The Linguistics of AAVE
September 22, 2017 4:47 PM   Subscribe

The Linguistics of AAVE - Linguist enthusiast Xidnaf breaks down why African American people (sometimes) have a very different accent from non-African American people, despite growing up in the same area. Note that this accent is not always the same everywhere you go.
posted by Slap*Happy (68 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
 
It really gets under my skin when white people pretend not to know what a sentence in AAVE means. "Where he live at?" is not hard to parse even if it sounds unfamiliar. "He at Latoya house. We be finna get some dinner." You're just being an obtuse racist jerk if you can't figure that out.
posted by AFABulous at 5:51 PM on September 22 [28 favorites]


Well, no. It's actually more complex than non-AAVE english, which is why I sometimes miscomprehend, and to fess up, legit thought it was a mere mistake in grammar enshrined because of class or upbringing. WRONG. There are tenses we don't recognize, because mainstream English dialects are sometimes too simple. This video, and a lot of his other videos, are truly eye-opening in terms of understanding how we speak and think.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:59 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]


I said "pretend not to know." The meaning is still often very clear, it's just that some words have been dropped or the pronunciation altered. Certainly there are other layers of complexity that can exist.
posted by AFABulous at 6:16 PM on September 22


Yeah I really really honestly don't understand a lot of it. That one seems ok, although I'm assuming "finna" is a contraction of "fixing to"? I'm not confident in that. There was an episode of Steven Universe where Amethyst says of Steven "he been sleep" and I didn't understand it so hard I didn't even know what words I was hearing. And I still only get it from context, like I wouldn't know when to describe other people as been anything else.

I'm not saying I don't have a responsibility to try. But if it's its own dialect it's harder than just an accent and harder to get examples or practice in a way that's not fraught or insulting.
posted by traveler_ at 6:21 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]


I noticed via subtitles (!?!) on Last Chance U the spelling of "finna."

Is that regional? Out west there's still a very mild hint of an elided dental sound between the I and N's. "Fi'in'uh" would be close.

I've always loved the word for the way it merges the senses of "fixing to" (as in 'increasingly likely to decide to do') and "fitting to" (as in 'making preparations to do.')

I also noticed the "This man...." formulation which I haven't heard out west at all.

If there's a "problem" it's only that native speakers of AAVE have trouble making subject verb agreements needed to write "official" English that satisfies teachers and bosses.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:28 PM on September 22


Some of it is figure-out-able; some of it is not.

When I teach about AAE, I (and a bunch of other linguists I know), do a little pop quiz of "match the AAE form to the Standard English form". Kids who don't have exposure to it mess up, particularly on the tense/habitual system, as the video explains near the end. "He be running" doesn't mean "He is running". And they don't know that they're messing it up! And it goes both ways, too, sometimes, where the black kids have no idea that the white kids are misunderstanding them.

John Rickford and Sharese King had an article in Language about cross-linguistic miscommunication, specifically focusing on Rachel Jeantel's testimony in the Trayvon Martin trial, but more broadly about AAE and other non-Standard varieties in the courtroom.

Some of it is on the hearer--jurors just deciding that they couldn't understand her, so they didn't--but some of it is due to a linguistic gap. For what it's worth, Rickford and King do make an argument for some degree of "interpretation" in court settings where tense and aspect--which describe when, and in what order, and in what relationship events happen--can be crucial.
posted by damayanti at 6:36 PM on September 22 [16 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. The rules of the dialect are super fascinating and really helpful, especially for us international people.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 6:37 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]


Fascinating. Subscribed. I learned things I wasn’t expecting from the “is English a tonal language” episode, too.
posted by grubby at 6:52 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]


"you've probably heard it before"
"a lot of people assume"

I wish there were a way to get away from the embedded perspective this video assumes, good though the information is. And in our own conversation, too. Who is the "you"? The "we"?
posted by Miko at 6:59 PM on September 22 [7 favorites]


Wasn't there a Mefi Advisory a week ago about dilettante linguists? This guy rates.
BEWARE: No knowledge of dialect, pidgin, or creole taxonomies. Flight right over the "Ebonics" v. "Standard" English fiasco of the early '80s. And actually fantisizes, slaves spent more time talking to each other, as if they all spoke the same language.

