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American English also known as United States English, or U.S. English) is a set of dialects of the English language used mostly in the United States. Approximately two thirds of native speakers of English live in the United States.
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English is the most common language in the United States. Though the U.S. federal government has no official language, English is considered the de facto, “in practice but not necessarily ordained by law”, language of the United States because of its widespread use. English has been given official status by 30 of the 50 state governments.
There are no official rules for “Standard English” because, unlike some other languages, English does not have a linguistic governance body such as the Accademia della Crusca, Real Academia Española, the Académie française or the Dansk Sprognævn to establish usage.
The English language, which originated in England, is now spoken as a first or second language in many countries of the world, each of which has developed one or more “national standards” of pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and spelling.
As the result of historical migrations of English-speaking populations and colonization, and the predominant use of English as the international language of trade and commerce (lingua franca), English has also become the most widely-used second language, and is therefore subject to alteration by non-native speakers. Numerous “non-native dialects” are developing their own standards- those, for example, of English language publications published in countries where English is generally learned as a foreign language. In countries where English is either not a native language or is not widely spoken, a native variant (typically British English or North American English) might be considered “standard” for teaching purposes..
The effects of local native languages on the creation of creoles or pidgins have contributed to the evolution of the many local and regional varieties of English. But they were not considered to be part of the language until the people that spoke them said that they should be.
African American Vernacular English
African American Vernacular English (AAVE is an African American variety (dialect) of American English. Non-linguists sometimes call it “Ebonics” (a term that also has other meanings or strong connotations) or “jive” or “jive-talk.” Its pronunciation is, in some respects, common to Southern American English, which is spoken by many African Americans and many non-African Americans in the United States. There is little regional variation among speakers of AAVE. Several creolists, such as William Stewart argue that AAVE shares so many characteristics with creole dialects spoken by black people in much of the world that AAVE itself is a creole. On the other hand, others maintain that there are no significant parallels. As with all linguistic forms, its usage is influenced by age, status, topic and setting. There are many literary uses of this variety of English, particularly in African-American literature.
AAVE includes many of characteristics of other nglish language-forms spoken by people throughout much of the world. AAVE shares pronunciation, grammatical structures, and vocabulary in common with various West African languages.
Many features of AAVE are shared with English dialects spoken in the American South. While these are mostly regionalisms (i.e. originating from the dialect commonly spoken in the area, regardless of color), a number of them-such as the deletion of is-are used much more frequently by black speakers, suggesting that they have their origins in black speech. The traits of AAVE that separate it from Standard American English (SAE) include:
â€¢changes in pronunciation along definable patterns, many of which are found in creoles and dialects of other populations of West African descent (but which also emerge in English dialects that may be uninfluenced by West African languages, such as Newfoundland English);
â€¢distinctive vocabulary; and
â€¢the distinctive use of verb tenses.
Phonology of African American English
The near uniformity of AAVE pronunciation, despite vast geographic area, may be due in part to relatively recent migrations of African Americans out of the South as well as to long-term racial segregation. Phonological features that set AAVE apart from forms of Standard English (such as General American) include:
â€¢ Word-final devoicing of /b/, /d/, and /É¡/, whereby for example cub sounds like cup.
â€¢ Reduction of certain diphthong forms to monophthongs, in particular, /aÉª/ is monophthongized to [a] (this is also a feature of many Southern American English dialects). The vowel sound in boil (/É”Éª/ in Standard English) is also monophthongized, especially before /l/, making it indistinguishable from ball. (This is also characteristic of some white speakers from eastern Arkansas, and the vowel is actually the same as that in “file,” as shown by the transcription of American folksong lyrics, “Bile ’em Cabbage Down,” in Standard English, “Boil Those Cabbages Down” (see Branson[vague]).)
â€¢ AAVE speakers may not use the dental fricatives [Î¸] (the th in thin) and [Ã°] (the th of then) that are present in SE. The actual alternative phone used depends on the sound’s position in a word. (This, too, is a common substitution is many regional dialects, including parts of the South, and in New York, as readily heard in movies and television shows set in these areas.)
