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7 Interesting African American Language Features to Know


African American Language (AAL) is a type of American English that African Americans largely speak. It’s believed to have emerged during slavery when black Americans worked in the plantations. Different references have been used, although some are thought to be offensive, like black English, African American English (AAE), ebonics, and negro dialects, among others. 

In this article, we examine the different features of AAL.

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A Ted Talk about the African American Vernacular English. Video Credit: TEDx Talks

AAL Is a Dialect

Contrary to popular belief, the African American language isn’t a form of broken English. It’s a complete dialect with its own structure and patterns of speech. That said, historically, it’s been marked as less prestigious and associated with low education status and poverty. 

AAL Isn’t a Monolith

People tend to approach African America Language as being monolithic, which implies that it’s the same everywhere. However, AAL varies depending on your location. The combination of words and sounds changes, so you shouldn’t be surprised to hear these differences. 

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Use of ‘Be’

If you’ve heard African American language, you probably have heard the use of the word ‘be’. This is how it sounds ‘You be trying to call me’. This use implies a regular occurrence, as in ‘You always try to call me.’ If you’re not vast in AAL, you might think the use of ‘be’ is in its present form as in ‘You’re trying to call me’. 

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AAL Has Other Supporting Components 

Like any other language, African American language is accompanied by cues like body language and intonation. The facial expression, hand gestures and rise and fall of voice add to the richness of the language. 

Some of the most viral online memes are of African American people reacting to something. 

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Intertwined With Pop Culture

The biggest hip-hop musicians are African Americans, so it’s no surprise that AAL has found its way into hip-hop and other entertainment genres. 

Television shows have lots of black actors who further expose the language to a wider audience. More to that, dancing, clothing, hairstyle and other cultural aspects of African American lives have become acceptable by the mainstream. 

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Possesses Own Sign Language

Black people with hearing deficiency can learn a sign language that’s consistent with the African American Language. They can attend black deaf schools to help them integrate into the black community due to similar hand and facial gestures. 

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Symbolizes Its Autonomy

The term African American Language was developed to denote the language spoken by different people and not limited to black Americans. Furthermore, it’s not just spoken in informal environments but also in formal places like work. 

Contrary to a term like ebonics, which is a combination of ebony and phonics, AAL recognizes that the language is more than just its sound. It’s a complete language. 

If you’re interested in the African American language, we hope the above features help you understand it better. Hopefully, you can now identify some and learn how to use them appropriately.  

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