That's where I stopped. I ran into a UID once who assumed "African" is spoken on the continent. She also thought blacks so black they are purple are beautiful.
posted by marycatherine at 7:19 PM on September 22 [9 favorites]


Maybe it is just a quirk of my computer, but I found the narrator of the video very hard to understand, like the soundtrack had been sped up slightly.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:22 PM on September 22


We be finna get some dinner.

Not a native speaker but "we be finna" is not really a typical usage, is it?
posted by atoxyl at 7:24 PM on September 22 [7 favorites]


ethnologue, mutually unintelligible languages spoken across the world today by how many and where. "AAVE" is not one of them.
posted by marycatherine at 7:26 PM on September 22


I didn't realize for years that I grew up bilingual - Hawaiian Pidgin and Standard English - and it still makes me angry that my default thought that the "first" language I learned (after English) was French. No, I grew up learning two languages, and then learned a third.

In the school I went to in Hawaii, Pidgin was banned in the classroom, and we had to be watchful on the playground, too, less we be yelled at.
posted by rtha at 7:26 PM on September 22 [18 favorites]


That was a lot thinner than I'd hoped. But I liked his little note at the end. I mean the note was hilarious since if you're really nervous that you're accidentally being offensive in some way, you're not going to put up "N@#$^$ English" in your 8 minute video. Seriously dude? You couldn't figure out not to include that?

Anyway, I guess I should be happy he just took a high-level zoomed out approach. If he'd taken a step further in trying to describe things, it would probably have ended badly.

As a standalone sentence, I don't think I have ever heard anybody say "He be workin'." Not as a response to "Where he at" or -- well I can't even think of how that would be said as a standalone sentence. "He be workin nonstop", "He be workin 1st shift mostly", "He be workin til 9 on Fridays" - I've heard those. But whatever, I'm not a linguist. I do consider myself bi-dialetical, which I was glad to hear actually is a thing, since I'd been using that to myself.

I'd love to see something on "gone" or "gon". As in "He gon cry in the car". It just never looks right as "gon" but "gone" isn't pleasing to the (read) eye either. And it's obviously not the same as "go'on".

I'm not even going to get into how this guy acted like he couldn't freaking draw brown skin on his video. Like we're the damn color of the planet Neptor and can't be animated with the measly color spectrum available on earth. Dude. I'm reminded of this shit every time I watch a million dollar making black NBA player get a cut and then watch a big peach-colored band-aid get slapped on his brown skin.

"we be finna" is not really a typical usage, is it?

I've never heard that, though it sounds more like a typo while trying to make an example more than anything.
posted by cashman at 7:35 PM on September 22 [15 favorites]


"we be finna": I think, he read it in a book, possibly by M. Twain, certainly not Skip Gates (The Signifying Monkey).

Nobody north of the Mason-Dixon even uses "fixin(g) to" or "fi'in' "anymore.
posted by marycatherine at 7:36 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]


I noticed via subtitles (!?!) on Last Chance U the spelling of "finna." Is that regional?

White Southerner here: in my experience, in Mississippi and Tennessee, white people say "fixing to" and black folks say "finna" or "fit'na". Black people may also say "fixing to," but white folks don't say "finna," although the internet may be changing things.

No one told me this, I hasten to say; it just was how language was. "Fixing to" was also not considered quite proper for white folks. A teacher might say it, but only if provoked (cf. "I'm fixing to get real ugly with you"). But it was definitely supposed to sit out back with "ain't" when you were in school.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:36 PM on September 22 [12 favorites]


Wasn't there a Mefi Advisory a week ago about dilettante linguists? This guy rates.

Mary Catherine nailed it. This isn't worth the time - there are so many better sources about AAVE. Xidnaf is ...well maybe not the most qualified researcher. Just not someone you want to go to, at least at this time, for really good cultural history and/or linguistics. Though you can submit your ideas to him on reddit...
posted by Miko at 7:40 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]


He most certainly is the enemy of perfect.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:50 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]


[Oh god I can't watch the slow-motion crash, deleting a few comments. Hit the contact form if you need an explanation.]
posted by restless_nomad at 7:56 PM on September 22 [4 favorites]


We be finna get some dinner. I think this to mean, We are finally getting some dinner.
posted by Oyéah at 7:59 PM on September 22


Toni Morrison: the 5 present tenses of AAVE. : 2. He be runnin. SAE = He is usually running or He will/would be running.