â€¢ Word-initially, /Î¸/ is normally the same as in SE (so thin is [Î¸Éªn]).
â€¢ Word-initially, /Ã°/ is [d] (so this is [dÉªs]).
â€¢ Word-medially and -finally, /Î¸/ is realized as either [f] or [t] (so [mÊŒmf] or [mÊŒnt] for month); /Ã°/ as either [v] or [d] (so [smuv] for smooth).
â€¢ Realization of final ng /Å‹/, the velar nasal, as the alveolar nasal [n] in function morphemes and content morphemes with two syllables like -ing, e.g. tripping is pronounced as trippin. This change does not occur in one-syllable content morphemes such as sing, which is [sÉªÅ‹] and not â€¢ [sÉªn]. However, singing is [sÉªÅ‹Éªn]. Other examples include wedding â†’ [wÉ›É¾Éªn], morning â†’ [mÉ”É¹nÉªn], nothing â†’ [ËˆnÊŒfÉªn]. Realization of /Å‹/ as [n] in these contexts is commonly found in many other English dialects. Such substitutions are so common throughout the American South that, for example, a sign urging customers to enter a store in Greenville, Texas, was printed, “Don’t just be setten, come on in!” (1985).
Grammatical aspect marking for African American English
SAE Meaning / Notes
He is working [currently].
He be workin’.
He works frequently or habitually. Better illustrated with “He be workin’ Tuesdays.”
He stay workin’.
Intensified continuative (habitual)
He is always working.
He steady workin’.
Intensified continuative (not habitual)
He keeps on working.
He been workin’.
He has been working.
He been had that job.
Remote phase (see below)
He has had that job for a long time and still has it.
He done worked.
He has worked. Syntactically, “He worked” is valid, but “done” is used to emphasize the completed nature of the action.
He finna go to work.
He is about to go to work. Finna is a contraction of “fixing to”; though is also believed to show residual influence of “would fain (to)”, which persisted beyond the late 16th century in some rural dialects spoken in the Carolinas (near the Gullah region). “Fittin’ to” is commonly thought to be another form of the original “fixin’ (fixing) to”, and it is also heard as fitna, fidna, fixna, fin’to, and finsta.
I was walkin’ home, and I had worked all day.
“Had” is used to emphasize complicating points of narration. Although similar in form, it is not semantically equivalent to the past perfect. As its name suggests, it is a preterite, or simple past, form.
Affects of African American English in the Classroom
The Oakland resolution declared that AAVE was not English or even an Indo-European language, asserting that the speech of black children belonged to “West and Niger-Congo languages and are not merely dialects of English.” This claim is inconsistent with the current linguistic treatment of AAVE as a dialect of English and thus of Indo-European origin. Also, the differences between modern AAVE and Standard English are nowhere near as great as those between French and Haitian Creole, which are considered separate languages. The resolution was widely misunderstood as an intention to teach AAVE and “elevate it to the status of a written language.” It gained national attention and was derided and criticized, most notably by Jesse Jackson and Kweisi Mfume who regarded it as an attempt to teach slang to children. The statement that “African Language Systems are genetically based” also contributed to widespread hostility because “genetically” was popularly misunderstood to imply that African Americans had a biological predisposition to a particular language. In an amended resolution, this phrase was removed and replaced with wording that states African American language systems “have origins in West and Niger-Congo languages and are not merely dialects of English.”
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Chicano English is a dialect of American English used by Chicanos. One major variation of Chicano English is Tejano English, used mainly in south Texas. It is mistakenly referred to asSpanglish, which is not a recognized dialect of English but rather a mixing of the Spanish and English languages.
Chicano English has many features, especially in the phonology, that show the influence of Spanish.
â€¢ The devoicing of [z] in all environments: Examples: [isi] for easy and [wÊŒs] for was.
â€¢ The devoicing of [v] in word-final position: Examples: [lÊŒf] for love, [hÉ›f] for have, and [wajfs] for wives.
