Culture And Language Of African Americans Cultural Studies Essay

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During the early years of colonization, a very peculiar variety of English was emerging in the West Indies and southern United States. This variety or dialect was spoken by the black population that began to settle as a result of the importation of African slaves to work at sugar cane plantations - a practice started by the Spanish as early as 1517.

When thinking of an "African" culture which had been in contact with European culture, scholars are forced to postulate the existence of a cultural "heritage" widespread in West Africa, brought to a given colony by Africans of diverse origins, or to assert most of African colonies came from a "tribe" or particular cultural group.

The harsh separation between blacks and whites established until the 1960s lead the African-American community to organize itself around its own values. From this experience, important cultural expressions were created in places like Harlem, New York, and surpassed the U.S. borders. This applies, for example, to jazz and soul music that underpins the global popular music in the broad spectrum of pop. The African diaspora in the United States has revealed to the world unique personalities in almost all areas, from arts and sports to philosophical thought and scientific knowledge. (Lopes, 2004 p. 262)


Mintz points out that the structure, syntax, phonology, lexicon and morphology of the creole language, as well as the history of its various aspects, are the subject of many research questions. The way the language is used, by whom and under what circumstances, pose a very different set of questions.


We want to know not only how a given language, provided the language, took a consistent and distinctive form, in terms of its linguistic character, but also by social processes that it is standardized, it was taught to newly imported slaves. (MINTZ & PRICE, 2003 p. 41).

Oliveira1 says that it was exactly this English-based creole that quickly started to be used on farms in several southern coastal towns. At the same time, the standard British English was imposing itself as a variety of prestige throughout the region due to the emerging political influence of Britain. Creolised forms of French, Spanish, and Portuguese were also emerging in the Caribbean and surrounding areas, and some of them interacted as the Creole and the varieties of standard English.


Oliveira points out that in the late 1990s, some newspapers and magazines reported the decision of school authorities of the city of Oakland, in California, to recognize black English as a language, not as a dialect, slang or "incorrect" use of standard American English. According to these authorities, the linguistic habits of black Americans are rooted from a distinct culture from the Anglo-Saxon, and therefore should receive similar treatments to those provided to immigrants from other countries where English is not spoken, and receive bilingual education throughout the country.

According to Oliveira, the city of Oakland has asked help from the state of California and other agencies to implement the program of teaching in ebonics, a term that has supplanted the more traditional Black English or Black Vernacular English. Tough controveries in important academic centers in the country have been going on due to movements pro of upgrading ebonics to a language status. On the one hand William Labov, a researcher from University of Pennsylvania, thinks that such a decision would help black students improve their academic performance in all disciplines. On the other hand, critics believe that it increases the racial segregations and legitimates the wrong use of standard English.

Some consider black English as a dialect and therefore should not receive foreign language treatment. Black English would be a product of radical political correctness and African-centrism which will soon racially divide the country and undermine the future of black students, teaching them something that makes no sense, instead of teaching them English. (OLIVEIRA)

Often, the languages in which slaves and masters communicated were often pidgins or business jargon, that is, languages with grammar and lexicons reduced, used in specialized activities (such as trade) involving groups without a common language. There is no consensus whether these languages were created in the New World or

According to Mintz, children born of slave mothers would learn the pidgin spoken by their parents as their first or native language, and in that case, the lexical pidgin would expand to meet the new expressive features of language that was not strictly specialized.

At this stage, when a language becomes the language of a group of native speakers, it ceases to be a pidgin and becomes a creole. (MINTZ & PRICE, 2003 p. 40).

 Nowadays the terms African American English (AAE) and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) are also acceptable to refer to Ebonics.


The Ebonics has its own grammatical rules. It means that changes were made in the rules of formal English grammar. Below are some differences between african-american and original North American languages (Iwassa, 2009 p.4).

1) Some words ending in "er" is replaced by "ah"

Tower of Power.

Towah of Powah. (Ebonics)

2) Other words that end in "er" replaces the term "a":

That Negro was larger and was holding a pistol.

Mah nigga was bigga had his fingah on yo' trogga. (Ebonics)

The word "bigger" was used to replace the word "larger" and "finger" was chosen instead of "holding the pistol."

3) Gerund loose the 'g'

What were you thinking?

