em speak spanish but there are slight differences between the two dialects and adjusting to those differences might be hard for some. You’ve gotta put more effort into sayin’ somethin’ the right way instead of focusin’ on what you have to say.

Rebuttle

Of course there are arguments against the use of AAVE in an academic setting. The first argument that might come to mind is that “It’s too hard to read or understand,” but odds are if ya’ made it this far you’re readin’ it just fine. If anything theres a short adjustment period but once you pick up on all the tricks it makes sense. AAVE has rules just like standard English, its not just a whole buncha random words thrown onto a page. Furthering this point, it is gradeable as well, contrary to popular belief. It can be broken down to basic guidelines and graded based off of how well it follows said guides. The last piece of criticism that someone could bring up is the idea that it cant be taught in schools. That idea ain’t just wrong but it couldnt be further from the truth. It’s already being taught, just not by teachers. Students hear and use AAVE in everyday life, they’re exposed to it by their friends, families, and everyone else they talk to. They could be taught more in classrooms but that’d just be to make it more consistent accross the board. That bein’ said over the next couple years we will see a boom in the use of AAVE as more people are getting educated on its use.

If you made it this far, congratulations, you have learned a bit of Black English and hopefully how to use it. As a reward here are the answers to the sonnet or song questions: 1) Sonnet, Shakespeare’s ”All’s Well That Ends Well”. 2) Sonnet, Shakespeare’s “The tempest” 3) Sonnet, Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage” 4) Song, Kendrick Lamars “Poetic Justice” 5) Song, Public Enemy “Fight the Power” 6) Song, Skepta, “Somebody’s Everything

Conclusion

It’s necessary for people to learn to use AAVE right, it’s a good tool for keeping peoples attention, establishing credibility and building a rapport with the readers. Even though it gets a lot of criticism in the academic world it doesn’t deserve most of it. It’s a versatile tool and we need further education on the subject in schools.

“And even after all my logic and my theory/I add a “Motherf*cker” so you ignorant niggas hear me.” 2Pac – “Changes”

License

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Good Ideas About Writing by Zachary Martin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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