One of the hardest transitions Kyla Jenée Lacey has endured in her life was when her family moved from Chicago to Winter Springs, Florida. a predominantly white town about 30 minutes north of Orlando.
At age 9, for the first time in her life, Lacey realized what it meant to be a racial minority in America. From then on, she was one of the few black students in her classes, she said, and her skin color has become an obstacle to her integration. She felt like the token black girl – and she quickly realized that speaking Vernacular African American English (AAVE) to his white classmates would only question his intelligence.
“For me, it was a lot of survival involved in my socialization because I didn’t feel accepted by other black kids, and I didn’t feel accepted by white kids,” she said.
But outside the boundaries of the school, the black tongue was his refuge. As bilingual kids, she bounced between AAVE and standard English. When she was at home speaking AAVE, she didn’t need to impress anyone; she felt most herself and connected to her heritage, she said.
AAVE, also known as African American English (AAE), African American Language (AAL), Black English, or Ebony, is a style of English often spoken in Black American homes. Linguists don’t know how Black English originated, but they believe it may have originated from West African or Creole languages. Just like these forms of speech, AAVE serves as a communication between people with a common culture.
According to Deandre Miles-Hercules, a doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the language was created by enslaved black people living in the South, separated from their home country and language. As Black Americans moved north and west during the Great Migration, they took the language with them, and each region created slightly different versions of Black English over time.
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For Lacey, it wasn’t until she attended school at the University of Central Florida in the early 2000s, surrounded by all-black roommates and more black people, that she began to dispel the idea. that his humanity would never be as validated as his White counterparts. She no longer had to blend in or prove herself to people who would look down on her for speaking AAVE, she said.
So when she started seeing non-black people disrespecting AAVE in virtual spaces more recently, she was in a rush. It annoyed him, for example, to see subtitles added to broadcast newsmagazines when black interviewees spoke coherently. She also hated how the language had been weaponized online by non-black people to imply an aggressive tone, and how non-native AAVE speakers sometimes mispronounced black English words because they had only seen them. typed on a screen.
“I know the words have different meanings in different groups,” she said. “You can’t take very ingrained black language, an absolute staple of black language, and say, because there’s confusion on Twitter, we’re not allowed to use our words.”
As Gen Z influencers and black artists continue to shape the internet landscape, from viral memes to TikTok dances, AAVE has appeared in more online spaces. But some black AAVE speakers believe the language has been misidentified as new vocabulary started by young people – and they have been calling on non-blacks to glorify internet stars who slaughter speech and fail to understand the cultural significance of language.
Language uncovers the evolution of a speaker’s history, geography and culture, Miles-Hercule said. While AAVE lands in the laps of people who didn’t grow up speaking it, those who try and fail to use it properly may be considered ignorant by black communities. At worst, they are seen as appropriating black culture and perpetuating racism as they attack black speech without taking on the struggle of black Americans, the speakers say.
Amoura Monroe, a 20-year-old living in Los Angeles argues that a big part of the problem comes when the language is misattributed to Gen Z lingo, stan culture, or internet slang.
For example, “Gen Z Hospital,” a skit from “Saturday Night Live,” was meant to poke fun at the way young people talk. But like Monroe and others Twitter users noted, many words, such as “tea” and “pressed”, were actually derived from AAVE. (NBCUniversal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“It takes away the significance,” Monroe said of using AAVE for comedy. “Black people are ridiculed for this. … They laugh at them and people stereotype us for talking that way.
Words such as “kill,” “period,” “extra,” and “cap” take on slightly different meanings in the context of AAVE, which many non-native speakers are unable to fully grasp, Monroe added.
Monroe said she was also bothered by celebrities trying to speak AAVE. These non-black people speak it as a form of entertainment, “giving them a black caricature in a way, kind of like a minstrel show,” Monroe said. Meanwhile, she added, black people are denigrated and told they speak badly when using it.
Recently, song lyrics including AAVE were at the center of the debate. In June, a The social media storm has led singer-songwriter Lizzo to change the lyrics of his song ‘Grrrls’ after disability advocates pointed out that a word in its original version, ‘spaz’, is seen as an ableist insult. The word has been used to denigrate people with disabilities who suffer from spasms, including those with cerebral palsy or spinal muscular atrophy.
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Then, in August, Beyoncé announced she would drop the same word from “Heated,” a song from her latest album, “Renaissance.”
Some AAVE speakers have defended black artists, saying the word has another meaning — to go wild — and that its use in “Grrrls” and “Heated” was not meant to offend.
“Lizzo let WHITE people bully her into not using AAVE in her song,” said a fan tweeted. “Black people have been using ‘spazz’ for decades and it has nothing to do with making fun of people with disabilities.”
Others disagreed: “The word is an insult. Let it go and leave some compassion for the people who have been hurt by that word instead,” said one black autistic man. wrote.
Dilemmas such as those of Lizzo and Beyoncé reveal the conflicts that have arisen as AAVE becomes more mainstream in pop culture, especially through song lyrics and social media posts.
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AAVE speakers have also criticized what they see as the hypocrisy of non-black people on the internet who monitor language use while profiting from various aspects of black life.
According to Jamaal Muwwakkil, also a doctoral student at UC Santa Barbara, non-black people often gain social capital when they use black language and culture: “When we think about social media and entertainment, the economic capital that people derive from the appropriation of black language, fashion, etc., in many ways replaces the loss of economic capital…of our literal bodies in movable slavery.
Black speakers point up the memification of Sweet Brown – who said “No one has time for that” in a 2012 Oklahoma City TV report – as evidence of how the use of black language can elevate the social status of a person. The viral clip led to Brown’s multiple TV appearances and film role.
However, Muwwakkil said, without the known historical and cultural context of native speakers, AAE is vulnerable to distortion online.
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The terminology used to describe Black English is also controversial. Muwwakkil disapproves of the use of the term AAVE and prefers African American English, as he believes speech and gestures are not a different language, vernacular or dialect.
He also takes issue with the term code-switching, or switching between two languages, which he says is disproportionately applied to black people and implies that African-American English has less legitimacy than standard English. Everyone changes the way they speak depending on their relationship to the person and the setting they’re conversing in, he said, and different ways of speaking should be equally acceptable, a concept called “code meshing.” .
Several years removed from her high school days, Lacey said she always switches from Black English to Standard English to avoid discrimination, although she wishes she didn’t feel the need to.
But she also sees refusing to talk about it around white people as a form of control, she said: “AAVE is the closest thing we have to a cultural secret.”
Despite what some black speakers view as misuse and scrutiny of the language, they believe it will continue to thrive as a bastion of black culture – and that it will continue to evolve as black people intend it.
As Muwwakkil said, “There will never be a way of ceasing to be the creative force that has always been part of black language and culture.