Habitual be is the use of an uninflected be in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Caribbean English to mark habitual or extended actions, in place of the Standard English inflected forms of be, such as is and are. In AAVE, use of be indicates that an entity repeatedly does an action or embodies a trait

General Differences Between SAE and AAVE
:
The number of aspects in AAVE appears to be greater: simple (used to indicate ability or occasional activity in the present), progressive, perfect, perfect progressive, habitual be form, ‘long time’ been form, perfect ‘long time’ been form, perfect progressive ‘long time’ been form, completive done form, ‘long time’ completive been done form, perfect ‘long time’ completive been done form.
posted by Miko at 8:04 PM on September 22 [13 favorites]


I noticed via subtitles (!?!) on Last Chance U the spelling of "finna."

Is that regional? Out west there's still a very mild hint of an elided dental sound between the I and N's. "Fi'in'uh" would be close.


Yeah, but spellings of words don't generally change just because there are different ways that the word is pronounced in different parts of the country. Different people will pronounce "finna" differently, but that doesn't mean that each regional pronunciation demands its own spelling. The way that a word is spelled isn't supposed to give you an exact roadmap to pronouncing the word.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:08 PM on September 22 [3 favorites]


Woke? I think not.
The prototypical language of African Americans has been named Ebonics in order to distinguish it from English. The word is a composite of ebony and phonetics.

Rhetoric, in an Afrocentric sense, is the productive thrust of language into the unknown in an attempt to create harmony and balance in the midst of disharmony and indecision. The uses of rhetoric are varied, and it is necessary to include the production of disharmony in its utility.
[...]
The making of a linguistic code is a cultural creation of a people's heritage. How ideas have been structured in the past dictates, to a large extent, how they will be structured in the future. Nuances are transmitted with the general fabric of the mores of a society. The three components to code structuring in the rhetorical behavior of black Americans are lyrical quality, vocal artifact, and indirection.

The African American's approach to language is principally lyrical, and this is the basic poetic and narrative response to reality.
[...]
In the discussion of African American language, some writers have obfuscated the tone and style of Ebonics. Good-natured endeavors to explain the persistence of Ebonics in African American culture have become crippled. In attempting to refute the negative views of black language, some neo-radical linguists of the 1960s adopted the idea of black language as nonstandard and inflected a confusion about our culture that has proved difficult to eliminate. They not only accepted the dialectical structure of American racist ideology, which sees white as standard and others as nonstandard, even substandard, but borrowed from the twisted formulations of a supremacist logic.
Molefi Kete Asante. The Afrocentric Idea. Temple University Press. 1987. pp 35-57

People still walking this circle. It saddens me.
posted by marycatherine at 8:31 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]


Nobody north of the Mason-Dixon even uses "fixin(g) to" or "fi'in' "anymore.

Absolutely untrue. The Second Great Migration carried these variant expressions north with it. They are still used in at least some of the cities where the migrants settled. I heard all these variants growing up.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 PM on September 22 [9 favorites]


English people haven't been able to standardize spelling in 1000 years.
Can I get a Sha(e)kesp(e)(a)r(e) up in here?
posted by marycatherine at 8:37 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]


I'm so so so excited for this!! Thank you!
posted by greermahoney at 8:40 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]


Isn't this also refered to as "Code-Switching"?

As an old white guy, that I don't have to learn yet another language.... I'll add that to my ever growing list of privileges I didn't know I had up 'til now.
posted by MikeWarot at 8:42 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]


praemunire: I'd have to disagree. Regional mileu matters. From where I'm sitting, the north v. south AA styles been baked some centuries. Hurston, Baldwin, and Malcolm, for example, frequently recognized the divide in rhetorical and political "expression". I've recognized it --assimilation-- in my own living extended family of three generations, covering the Carolinas, California, Michigan, New York, Jersey, Philly, Germany since the early 30s. Could be our members, in particular, weren't much attached to the family seat and didn't pilgrimage often. Hell, I couldn't even swear to class advantage. My grandparents (b. 19th cen.) didn't talk like Jim.
posted by marycatherine at 8:58 PM on September 22


"He gon cry in the car."
Would goin' work for that?
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:04 PM on September 22


"He be workin'."

I think someone might also say that to mean, basically, "When he works he works very hard." Spoken, there would probably be a noticeable emphasis on the word "workin'" to indicate an extreme.

Isn't this also refered to as "Code-Switching"?

Not unless people who speak AAVE also at times speak SAE, or vice versa. Some people generally don't speak SAE and some don't speak AAVE except under limited and usually private circumstances.

