Question Formation in African-American Vernacular English and Southern Dialect English
by John Evar Strid
According to the 2000 government census, the US has some 34 million people who identify themselves as Black or African-American. Many of those who identify themselves as African-American speak a distinct dialect of English, African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). In 1972, J. L. Dillard estimated that approximately 80% of the African-American population spoke this dialect, admitting that evidence was partial. In any case, if this estimate still holds today, this would mean that about 27 million Americans speak AAVE. All in all, AAVE is a wide-spread dialect of American English, spoken by millions.
AAVE is most commonly compared to Southern White English (SWE), partly because its’ origins are in the South. Because both dialects evolved in close proximity to one another, they influenced one another. Dillard (1972) argued that AAVE more heavily influenced the white dialect than the other way around. He additionally stated that important differences exist between the two dialects.
Understanding how AAVE is the same or different from other American dialects, especially SWE, is an important goal in and of itself which will enhance our appreciation of the difference and richness of AAVE. This comprehension will also allow us to better appreciate how the two dialects influenced one another. This knowledge should also allow us to better see the origins of AAVE.
Historical linguists have commonly argued about the origins for AAVE, debating between the influence of Southern White dialects (with their origins in the British Isles) and African languages (via some sort of pidgin/creole) (Rickford and Rickford, 2000). While it is not the purpose of this paper to decide between these possible influences, I will compare the two dialects on an important dimension that has never been considered. Linguists have mostly studied the similarities and...