The Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Position of Black English and the Issue of Bidialectalism in Education
John D. Roy Brooklyn College, City University of New York
The linguistic and sociolinguistic factors that surrounded the importation of Africans as slaves are not paralleled in the immigration of other groups. The importation of peoples with different native languages and the grouping of them together in a social stratum structurally removed from English resulted in the formation of an emergency language -- a West African English Pidgin.
This emergency language developed out of the earliest contact of Africans with English speakers. Spencer ( 1971) cites evidence that establishes that this emergency Afro-English Pidgin was in use in West Africa barely 20 years after the establishment of the first British fort there and was the medium of communication in the English slave trade.
The great number of West African languages, and the practice of purposefully varying the loading points in order to mix the language groups and thus lessen the chance of shipboard insurrection, are two of the facts that favored the development and use of a West African-English emergency language functioning as a means of communication both between the English and the Africans, as well as between Africans of different language groups. Cruickshank ( 1916) cites William Smith, Surveyor to the Royal African Company who made a voyage to Guinea in 1726. He notes:
The languages in the Gambia are so many and so different that the natives on one side [of the river] cannot understand those on the other, which is a great advantage to the Europeans, who trade there for Slaves. . . . The safest way is to trade with different nations on either side, and having some of every sort on board there will be less the danger of any plot. (p. 1)