As an old white guy, that I don't have to learn yet another language.... I'll add that to my ever growing list of privileges I didn't know I had up 'til now.

I'm not sure being able to or having to speak different dialects is a racial thing so much as a function of culture, education, location, etc.
posted by fuse theorem at 9:05 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]


Also there's a Third Great Migration on now with pensions, SS, 401(k), and land titles back to lowest COL. AAs qwine drop "variants" to order pizza?
posted by marycatherine at 9:11 PM on September 22


And actually fantisizes, slaves spent more time talking to each other, as if they all spoke the same language.

ethnologue, mutually unintelligible languages spoken across the world today by how many and where. "AAVE" is not one of them.


--marycatherine

The linked video doesn't claim US slaves spoke the same language. It cites Umbundu, Beti, Yoruba, Edo, Hausa, Izon, Ful, Igbo, and the video-maker's discovery from Wikipedia that some 521 languages have been spoken in Nigeria alone.

Ethnologue is a definitive site, but AAVE is a vernacular by definition and not a mutually unintelligible language from English.

As far as your other citation (if I understand it), early efforts to distinguish and acknowledge a Black vernacular (despite any claims a particular author made that would be shown to be spurious) are not evidence of a "sad circle". It's simply how academe evolves: by demonstration.

The video is a secular and humanitarian framing of what I was taught to distinguish in terms of descriptive versus prescriptive grammars, with a healthy perspective from sociolinguistics.

It's a small fraction of a Linguistics 101 course at the average university.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 9:12 PM on September 22 [7 favorites]


[marycatherine, this is not a good place to declare your own correctness simultaneous with an admission that you didn't even finish the video. ]
posted by restless_nomad at 10:01 PM on September 22 [5 favorites]


It's interesting how the spelling seems to have somewhat standardized around "finna." When I was a kid, trying to figure out how to write what I heard, I spelled it "phenta."
posted by limeonaire at 10:15 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]


praemunire: I'd have to disagree.

You...disagree with whether I heard these usages growing up? Not sure how that's supposed to work.
posted by praemunire at 10:27 PM on September 22 [7 favorites]


Anecdata: The first time I ever heard the word finna was in 1993, when my friend was dating a white boy who'd just moved here from Detroit.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:48 PM on September 22


Here's the map from this page that shows up near the beginning that could spark several thread-long fights on its own.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:32 PM on September 22 [2 favorites]


I've never heard that, though it sounds more like a typo while trying to make an example more than anything.

I just thought it was slightly ironic that it appeared in a comment that was saying "it's not that hard," though I know that was said with good intentions, not as a deliberate dismissal of the subtleties of AAE.
posted by atoxyl at 11:47 PM on September 22 [1 favorite]


and "finna be" is a different story obvs
posted by atoxyl at 11:56 PM on September 22


I agree mostly with AFABulous, but sometimes "AAVE" is harder to understand than people think, especially with frequent slang/word changes.
posted by Ms. Moonlight at 5:02 AM on September 23


As a white person from the southeast US who has mostly lived, gone to school, and now worked in diverse, integrated environments, this thread is a great reminder to me that lots of y'all need to get out more.

Shalewa Sharpe on verb tense and Cookie Monster
posted by hydropsyche at 5:41 AM on September 23 [17 favorites]


As someone with little formal knowledge of linguistics but an interest in the way language relates to culture, I did indeed watch the whole video, found it a little simplistic, but hey not a bad introduction to a complicated topic.

A question for the actual linguists in the room (or maybe the social historians?) -- how does the formal recognition/representation of AAVE relate to the awful "dialect writing," in the 19th century novel, e.g. "Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!’ Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb—en I’d ben atreat’n her so!"
posted by basalganglia at 5:54 AM on September 23


"we be finna" is not really a typical usage, is it?

I get most of my exposure to AAVE via Twitter and I'll accept that I'm wrong. Here are some examples of "finna" usage:

finna go back to sleep
finna lose my mind
I'm at home but I'm finna to leave

But "be finna" does also seem to be a thing. I be finna say some things. Hate when I be finna do something then forget what I was bout to do. (That's clearly "fixing to.")