â€¢ Chicano speakers may pronounce /b/ instead of /v/: Examples: very [bÉ›É¹i], invite [imbajt].
â€¢ Absence of dental fricatives so that think may be pronounced [tiÅ‹k], [fiÅ‹k] or [siÅ‹k].
â€¢ Poor distinction between /j/ and /dÊ’/ so that job may sound like yob and yes may sound like jes.
â€¢ Poor distinction of nasals in the syllable coda so that seen and seem are pronounced alike.
â€¢ /tÊƒ/ merges with /Êƒ/ so sheep and cheap are pronounced alike
â€¢ Chicano English speakers merge [æ] and [É›], so man and men are homophonous.
â€¢ [Éª] and [i] merge into [i] so ship and sheep are pronounced like the latter.
Final consonant deletion
Only certain consonants occur at the end of words. All other single consonants in English would thus be unfamiliar to Chicano English speakers in this environment.
“Most” becomes “mos”; “Felt” becomes “fell”, “Start”becomes”star”.
Pidgin (or Hawaiian Creole) originated as a form of speech between English speaking residents and non-English speaking immigrants in Hawaii. It supplanted the pidgin Hawaiian used on the plantations and elsewhere in Hawaii. It has been influenced by many languages, including Portuguese, Hawaiian, and Cantonese. As people of other language backgrounds were brought in to work on the plantations, such as Japanese, Filipinos, and Koreans, Pidgin acquired words from these languages. Japanese loan-words in Hawaii lists some of those words originally from Japanese. It has also been influenced to a lesser degree by Spanish spoken by Mexican and Puerto Rican settlers in Hawaii.
Presently, Pidgin still retains some influences from these languages. For example, the word “stay” in Pidgin has a form and use similar to the Portuguese verb “estar”, which means “to be” but is used when referring to a temporary state or location. At times, the structure of the language is like that of Portuguese grammar. For example, “You like one knife?” means “Would you like a knife?”. The reason why the word “one” is used instead of “a” is because the word “um” in Portuguese has two meanings: “um” translates to “one” and “a” in English. The way people use the phrase “No can” (“não pode”) is Portuguese grammar, as well. In Portuguese, the phrase “Você não pode fazer isso!” comes out in Pidgin as “You no can do dat!”, and in English as “You cannot do that!”
Pidgin words derived from Cantonese are also spoken in other parts of the United States. For example, the word “Haa?” is also used by Chinese Americans outside of Hawaii. The meaning is “Excuse me?” or “What did you say?”. Another word is “chop suey”, a popular dish throughout America. In Hawaii, it can also mean that someone is a variety of ethnicities. Another word in pidgin that was derived from the Chinese which is also seen in America is “lie dat”, which means “like that” but in Hawaii it is pronounced “li’dat”.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, Pidgin started to be used outside the plantation between ethnic groups. Public school children learned Pidgin from their classmates, and eventually it became the primary language of most people in Hawaii, replacing the original languages. For this reason, linguists generally consider Hawaiian Pidgin to be a creole language.
Pidgin has distinct pronunciation differences from standard American English (SAE). Some key differences include the following:
â€¢ Pidgin’s general rhythm is syllable-timed, meaning syllables take up roughly the same amount of time with roughly the same amount of stress. Standard American English is stress-timed, meaning that only stressed syllables are evenly timed. Some Western languages, including English, are stress-timed, while most Romance and East Asian languages are syllable timed. Many pronunciation features are shared with other colloquial language forms or pidgins/creoles from other parts of the world. Even when a person is speaking Standard English, they will tend to pronounce syllables in the same manner, and this is often considered as having a “local” or “Hawaiian” accent.
â€¢ The voiced and unvoiced th sounds are replaced by d or t respectively-that is, changed from a fricative to a plosive (stop). For instance, that (voiced th) becomes dat, and think(unvoiced th) becomes tink.
â€¢ The sound l at the end of a word is often pronounced o or ol. For instance, mental is often pronounced mento; people is pronounced peepo.
