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AAE Bibliography
CAL has amassed a bibliography of more than 650 print references related to African American English. Learn more.

AAE Online Resources
Browse our collection
of online resources relating to African American English.

Resource Corner

Dialects in Schools and Communities
This book describes dialect differences in American English and their impact on education and everyday life. Learn more.

 

Dialects

African American English

African American English (AAE) is a dialect of American English used by many African Americans in certain settings and circumstances. Like other dialects of English, AAE is a regular, systematic language variety that contrasts with other dialects in terms of its grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

Terms for African American English

The terms used by scholars to refer to the unique language variety of many African Americans reflects the changing terms used to refer to African Americans themselves across the decades. Early studies of AAE in the 1960s used the terms Negro speech, Negro English, or Negro American dialect. Starting around 1970 and continuing throughout the decade, the preferred term was Black English or Black English Vernacular (BEV). In the mid-1980s African-American became the preferred term for black Americans, and by 1991 linguists were using the term African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Today African American English (AAE) is the generally accepted term, although AAVE is still used too.

The term Ebonics (a blend of ebony and phonics) gained recognition in 1996 as a result of the Oakland School Board’s use of the term in its proposal to use African American English in teaching Standard English in the Oakland Schools. The term was coined by Robert Williams in 1973, but it wasn’t until the Ebonics controversy that Ebonics became widely used. Most linguists prefer the term African American English as it aligns the variety with regional, national, and sociocultural varieties of English such as British English, Southern English, Cajun English, and so forth.

Is AAE a language, a dialect, slang, or just plain bad English?

AAE is a systematic language variety, with patterns of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and usage that extend far beyond slang. Because it has a set of rules that is distinct from those of Standard American English, characterizations of the variety as bad English are incorrect; speakers of AAE do not fail to speak Standard American English, but succeed in speaking African American English with all its systematicity. Linguists are less concerned with whether or not AAE is a language or a dialect (terms that are more important socially and politically than linguistically) than with recognizing the systematic nature of AAE.

Resources

African American English Bibliography
CAL has amassed a bibliography of more than 650 print references related to African American English. Learn more.

AAE Online Resources
Click here for a page of links to resources on AAE on the web.

AAE in literature
Click here for a selected bibliography of print resources about the use of AAE as a literary dialect.

CAL Digests related to AAE
Chiristian. 1997. Vernacular Dialects in U.S. Schools

Foster. 2002. Using Call and Response
Fasold. 1999. Ebonic need not be English