A select set of features and traits have been studied and identified among the African American Vernacular. It can be very confusing when the clarity of the meaning of words is muddled. A description of the shared characteristics of the following terms is to understand why these terms cannot be viewed as separate languages. Even though these terms signify different periods and developments of the same variety of the English language.
The common characteristics that these terms share are the only things that tie them together because the origins of the individual terms carry a very exclusive and particular history to them. “African American Vernacular”, “Ebonics”, and “Black English” share many phonological and grammatical features, as well as the same social stigmas, because all of these terms represent the same variety of English. One of the chief features of African American Vernacular English, meaning both Ebonics and Black English are included, is phonology. According to the book, African-American English: Structure, History and Use by Salikoko S Mufwene et al.
, phonology can appear to be a forgotten feature of this dialect of English because there are many other features that are much more prominent and obvious (Mufwene 85). A well-known phonological feature of African American Vernacular English is the substitution of /d/ for /ð/ or the substitution of /f, v/ for /?, ð/. An example of the substitution for /d/ would be ‘dese’ for ‘these’. An example of the substitution of the /f, v/ would be ‘mouf’ for ‘mouth’ and ‘brover’ for ‘brother’. This particular feature for the African American Vernacular English is shared with some other non-standard dialects, even though they are not historically connected (Mufwene). Though this feature is found in non-standard dialects of English, it is not found in standard dialects.
The importance of phonology in the African American Vernacular is clear in showing a dividing line between a standard and non-standard dialect, proving African American Vernacular to be its own dialect of the English language. Grammatical features of African American Vernacular are just as distinctive as the phonological features. One of the most recognizable grammatical traits of African American Vernacular is the habitual be. According to Walt Wolfram in “The Grammar of Urban African American Vernacular English”, the properties of the habitual be have been studied by multiple linguists, who have determined that be refers to an intermittent activity (Wolfram 118). Another example of a common grammatical trait of African American Vernacular is the completive done.
This use of done is shared with Southern American vernacular varieties of English (Wolfram). An example of this feature found in the text was, “They done used all the good ones”. When discussing features and traits of dialects and vernaculars of English it is important to note that speakers are able to code-switch in different situations.
In the same way that the conversation about why there has been motivation and implication for the change of terms, a conversation about how vernaculars are spoken and about who speaks these dialects of English can also be discussed. Code-switching gives the speaker the power to present themselves in whichever manner they choose with different audiences and particular conversations. The differences between talking with friends, family, co-workers and employers influence which dialect a speaker will use.
In this case, whether a speaker will use a form of African American Vernacular English or a form of Standard American English to present themselves will change between listeners. There is also an assumption that all black Americans speak African American Vernacular or that there can be speakers of another race cannot speak African American Vernacular. Both of these assumptions are inaccurate and uninformed. Differentiating the terms, “African American Vernacular”, “Ebonics”, and “Black English”, as separate terms with distinct motivations is imperative because of their specific origins and history, even with the shared features, traits and characteristics.
The difficulty of knowing how to discuss a topic when you aren’t even sure which term to use can be clarified by seeking education on the topic. Figure out the answers to the how, why, and who questions that may be muddling the topic and keeping the discussions and debates from happening. Diving into the origins that separated these terms, the controversies that crafted them, the traits and features that distinguished differences versus disorders, and how this vernacular can be spoken has formed answers to the history of this semantic field and the interpretations of the motivations for the use of each of these terms. For now, the most common term for this dialect has changed from “Black English” to “African American Vernacular” …. but how long will this term last?