Language in use  
English Language & Linguistics

English Language


  Black English

This title and many others describe the language variety of black Americans or black English speakers. This is bound to be contentious because there is no logical relationship between skin colour and language. However it is accepted that African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Black English Vernacular (BEV) is a distinct variety of English (rather than a dialect). The variety is also known as "ebonics" though this is not a term used by linguists.

AAVE has its roots in the slave trade where people captured in various parts of Africa and with a variety of languages were forced to create a pidgin or creole - a common language composed of fragments of their native languages. Eventually this incorporated elements of English so it could also be used to communicate with the slave owners.

Its characteristics are given in greater detail in Wikipedia.

British Black English (BBE) has some similar origins but is based on a Jamaican creole spoken by Caribbean communities, mainly in London but also in large cities such as Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Leeds and Nottingham.

There is a history of British sugar planters in Jamaica, which was a British colony until 1948, after which in the 1950's there was significant immigration to London as England welcomed workers in its post war expansion and rebuilding. Jamaican Creole is recognised as an independent variety with its own grammar-system and vocabulary and details are explained here.

Increasingly British Black English speakers are finding their own voice in literature such as rap poetry and song, with Benjamin Zephaniah a respected name. There is no standard form of orthography so much of the language is written semi-phonetically - "yuhself" for "yourself" "dat" and "dem" for "that" and "them", "nuff" for "enough", "respek" for "respect".

Some of their culture appeals to young native English speakers who in turn adopt features of BBE speech mixed with their native Cockney.


 See also