Understanding Storytelling among African American Children: A Journey from Africa to America

By Tempii B. Champion | Go to book overview

Appendix B
Linguistic Features of African American English

In the following paragraphs, I provide a description of African American English.


Linguistic Features of African American English

There are several phonological and grammatical features that are described as being characteristic of African American English. In the area of phonological variation, African American English differs from Standard American English in word, sound, and contrast variability. Some of the most common phonological features are discussed in the following paragraphs.


Phonological

Phonological Variation. In the area of phonological variation, one can see that African American English differs from Standard English in a number of ways such as word, sound, and contrast variability. Moreover, it has come to be recognized that African American English has systematic rules for consonant reduction and the use of final consonants.

Word Variability. Word variability is random pronunciation of words such as skreet for street, thew for threw, ax for ask, bidness for business, and posed to for sup, posed to (Labov & Cohen, n.d., English in Black and White). There are also a few words that stress the first syllable instead of the second as in Standard English usage. For example, PO-lice and DE-troit are words that use this stress pattern.

Sound Variability. The vowel sounds have noted variability between Black speakers and White speakers, according to Burling (1973). Blacks who were raised in the North preserved characteristics of the southern pronunciation /ail in words such as time, my, find, nde, etc. In African American English, vowel contrasts are lost under limited linguistic environments. These contrasts are not lost in Standard English. In addition, there are words that are homonyms in African American English. For example, oil becomes all and during becomes doing, to name a few (Dandy, 1991).

The Standard American English /th/ sound can be produced voiced or voiceless in the beginning position. In the production of the word this, the /th/ sound is voiced, while in the word think, the /th/ sound is voiceless. In African American English, in place of the voiced /th/ the /dl sound is substituted so that this becomes dis; in the voiceless production thin becomes tin. In ME, the middle and ending /th/ can be pronounced as If/ or /v/. An example of /th/ substitution is baf for bath. Wiv for wife is an example of /v/ substitution of /th/.

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