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Notes for LG449

Out of Africa: …Black Englishes

by Prof. Peter L. Patrick, Univ. of Essex


List of AAVE features contrasting with MUSE/SAE


This page is intended to contrast features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) with features of MUSE (Mainstream US English, also called Standard American English or SAE). The bulk of this list is drawn from Jack Sidnell’s short grammar, conveniently online from the coursepage, but some from other sources too. Most of these features are discussed by any standard source on the distinctive grammar of AAVE. Below I have indicated where features are shared with other non-standard English dialects (superscript D) and shared with Caribbean English Creoles (superscript C). This is shorthand, as the details may be more complex. E.g., the similarities in copula absence are too complex to be adequately indicated in this way; and while negative concord is shared with other dialects, its obligatoriness is a unique feature of AAVE; etc. See also the brief page identifying types of features often identified as “being AAVE”.

          Note also that this list is intended to be typical of contemporary urban AAVE. There are different features found, and some of those below are not found, in the speech of older rural African Americans, and of the Ex-Slave Elders. (See Wolfram & Thomas 2002, Bailey et al 1991, Poplack 2000, Poplack & Tagliamonte 2001.)


Morphology and Syntax

·        Perfect with have- (or had-) deletion

·        Past participle = preterite form (regularised)D

·        Completive done + VerbC

·        Stressed been + Verb

o       with dynamic V Þ remote,

o       with stative V Þ remote and still relevant

·        Possessive –s variably absentC

·        Plural –s variably absentC

·        3rd singular present –s variably absentC, D

·        3rd singular don’t for doesn’t, have for has, do for does D

·        Contraction of gonna Þ gon (also 1st singular forms)

·        Deletion of future will (incl. before be; also occurs as full,  contracted, and L-vocalized)

·        Invariant habitual be

o       Common environments: __Loc, __Adj, __V+ing (progressive)

o       Negative with (3sg) don’t be

o       Qs and tags with do be, negative don’t be

o       Changes in distribution, esp for V+ing

·        Future perfect be done + Past Verb

·        Immediate future with finna/fitna + V

·        Emphatic steady + V for continuous or habitual

o       Combines with habitual be

o       Semantic restrictions on subject

·        Invariant modal semi-auxiliary come + V(-ing)

·        Preterite had, ie had + Past Verb (with non-perfect meaning)

·        Copula contraction and deletion (forms of inflected be)

o       Deletion happens only where contraction may occur

o       Deletion ruled out for am, was and were

o       Deletion more frequent for are than is

o       Environmental constraints: preceding segment (C, V)

o       Environmental constraints: preceding grammatical categories (Subject pronoun, NP)

o       Environmental constraints: following grammatical categoriesC (gonnaÞ Verb+ingÞ AdjÞ LocÞ NP)

o       Similarity to Caribbean English Creoles

·        Regularised is/was/’s (with 2s, or plural persons) =verb generalisation D

·        Negative concord D (agreement b/w subject NP, auxiliary verb, and indefinite object NP) is obligatory Unique

·        Negation with ain’t in wider range of contexts than other dialects, and tense-neutrally (not only isn’t/aren’t, hasn’t/haven’t, but also hadn’t, don’t, didn’t, wasn’t, weren’t)

·        Negative inversion (fronting of negative auxiliary) D

·        Non-inversion in embedded questionsC

·        Dative or benefactive pronoun constructions (redundant post-V pronoun agreeing with subject) D

·        Pleonastic pronouns D

·        Double modals D

·        Existential It is/It’s/I’s for There is/are


Phonological features

These include the ten listed on the class handout “A Selection of Features...

o       Fortition of initial voiced (post-)dental fricative /ð/ à  [d].  Ex: "then, them" à  /dɛn/,  /dɛm/ {"den, dem"}

o       Labialization of final unvoiced (post-)dental fricative /ɵ/ à  [f]. Ex: "south, mouth" à  /sæʊf/, /mæʊf/ {"souf, mouf"}

o       R-deletion of intervocalic VrV and final Vr#  à  Æ. Ex: "dur­ing, Paris" à  /dʊ:ɪn/,  /pæ:ɪs/  and "more, star"  à  /mɔə/,  /staə/  {"duh’in’, Pah’is"; "moah, stah"} (This is also variably true of VrC, as in "park, card")

o       L-vocalization of postvocalic VlC and final Vl# à  Æ.  Ex: "help, will" --> /hɛp/, /wɪə/ {" he'p, wi'uh"}  (This is NOT true of VlV, apparently, as in “killer”)

o       Final stop deletion in clusters and in -VC# position. Ex: "mist, missed" à /mɪs/ for both;  and also in "test, wasp" à /tɛs/, /was/; and also in "hood, bed"  à /hʊʔ/, /bɛʔ/. (Deletion in -CC# clusters is true of all English dialects, in -VC# only AAVE. Smitherman notes pluraliza­tion evidence shows no underlying /-st#/ clusters in the “tesses, wasses” lexical items)

o       /ɪŋ/ à /æŋ/.  Ex: “thing” = /ɵæŋ/,   “ring” = /ræŋ/,   “sing” = /sæŋ/

o       Reduction of auxiliary “gonna” à /gɔn/,  /gɔ̃/ (Only for Auxiliaries; not in non-Aux uses such as “going, going, gone”-- syntactic con­straint)

o       Stress shifts from 2nd syllable to 1st in some words: “De-TROIT àDE-troit”, also “PO-lice”

o       Monophthongization of  /ay/ à  /aa/ in “nice”  /nays/ --> /na:s/, and similar words

o       In-gliding of /ɔy/ à  /ɔə/ in “boy”:  /bɔy/ à  /bɔə/

o       TD-deletion before a following vowel D but rare, C

o       T-deletion with copula in i’s, tha’s, wha’s

o       Pin/Pen merger: /ɛ/ ⇒ /ɪ/ before nasals D

o       [ɑʊ] nucleus of /aw/ diphthong(“house”) is backer than for White speakers

o       Wider pitch and tone range than MUSE speakers

o       Deletion of unstressed initial and medial syllablesC: (be)cause, (a)fraid, (a)bout, sec(re)t(a)ry

o       Consonant replacementC: /str-/ with /skr-/, intervocalic /-v-/ with /-b-/

o       Deletion of initial voiced stops /b-, d-, g-/ in tense-aspect markers or auxiliariesC (I ‘on’ know for don’t; I’m’a go for gonna)


Course Page for LG449

Master Bibliography of AAVE

Peter L. Patrick's home page

Last updated 16 May 2003


D Shared with some other non-standard dialects of English

C Shared with some Caribbean English Creoles