Black Youth Employ African American Vernacular English in Creating Digital Texts

By Hall, Darryl Ted; Damico, James | The Journal of Negro Education, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Black Youth Employ African American Vernacular English in Creating Digital Texts


Hall, Darryl Ted, Damico, James, The Journal of Negro Education


This study addressed the use of African American Vernacular English among a group of urban secondary school students who participated in a digital media course as part of a pre-college summer enrichment program. Using theories of African American language and culturally relevant pedagogy, the analysis revealed four features of African American Vernacular English: :tonal semantics, sermonic tone, call and response, and signifying which were evident in a digital text created by students. Findings from this study pointed to the utility and significance of creating culturally relevant spaces for technology teaching and learning, and the production of digital text. These findings also informed efforts to reduce the digital divide e among African American students.

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One of the most significant Federal court battles of the latter part of the 20th century, Brown v Board of Education (1954) involved access to literacy for African Americans (Gates, 1999). Throughout American history, access to literacy has often come through both legal and personal struggles by African American people. Laws were enacted that made it a crime for enslaved Africans to read and write (Gates, 1999). However, slave narratives described how slaves risked being punished with whippings, amputations, and even violent deaths in their desire to become literate (Perry, Steel, & Milliard, 2004). As a result, access to literacy became a hallmark of the slave's humanity and an instrument of liberation (Gates, 1999).

African Americans have always striven to become literate people using whatever forms of communication were available. When written communication was illegal, African American slaves creatively used songs and rhetoric in the fields and in churches to communicate (Banks, 2005). hi contemporary society, multimedia technologies have created new modes of communication and African Americans bring that same creativity, culture, and historical experience to their use of communication using multimedia technology. Through television, radio, and the Internet, the African American cultural experience is revealed not only to other African Americans, but it is also communicated to a diverse global world.

Contemporary literacy struggles for African Americans involve accessing emergent technologies and bridging the "digital divide" or difference in access and use of digital technology between White communities and communities of color, especially African American communities. Because lower rates of computer use by African Americans can be correlated to higher rates of poverty and lower levels of education (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2000), the need to bridge this digital divide and the resultant academic and economic gaps between Caucasian students and African American students remains urgent. African Americans need access to meaningful and enriched opportunities with the extensive resources that multimedia technology offers. Access to these resources also needs to coincide with culturally relevant curricular and pedagogical approaches, where African American youth can draw from their own rich cultural contexts and experiences that define their place in the world (Gates, 1999).

This research study addresses issues of access and culturally relevant experiences with technology for African Americans by considering a group of African American secondary school students who participated in a digital media course as part of a pre-college summer program. Using theories of African American language and culturally relevant pedagogy, this article examines four aspects of African American Vernacular English (AAVE): tonal semantics, sermonic tone, call and response, and signifying (Smitherman, 2000) that were evident in the students' digital text productions. Findings from this study point to the usefulness and significance of creating culturally relevant spaces for technology teaching and learning and the production of digital text. …

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