I don't know if it's actually new, but one word i've seen crop up recently is "issa" ("it's a"). Issa secret, issa fake, issa wedding. I'd never use it because I'm a middle-aged white guy, but I like how it sounds.
posted by AFABulous at 6:23 AM on September 23


And to address some criticism upthread - yeah, some AAVE is non-obvious at first (if you just saw "issa wedding" you might think Issa is the family name, or a town, etc.) But many white people won't expend the slightest effort to find out the meaning, they just write off the usage as wrong/uneducated/stupid, and that's racist. It's very clear what "issa" means once you see it a few times. You can learn lots of English words without looking them up just by reading them in context and thinking about it. I didn't have to look up issa or finna. It's not racist if you don't immediately understand AAVE. It's racist if you don't try, or you do understand but you pretend not to because you think it's "broken English."
posted by AFABulous at 6:31 AM on September 23 [4 favorites]


if you just saw "issa wedding" you might think Issa is the family name, or a town, etc.

While "issa" shows up in AAVE, the example twitter link you gave is interestingly complex. The photo and twitter account are South African (check out the phone numbers and website on the trailer behind her); the language in the tweets is a mix of standard English, vernacular English (including US vernacular like "bae"), and what I think are Xhosa and Setswana.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:05 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


But "be finna" does also seem to be a thing.

Note for those who might be unaware, this does involve the habitual aspect: "be finna" means "usually about to". Your original example would be something like "We're usually just about to get some dinner."

So the first example is pulled from "I be finna say some things, but I just keep stuff to myself", and means something like "Usually/often/a lot of times, I'm just about to say some things, but I just keep stuff to myself"; the second one can be glossed as something like "I hate all those times when I'm about to do something but then forget what I was about to do".

All of the tense/habit markers can stack like this--e.g., be done, been done--to get more complex readings. (See Lisa Green's book for more examples and glosses; a few pages later she has more examples with "be finna").
posted by damayanti at 7:09 AM on September 23 [6 favorites]


A question for the actual linguists in the room (or maybe the social historians?) -- how does the formal recognition/representation of AAVE relate to the awful "dialect writing," in the 19th century novel, e.g. "Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!’ Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb—en I’d ben atreat’n her so!"

Appropriately cautious. Here's an abstract framing that question in terms of Hiberno(Irish)-English: Whether or not literary dialect constitutes a reliable source of linguistic evidence is a question to which linguists have generally been content to respond in a negative fashion. Literary portrayals, they hold, are too much a work of the creative imagination to merit serious linguistic consideration. An interpretive analysis of one class of Hiberno-English representations, however, shows that since their inception, the theatrical portrayals of the variety have, by and large, reflected numerous aspects of the dialect quite accurately. In addition, the evidence attests a historical transition from lexico-phonological to syntactic representation: a shift which suggests that at different stages of transitional bilingualism, an emergent variety may be characterized by different forms of mother-tongue interference. Given the general absence of longitudinal studies, literary portrayals, once accepted as linguistic data, may open the way to the at least partial reconstruction of the linguistic contours involved in the language crystallization process.


posted by lazycomputerkids at 7:26 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


While "issa" shows up in AAVE, the example twitter link you gave is interestingly complex.

True, that tweet might not have been the purest example. I linked it primarily because of the gorgeous dress. :)
posted by AFABulous at 7:28 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


Disclaimer: I am not a linguist because I did not have my druthers, but I took as many linguistics courses in college as I could squeeze in and I read about it and stuff.

One huge problem with rendering dialects in literature is that it's almost always done selectively. If you only present certain groups' speech phonetically, it kind of implies that everyone else is faithfully and accurately representing the language as it is written. Which is never the case.

Why, when writin' English dialog, would you drop the g on continuous verbs when one person is speakin' but not another? Almost every English speaker does that at least sometimes, so why are you only noticin' when this guy does it?

I had to review a really awful book once a long time ago where the author consistently had people saying, 'aight.' It's a relatively common spelling now, but this was a pretty long time ago, and I'd never seen that before. It took me a whole lot of iterations of that before I figured out what the author was trying to convey. I knew what it meant, and recognized the spoken version, but it was not immediately apparent to me what it was in writing. I was mentally pronouncing it like ate or eight. That was the only word I saw that didn't just use traditional spelling, so I'm pretty sure she was just using that as a marker indicating that the speaker was black.

It's much more common now, with social media where people are communicating informally, to see people rendering their own dialects semi-phonetically, but in that 19th century literature, it's almost always people from one social group meticulously othering PoC, lower class white people, or specific characters they're trying to label as deficient or weird or something.

