Definition of Black English noun from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary


Black English

; NAmE
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any of various forms of English spoken by black people, especially a form spoken in US cities CultureBlack EnglishThe forms of English spoken by black and white Americans have always been different. At one time, the speech of white Americans was believed to be correct, and that of African Americans to be wrong. More recently, the way African Americans speak has been treated with more respect. Black English is considered to be a dialect (= form of language). It is called Black English Vernacular (BEV) or African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). The study of Black English has been called Ebonics. Not all African Americans speak BEV, and some only speak it when talking to other African Americans. There are variations within Black English, and some forms overlap with regional dialects of American English.Black English developed at the time when black people were brought as slaves to the US. They came from different parts of Africa and spoke different languages, so they used pidgin, a method of communication based on their own languages and English, in order to talk to each other. Over time, this developed into a Creole (= a language that has developed from a European and an African language). Black English developed further as a result of contact with other American English dialects, but since African Americans traditionally led very separate lives from white Americans, differences in language have remained.There are many differences between BEV and standard English in vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, although many Black English words have become standard English. Black English contains many words from West Africa, e.g. yam for ‚sweet potato‘ and tote for ‚carry‘. There are a lot of slang expressions: for instance, the word bad may be used to mean its opposite, ‚good‘, and cool and hot can both mean ‚excellent‘. Differences of grammar include sometimes leaving out the verb ‚to be‘, and the use of several negatives in one sentence. Inflected endings for plural and possessive forms are often omitted. The ‚l‘ is left out of words like help and self which are pronounced /hep/ and /sef/ . Consonant groups may be reduced, e.g. desk is said as /des/ and test as /tes/ . A final or middle ‚r‘ is not pronounced. Words like this and that are pronounced with a /d/ instead of /ð/ sound, as /dɪs/ and /dæt/ . Words with two syllables usually have heavy stress on the first syllable.BEV has influenced the language of white Americans, and has much in common with the way white people from the South speak. Homies, a word first used by African Americans to refer to people from their own neighbourhood, is now used as an informal word for ‚friends‘ by some white Americans. Features of pronunciation are also shared by African Americans and southern white Americans.Special features of Black English include the dozens (= verbal insults towards an opponent's family), sounding (= having verbal contests), shucking and jiving (= deceiving white people) and rapping (= language used for seduction and in the words of songs). These are based on traditions brought from Africa.There has been much debate in the US about the use of BEV in schools. Some people believe that BEV is not as good as other forms of English, and should not be used in school. This is linked to an idea that speaking Black English is a sign of ignorance and lack of education. Although the number of people who think this way is decreasing, they still have influence. BEV had first to be taken account of in schools as a result of the civil rights protests of the 1960s. Some people now believe that students learn best if they use a language they know well, and that teachers who respect BEV are more likely to help African-American students learn. Others say African Americans need to speak the form of English used by white people if they are to find jobs and succeed, and that schools should help them.In Britain the term Black English is used to refer to the English of West Indian communities, and is the dialect used by immigrants to Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s. The children of these immigrants, and their children, often now use a regional British dialect or speak a modified version of their parents' Creole, or switch between the two.
See the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary entry: Black English