Completing an accurate phonetic transcription of a speaker of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) requires knowledge of the range of phonological features possible and the inherently variable nature of their actual use. This article summarizes AAVE phonological features from the perspective of phonetic transcription. Some features are relatively easy to transcribe with familiar the International Phonetic Alphabet base symbols (e.g., [baef] for bath), whereas others may require the use of diacritics (e.g., [mae] for man or [bae:d] for bad). The importance of transcription detail when differentiating dialect variation from phonological delay or disorder is critical.
Since the early 1990s, the number of culturally and linguistically diverse clients served by speech--language pathologists has increased. This occurrence has brought about an urgent need to separate dialects from disorders in phonological assessment and remediation. In particular, great concern has been expressed regarding the diagnosis and misdiagnosis of African American clients who speak African American Vernacular English (AAVE; e.g., Stockman, 1996; Wolfram, 1994).
AAVE is a social and ethnic English dialect spoken primarily by African American slave descendents. Its characteristics overlap with those of other dialects, including Southern White Vernacular English (SWVE) and Standard American English (SAE). However, AAVE can be identified by a unique cluster of phonological, morphosyntactic, lexical, and discourse features (Bailey, 1993; Bailey & Thomas, 1998; Rickford, 1999; Wolfram & Schilling-Estes, 1998). It is important to realize that not all African Americans speak AAVE (in fact, some non--African Americans speak AAVE) and that there is considerable variation in the use of AAVE among speakers from different geographic regions, socioeconomic status (SES), and educational backgrounds (Hinton & Pollock, 2000; Rickford, 1999; Wolfram, 1994).
PHONOLOGICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF AAVE
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, several comprehensive descriptions of AAVE phonology were published (e.g., Fasold &: Wolfram, 1970; Labov, 1972; Luelsdorff, 1975; Wolfram, 1969). However, the phonological characteristics of AAVE have received little attention in the sociolinguistics literature (Bailey & Thomas, 1998) or the child language literature (Stockman, 1996). In addition, few resources are available that recognize the importance of phonetic transcription practices when assessing AAVE speakers.
One of the most striking characteristics of AAVE phonology is the inherent variability in actual use of specific features. The application of AAVE features is not categorical; that is, they do not occur every time there is an opportunity. Instead, features apply variably, with the likelihood of occurrence influenced by both social and linguistic factors. Social factors include the speaker's age, gender, and SES, as well as the nature of the listener and formality of the situation. Linguistic factors that may affect the use of AAVE phonological features include the type of sound involved, phonetic and positional contexts, stress pattern, grammatical class, and morphological status (Labov, 1994; Wolfram, 1994).
The specification of linguistic factors influencing the use of each feature is critical in a complete description of AAVE phonology. For example, final consonant clusters in AAVE are reduced only when the consonants contained in the cluster share voicing (e.g., [-nd] in hand, L-ski in desk, but not [-lt] in belt or [-ns] in fence). Clusters in a monomorphemic word are more likely to be reduced than those created by the addition of a morphological inflection (e.g., [-st] is more likely to be reduced in mist than in missed). Likewise, reduction is more likely to occur when a consonant follows the cluster than when a vowel follows (e.g., [-st] more likely to be reduced in …