MrMary’s Black History Month PSA: Why Do Black People Talk That Way

Why Do blacks talk the way they do?

MrMary: For the same reason that most immigrants sound like they do They are not from here  originally.

Let me Explain

There are many accents in American English

  1. Eastern New England English
  2. New York City English
  3. Mid-Atlantic English
  4. Coastal/Lowland Southern English
  5. Inland/Mountain Southern
  6. Great Lakes English
  7. Upper Midwestern English
  8. Western American Accents

Each Accent has its own sound of course for instance the NYC accent is defined by its Tense-lax split.  In New York City the short-a in words like cat, mad, can’t and last follows a complex set of rules whereby some words are pronounced tensely (slightly higher in the mouth) while other words are pronounced laxly (lower in the mouth). Where as for the  Inland/Mountain Southern Accent we have the  Pin-pen merger feature. This means that words ending in -in, -en, -im and -em are pronounced with the same vowel (this why when somebody from this region says “Ben” is sounds a bit like “bin” to a Northerner.)

Of course the regional colloquialisms and accents  don’t happen over night and they do not happen in a vacuum. The many years of history and diverse cultural contact brought on by the varying waves of immigration over the centuries have played a hand in shaping these accents and means of self expression. We can expect the same for  AAVE (African American Vernacular English)

Let’s get Into It


AAVE shares parts of its grammar and phonology with Southern American English, which is spoken by many African Americans and many non-African Americans in the United States. Several  argue that AAVE shares so many characteristics with African creole dialects spoken in much of the world that AAVE itself is a creole, while others maintain that there are no significant parallels.

Guess what?

AAVE has pronunciation, grammatical structures, and vocabulary in common with various West African languages.

One theory is that AAVE arose from one or more slave creoles that arose from the trans-Atlantic African slave trade and the need for African captives to communicate among themselves and with their captors.According to this theory, these captives developed what are called pidgins, simplified mixtures of two or more languages. As pidgins form close contact between members of different language communities, the slave trade would have been exactly such a situation.

Can I give you an example:



The number of languages currently estimated and catalogued in Nigeria is 521.This number includes 510 living languages, two second languages without native speakers and nine extinct languages. In some areas of Nigeria, ethnic groups speak more than one language. The choice of English as the official language was partially related to the fact that a part of the Nigerian population spoke English as a result of British colonization that ended in 1960.

You May Be surprised to know that Africa is a continent that is home to many different peoples countries and languages. Slaves all didnt come from the same place. They came from Gambia, Benin, Nigeria, Angola, Congo.

They all spoke different languages and keep in mind there were no ESL (English as a Second language) for slaves, definitely no refund if you didn’t like the first two courses.  Luckily we can look as to what a slave ship captain had to say about the plurality of languages on the slave ship:

Captain William Smith:

As for the languages of Gambia, they are so many and so different, that the Natives, on either Side of the River, cannot understand each other…. [T]he safest Way is to trade with the different Nations, on either Side of the River, and having some of every Sort on board, there will be no more Likelihood of their succeeding in a Plot, than of finishing the Tower of Babel.

So back to the Question:

There are many left over vestiges of the African languages that still remain in AAVE . Early mass media portrayals of black speech are the strongest historical evidence that a separate variety of English existed for blacks.

Of Course This can lead to some quite funny situations

Some Cool Resources

  • Cut Eye and Suck Teeth: African Words and Gestures in New World Guise: with Angela E. Rickford.
  • Grammatical Variation and Divergence in Vernacular Black English.
  • Phonological and Grammatical Features of African American Vernacular English.
  • Ethnicity as a Sociolinguistic Boundary.
  • Green, Lisa J. (2002), African American English: A Linguistic Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press


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