â€¢ Pidgin is non-rhotic. That is, r after a vowel is often omitted, similar to many dialects, such as Eastern New England, Australian English, and English English variants. For instance, caris often pronounced cah, and letter is pronounced letta. Intrusive r is also used. The number of Hawaiian Pidgin speakers with rhotic English has also been increasing.
â€¢ Falling intonation is used at the end of questions. This feature appears to be from Hawaiian, and is shared with some other languages, including Fijian.
â€¢ The distinctive pronunciation of Hawaiian Creole is sometimes called Portagee. The exact reason for this is unknown, as the full extent of the Portuguese contribution to local pidgin modes of speech and vocabularies was probably not great, compared to the Chinese, Hawaiian or Japanese inputs over the years. The Portuguese arrived rather late to The Islands compared to others, and Pidgin was well established by then, especially in the countryside. One possible reason may be the position of authority the Portuguese often had in plantation life as overseers and so on, although what exactly this connection may have been is unclear.
How difficulties/limitations become barriers to assistance and how they affect further learning in English, especially in writing
Many linguists and teachers claim that written English, as the lingua franca of international business, is evasive and deceptive. SAE speakers in the dominant (primarily middle-class EuroAmerican) culture readily grasp the subtle signals of standard English, whether spoken or written. But children from minority and lower SES groups who speak a dialect of English often do not learn, at an early age, the subtle codes of SAE. As a result, they are often at a disadvantage when it comes to quickly deciphering the implicit cognitive meanings associated with words, phases, and grammatical structures in SAE. Moreover, their body language sometimes contrasts markedly with that of middle class Whites in their age group.
The correlation between the lack of mastering SAE and low mean IQ scores in African Americans is well documented. Language skills enter the equation as one of the most profound mediating variables in determining intelligence performance, or IQ scores (note that intelligence performance is not necessarily tantamount to innate intelligence). Behavioral geneticists have argued that African American children reared in the dominant Euro-American culture or adopted into Euro-American families become more familiar with the subjects of school and intelligence tests. As a result of their early exposure to SAE, these children tend to perform on par with White children adopted into higher SES families.
Because of its deviation from SAE, Black English Vernacular can be (but does not have to be) a severe impediment to literacy and to understanding basic concepts, even those taught in elementary school. And it puts up a barrier to grasping the fundamentals of inductive thinking, certainly a prerequisite for learning science. However, students cannot overcome the limitations of Ebonics as a communications device in writing unless their teachers are able to effectively translate (both for themselves and their students) Black English Vernacular into standard English (and vice versa) — and translate not only words and phrases, but also concepts and cognitive structures.
Limitations vary amongst the dialects. For example, fewer obstacles exist for L1 speakers of Chicano English than for those whose L1 is Black English Vernacular.
Some suggest that when teachers realize that Black English Vernacular is in fact a distinct variant of the English language, composed of a systematic grammar and syntax , they will consequently acquire an appreciation for the origins and principle features of this dialect. Hence, these teachers will be less inclined to disrespect Black students, and less likely to label them as ignorant and cognitively impaired.
If teacher appreciation and, by implication, teacher effectiveness lie at the crux of the Ebonics issue in the Oakland Public Schools, then indeed this issue has merit.
Negative attitudes about speech start with the belief that vernacular dialects are linguistically inferior to standard versions of the language. In fact, the language systems of various groups of speakers may differ, but no one system is inherently better than any other. Research clearly supports the position that variation in language is a natural reflection of cultural and community differences (Labov, 1972).
Despite linguistic equality among dialects, students’ language and cultural backgrounds may influence their chances for success. When children from nonmainstream backgrounds enter school, they are confronted with new ways of viewing the world and new ways of behaving. Uses of language, both oral and written, are centrally involved in this new culture (Farr & Daniels, 1986). Many studies addressing Chicano youth have found a detailed account of language and culture patterns in various rural working class communities. This, many claim, demonstrates clearly the conflict between language and cultural practices in the community and in the school. To move toward school expectations, children may have to adapt to language structures and patterns of usage that are different from those they have been using: for example, saying or writing “They don’t have any” instead of “They don’t have none” in school settings.
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