What you thinkin'? (Ebonics)

The verb lost the letter 'g' but we understand perfectly the meaning of this sentence and the loss did not affect the pronunciation.

4) Words that end with "ore" or "or" is pronounced by the letter "o":

Please shut the door!

Please shut the do! (Ebonics)

5) Tenses are the most affected in Ebonics.

Ebonics use is to refer to all people, plural and singular.

I / you / he / she / it / we / they is hungry.

The verb to be is commonly used in the infinitive.

I / you / he / she / it / we / they be leavin' now.

The verb to be in the past tend to be was to all people.

Was they gonna buy the whisky?

We was eating when he rang us.

The verb to be is often ommited.

You crazy!

She my sister.

Who you?

Where you at?

Third person singular is not used.

She write poetry.

In this case, we emphasize the action ended.

He worked.

He done worked. (Ebonics)

6) A feature of Ebonics is the use of Double Negative, it means a double negation within the same sentence. The double negative is used to emphasize the denial as a backup.

You are no hero, friend.

You ain't no hero, man. (Ebonics)

Even using the negative "are not", "no" appears emphasizing the negation of the sentence. This is called Double Negative.

The negative "ain't" replaces the "am not", "isn't", "aren't" and even "did not".

7 ) According Iwassa, some features are Impersonal pronouns with the use of one: the use of the impersonal pronoun "one" does not refer to a specific person, but to any person or people in general.

One should always tell the truth.

One can really get bored listening to Dr. Foster's endeless stories.

One is still used to refer to himself using one, or one's oneself.

One is never satisfied with what one has.

One should always take care of one's health.

I think one shouldn't take oneself too seriously.

8) You is also used as an impersonal pronoun to refer to a person, any person and people in general. This is used more frequently.

You should always try to be friendly to your neighbors.

9) Syntax alteration.

Why they ain't here? (Whuy aren't they here?)

10) Some words or expressions have suffered changes due to daily common usage.

Wuz Up - (What's up) /wuz əp/

Cause - (Because) / kəz/

These expressions represent the very form of the word but the sound and meaning are the same.

 11) Ebonics has, in many situations, its own vocabulary.

axe = to ask

ball out = leave

be = are

befo = before

bemah = automotive vehicle manufactured by the B.M.W. considered to be very suave amongst a group of homies

B.M.W. = Black Man Working or Black Man's Wheels

bomb = something that is considered popular or visuially pleasing

boo = close friend

booty = buttox

boyz = gang friends

bud = marijuana

busta white = a person who hangs around with but is not wanted

cent = cents

cap = bullet

chillin = Relaxing

cold-lampin' = relaxing or hanging out

cop-blockin' = interfering in one's relations

cream = money, riches, valueables

crib = place of residence

dog = worn out, bad, terrible, in bad shape

flava = means flavor

folks = police

foo = fool

fronting = attempting to start a quarrel

G = acquaintance

(I'm gonna) gat yo' ass = You areangering me and I may become violent if you do not cease your actions

Haps in da hood = What's going on in the neighborhood

hella thick =(refers to women) cute or fine

ho = woman who engages in sexual activity for a money sum

homey = friend

hood = neighborhood

hoodrat = scummy girl

It's on = You and me are about to engage in a violent confrontation

mo = more

moo = Move

my bad = my mistake

na / nah = no, dissagreement

nine = 9mm gun

outy = bye

peace out = Good bye

Po Po = Police

refer = marijuana

rhymes = lyrics

roll out = to leave

shiiee = shit

shiiee ( your name) = What are you? Crazy?

sku me = excuse me

snaps = money

sup = abbreviation for what's up

I gonna Steal you = I am plaining to punch you (Stole past tense)

straight = fine, okay

Strapped = In possession of a gun

wack = not to my likeing

Yo! = yeah? what is it? what do you want?

Young = friend


Languages are in a continuous changing process, always trying to fullfill the people's needs.

Ebonics is an excellent example of this phenomenon. Since the culture and the reality African natives and descendents live in are different from native Americans, the language used has been - and still is - through a lot of customizations.

The result is a dialect full of peculiarities, simple grammar rules and totally based on daily spoken vocaburay and structures.

Every day more people are using ebonics expressions or pronouncing the words according to these changes. Popularirty is the only guarantee a language has to survive, and if it is so, Ebonics tend to become more and more spread throughout the world.