Social Issues / Black Vernacular English From Virginia

Black Vernacular English From Virginia

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Autor:  anton  06 March 2011
Tags:  Vernacular,  English,  Virginia
Words: 935   |   Pages: 4
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Black Vernacular English from Virginia

Black Vernacular English, a dialect at times used by as many as 80 to 90 percent of African Americans and long identified by whites as substandard English, is in fact a different and unique form of American English. Black Vernacular English (BVE), or Black English, is fundamentally a spoken language derived from the slaves and still remarkably consistent throughout African American culture. Because of the roots and many unique aspects of Black Vernacular English, it qualifies as a unique form of American English just as other regional dialects, such as Southern English or Yankee English.

Black English is remarkably similar in structure across many geographic boundaries in the United States. Spoken BVE in Florida is virtually identical to spoken BVE in Washington State. This lends credence to the argument pointing to a common origin for the language. However, where is that location? Many linguists and scholars point to African tribal language for the origins of Black English, proposing that some of the sentence structure and verb conjugations are similar to those used by tribes in Western Africa or to Gullah, as spoken in the West Indies and Caribbean nations. However, Dr. Walter E. Williams, syndicated columnist and chairman of the Department of Economics at George Mason University, points out the error in that assumption in his 1995 article for Social Science Quarterly. He writes:

“Y'awl might axin me why I be writin dis way. Y'awl might tink ma fambly didn't gib me a gud upbringin. Y'awl might say Ah be a no-count, woebegone yaller dawg fit for nothin but taters and chittlins. What be wrong wid yo innards and book learning, Y'awl might be axing?

Run that paragraph by your intellectual multiculturist at one of our universities. Ask him to comment on the language or dialect. Five will get you ten he'll perk up and say, ‘Why that's Black English; I'd know it anywhere!’ But it t'aint. It is as white of an English as you can get.”

Further evidence that Black English is derivative of that spoken by the slaves in the southern United States can be found in David H. Fischer's book, Albion Seed. He writes that in 1773, Philip Fithian, from New Jersey, went to Richmond, Virginia to teach. In his journal, he told how Northerners said, “I am,” “You are,” “She isn't,” and “I haven't,” whereas Virginians, “even if high rank,” preferred to say “I be,” “You be,” “She ain't,” and “I hain't.” They also had a way of softening consonants: sebem for seven, chimbly for chimney, mo for more and wid for with. These Virginia speech patterns were not invented in America. They came to America from regional dialects spoken in southwest England during the 17th century. Fischer says, “In the twentieth century, words like “dis” or “dat” were rarely heard in any part of rural England, but they persisted among poor whites and blacks in the American South.” Since the African American population was nearly 100% concentrated in the early southern colonies, it makes sense that BVE is the same across the culture. The diversity of location in today’s African American population shows a migration outward from the Old South. We must then conclude that most assumptions about Black English springing from African roots to be incorrect. In fact, its origins and usage sprang from the English spoken in Virginia.

BVE is not, as it has long been derided, substandard English; it is nonstandard English, or possibly even more correctly an ethnic English. BVE began in the slave settlements as a spoken language that parroted the slave masters. As slaves were forbidden to learn to read and write, it was difficult to assign BVE with formal grammatical rules, although it definitely has a unique structure and tradition. Though there are no written rules for Black Vernacular English, a number of common themes persist, including:

Repetition of noun subject with pronoun: my father, he work there

Repetition of noun form for singular and plural: one boy; five boy

Repetition of verb form for all subjects: I know; you know; he know; we know;

The most distinctive characteristic of Black Vernacular English is the use of the verb “to be,” especially the lack of verb conjugation in the present tense—I be, you be, he be, we be, they be. Given the remarkable consistency of spoken BVE across Black America, this provides further evidence that BVE sprang from common roots. The propensity to use this rule time and again is possibly the largest single reason for the perception of Black English as lazy or substandard. Though research proves Black English is rooted in a dialect spoken by educated slave owners in 18th century Virginia, it may mistakenly be the single largest barrier to effective communication across White and Black racial boundaries.

In conclusion, Black Vernacular English owes its roots to a dialect spoken in southwestern England in the 1600s. This dialect was brought to America and spoken by educated slave handlers in Virginia. Their imprisoned employees, the slaves, then mimicked their speech patterns and created the language we now understand to be Black Vernacular English. Particularly noteworthy is the use of the verb “to be.” Its distinction is in its lasting usage and homogeny across the population. Though most of White America assumes BVE is the product of laziness and nonconformance to accepted English standards, in fact, it is a language unto itself.

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