Cultural and Linguistic Transitions:
The Comparative Case of African
Americans and Ethnic Minorities
Carol Aisha Blackshire-Belay
The richly endowed linguistic and literary imagination of the African American community can be traced to a number of factors. Some of these factors have been debated since the works of E. Franklin Frazier, the sociologist, and Melvill Herskovits, the anthropologist. Frazier had held the position that African Americans retained almost no aspect of African culture, whereas Herskovits had written in his book The Myth of the Negro Past that African Americans retained a considerable legacy from Africa and that the enslavement did not eradicate all of the influences of Africa. Other factors exist, to be sure, in the development of the linguistic and literary imagination of the African American. These factors are not debatable in terms of their influence on the literary and linguistic imagination of the community. They include a unique community of speakers, similar cultural interference from outside the speech community, and religious language and symbolism. Of course there are profound social factors, such as the migration experience.
One could speak of the migration influence in terms of the forced migration from Africa to the Americas, the migration of many families in search of relatives immediately after the Civil War, or the more recent economic migration from the South to the North. It is this latter migration that holds an interest for this paper inasmuch as there are similarities between this Great Migration and others in the contemporary world. In effect, it was an economic migration with implications for the modification of culture, including particularly language and speech patterns.