It probably is a useful tool now for trying to reconstruct the way language was spoken, with the caveats that it's not using the actual phonetic alphabet, and it depends heavily on the perceptions of authors who don't even try to render their own dialects phonetically.
posted by ernielundquist at 8:55 AM on September 23 [9 favorites]


Amen, ernielundquist. As a white person from the southeastern US, some of y'all would likely think I talk funny if we met in person (and you might think I'm dumb based on that, etc.). But historically, in Literature, as a white person, my speech would be written out in straight standard English, ignoring the syllables I elide and the dipthongs I stretch, because in literature dialect is only for people marked as other.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:53 AM on September 23 [5 favorites]


I've heard "I be finna" plenty of times. Like "I be finna snap, but then I realize I should just chill".

I don't ever recall having heard "We be finna". Like I suppose one could say "Every time he asks the question, we be finna raise our hands", but that would then presume the actions of the other person, and just feels wrong to me. "I be finna" is always saying something almost like intimately. Like it's a hypothetical.

So the example at the start of the thread is reading weird because it's just a declaration of intent. There's no hypothetical. But in all the instances I've heard it in (and probably used it in), and in looking up examples after I wrote the paragraph above, every single one is a hypothetical.

So there is the disconnect. From my experience, "We be finna" is a thing, but not in a "We be finna go to the library" way. No, that would just be "We finna go to the library". Rather, you would say something like "When we go to the library we be finna check out all the books on linguistics but we can only carry like 5 a person".
posted by cashman at 10:03 AM on September 23 [13 favorites]


Thanks for the correction, cashman.
posted by AFABulous at 10:09 AM on September 23 [2 favorites]


praemunire: I don't disagree about whether you heard these usages growing up anymore than I know what I heard which does not correspond with your experience. My disagreement is with a tendency in academic and informal discussions about ethnicity ( a grand "proto-Indo-European"-speaking imperial project if ever there was) to extrapolate "common" or even "universal" characteristics from one instance . Similarly, to deduce "common" or even "universal" characteristics from last night's episode of wtf. This type of activity is not only bad statistical practice (another grand "proto-Indo-European"-speaking imperial project if ever there was), it lays the path to stereotyping. And stereotyping is just not a constructive attitude in a world in which diversity of experience, knowledge, skill, aptitude, syntax, syllabary, vocabulary, inflection, tonality, instrumentality, phenotypology, ontology, economic philosophies, genders, contingency, desire, political agency, and fear is vital to conceptualization of humanity.

Here is an example from another, related academic discipline that illustrates the intellectual pitfalls in overweening fossil specie classification and its consequences as received today: racism.

Sociolects: I can enjoy conversation about such disparate forms of expression to the extent they explicitly affirm creativity of all people, all the time. I have to get off the train though, when that convo seemingly serves no purpose but to idolize certain, professional "speech communities" and mystify others.

Can you code? I can a little, but I don't always get the haiku jokes.
posted by marycatherine at 10:10 AM on September 23


I wonder how texting has affected AAVE. I've never heard "wyd" pronounced in person but it's common textspeak.

When my white friends text me this, it means "what are you currently up to? are you busy? [implied] do you want to hang out/chat/etc?"

AAVE seems to include that usage but also is used as an incredulous statement, for example "what are you [even] doing?!" (Note: "wwyd" is totally different and is an abbreviation of "what would you do [in this hypothetical situation]?" Which is standard English, but I mostly see Black people using it, so is the abbreviation AAVE, or not?)
posted by AFABulous at 10:23 AM on September 23


I wish it had gone more into the verb tenses and moods. I am a white American interested in language and have found AAVE verbs daunting, and having recently sort of started figuring them out am fascinated, and would have really loved for this video to spend more time on that. Which is less of a criticism than wishing for more of a good thing.
posted by Orlop at 10:39 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


The linked video doesn't claim US slaves spoke the same language. It cites Umbundu, Beti, Yoruba, Edo, Hausa, Izon, Ful, Igbo, and the video-maker's discovery from Wikipedia that some 521 languages have been spoken in Nigeria alone.

I think this is a bit uncharitable. When somebody does a quick Wikipedia link, I don't assume that's because they just learned from it this instance. They might be using it as a quick reference, or to double-check an incomplete memory ("just how many languages are spoken in Nigeria? I can't quite remember."). I do this kind of thing all the time. It's like using Wikipedia as a handy reference book on the shelf.
posted by Orlop at 10:47 AM on September 23 [3 favorites]


praemunire: I don't disagree about whether you heard these usages growing up anymore than I know what I heard which does not correspond with your experience.

And yet you don't even know where I grew up.

My disagreement is with a tendency in academic and informal discussions about ethnicity ( a grand "proto-Indo-European"-speaking imperial project if ever there was) to extrapolate "common" or even "universal" characteristics from one instance .

You're giving me the impression here of being so eager to get a lot of thoughts out that you aren't actually listening to what the other person said in the first place. I made a specific point about whether a specific set of variants on an expression survived/s in parts of the north, based on my personal exposure, along with an argument about the genealogy of those expressions. I didn't make an argument about "common" or "universal" anything. If I were going to make a broader argument, it would certainly not be that Northern blacks in certain industrial areas whose parents or grandparents migrated from the South use language identical to that of Southerners, either at the time of migration or the present. That would be contrary to my own experience (as well as my broader reading of the literature). However, I am pretty comfortable saying that in certain areas those Southern migrants, and their children and grandchildren, did not simply abandon their linguistic usages and assimilate completely into those of the North. Linguistically, that's not a common occurrence even in the most extreme sociopolitical circumstances.

And I'm really not sure what PIE has to do with any of it.
posted by praemunire at 11:05 AM on September 23 [7 favorites]


@Orlop
When the wikipage is presented, Xidnaf's expression of WOW deliberately presents discovery, consistently portraying an earnestness about their process.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 11:11 AM on September 23 [1 favorite]


When the wikipage is presented, Xidnaf's expression of WOW deliberately presents discovery, consistently portraying an earnestness about their process.

Whatever you say.
posted by Orlop at 11:26 AM on September 23


Um, yes. "Finna" is definitely used in black communities in the North. I grew up in an integrated school around lots of black kids and we used it, I still do when talking with black colleagues and such.
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:39 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


Although I think "I'm bout to..." is maybe replacing the usage.
posted by tivalasvegas at 12:40 PM on September 23 [1 favorite]


So the example at the start of the thread is reading weird because it's just a declaration of intent.

Yeah I guess my take was mostly that it's hard for me to read that particular sentence in a way that gives the "be" work to do. And if there is one it conveys a subtlety that makes the exact meaning non-obvious to an outsider. I felt a little weird mentioning this because it's definitely not "my" language and I dunno about regional variants either but since we're talking about how AAE is spoken...
posted by atoxyl at 2:05 PM on September 23


I wonder how texting has affected AAVE. I've never heard "wyd" pronounced in person but it's common textspeak. When my white friends text me this, it means "what are you currently up to? are you busy? [implied] do you want to hang out/chat/etc?" AAVE seems to include that usage but also is used as an incredulous statement, for example "what are you [even] doing?!" (Note: "wwyd" is totally different and is an abbreviation of "what would you do [in this hypothetical situation]?" Which is standard English, but I mostly see Black people using it, so is the abbreviation AAVE, or not?)

I may be missing something you're trying to get across, because this seems obvious to me. WYD is 'whatcha doin?' (WhatchYouDoin?) Whatchyou doin? So that predates texts by quite some time. The meaning here is the "what are you even doing?!" meaning, but I assume almost all of us are familiar with the common usage of "whatcha doin?"

But maybe you're referencing something different and I missed what you were trying to get at.
posted by cashman at 2:59 PM on September 23


Although I think "I'm bout to..." is maybe replacing the usage.

And as Cashman has pointed out, there is an element of hypothetical in there. I'm really learning a lot from this thread - not enough to use it in everyday interactions, except for maybe taking the time to think through and understand how language is used by my neighbors, and be a more conscious neighbor because of it.

Xidnaf reminds me a lot of Dan Carlin or Alton Brown. He's not a professional, he's an enthusiast, and he makes it clear. He's not a crank claiming amazing new discoveries, he is trying to bundle his passion for what he's learning in a way other people who might have a casual interest can approach it. I have yet to see Dan or Alton produce and episode like this, though it's clear both were getting more and more rigorous in their research as time went on.

I would pay cash-money to listen to a Dan Carlin "Corrections" podcast.
posted by Slap*Happy at 4:42 PM on September 23 [2 favorites]


As a white guy I don't feel it's appropriate to use it in everyday interactions. It feels somewhere between how do you do, fellow kids? and what up, my n***a? I see AAVE as an in-group language - fine to learn and understand from the outside, not fine to use (especially with other white people!). Possibly with very close Black friends, but not random strangers.

But I've been wrong in this thread before :)
posted by AFABulous at 7:21 AM on September 24 [2 favorites]


I wrote: Nobody north of the Mason-Dixon even uses "fixin(g) to" or "fi'in' "anymore.

praemunire, I should not have qualified my remark in that manner, "nobody". I apologize to you for the inconvenience this may cause to meaningful communication between us.

How I should have begun a critique of the AAVE "lesson" was to emphasize the implausibility of its premises and conclusory message: Where a "Black or African American" lives is irrelevant.

According to the narrator, one origin, one destination, one mass migration (or two?) from The Deep South is sufficient premise. In the beginning Gullah Island-ish isolation in LA, MS, AL, GA allowed black slaves (everywhere) and their descendents (everywhere) to communicate with or abandon 1,540 possible languages which were forbidden. No matter which direction sales on the river flowed, sundown communication of vital commands to obey produced one voice (everywhere), vernacular English. Innate traits of "black slaves brought from Africa" allow them and their descendants to "transmit" fluency without accent or inflection across space and time. AAVE is inviolate and immortal, ergo AAVE is legitimate.
::
The narrator's "framing" in the first 0:00:30 of this "linguistics" lesson establishes authority of the P.I.E language family model. This prompt does not admit one of four language families identified with continental Africa and the one "ethnic group" selected for English language performance evaluation.
A few thousand years ago the ancient Greeks decided that all languages besides ancient Greeks' sound like 'BAR BAR BAR BAR BAR'. So they they started to call the people who spoke them 'barbarians'. Or a least that is the popular story about where the word comes from. [VISUAL] There's actually similar words in Latin and Sanskrit, so the word probably goes all the way back to P.I.E.
Europeans developed language family classification over the 18th and 19th centuries CE to historicize a very specific hierarchy of superiority of the world's cultures. The "discovery" of P.I.E., for example, coincided with CONQUEST of the subcontinent. Before that, expert philologists, ethnologists, and their patrons identified with ancient settlers in the Levant they believed migrated en masse from the Caucasus, the Urheimat, becoming Phoenicians, definitely not HEBREW or GREEK. Before that, they were immersed in untranslated, ancient Egyptian esoterica confiscated by Napoleon. Invidious agenda dominated scientific rationales of language acquisition [VISUAL: "folklore etymology"] until archaeological contradictions tipped cradle-of-civilization orthodoxy into two general camps of origin story proponents --"isolationists" or "diffusionists," pure traits and acquisitive processes, respectively. That controversy even exists today is difficult to confirm online, as it's not politic to publish the faults of experts.

I linked to Hawkes earlier to illustrate ructions occurring in this sociology of knowledge.

The narrator avoids Afrocentric analysis of the origin of African American vernacular English, because it unearths taboo. Seeming to harmonize the controversy like this fella deleting "extraneous phrases and qualifications" of the notorious Boaz, the narrator approaches linguistic methodology as one might a cafeteria menu.
I mean, there are loads of different ways that people speak in the US, but there's one that ["]people["] don't even usually think of as a legitimate accent or dialect. Instead they just call it slang at best or broken English at worst."


Th narrator's selection, "black slaves brought from Africa," implies ethnic homogeneity despite historical market data to the contrary (linked) in order to accommodate stereotype and limited, segregated experiences on which "people" in the US can agree.

Had this "lesson" on applied linguistic techniques taken for its sample Classical GREEK:Koi·ne GREEK, Spanish:"Cuban", Spanish:"Mexican", SPANISH: "Hispanic" American vernacular ENGLISH, hochddeutsch:standarddeutsch:schweizerdeutsch, or classical:ecclesiastical:vulgar LATIN -- commenters on this thread might be questioning why conquest and legitimacy of P.I.E. speech weighs "communities of language" instead of which elision, conjugation but not declension, or transcription error renders "black" speech unintelligible.

The content of the video is not demonstration of linguistic analytic technique. It is topical polemic on race pride.
posted by marycatherine at 11:59 AM on September 24 [1 favorite]


"Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, the most widely spoken language family in the world." from wikipedia

Please think of the non-experts when you use acronyms.
posted by AFABulous at 12:53 PM on September 24


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