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American Speech 79.2 (2004) 219-223

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A Good Guide to African American English

North Carolina State University
African American English: A Linguistic Introduction By Lisa J. Green New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Pp. xii + 285.

In the preface to this textbook, Green sets forth a straightforward but challenging two-part goal: to describe African American English (AAE) and to explain the types of rules that speakers follow when they speak it. In the eight chapters that follow, Green describes the lexicon, morphosyntax, and phonology of AAE along with the spoken and written contexts in which it is used, while continually highlighting the systematic nature of AAE in linguistic form and function.

In the introduction, Green provides a brief overview of some of the main issues surrounding contemporary sociolinguistic studies of AAE. First, she touches on the fact that regional differences distinguish varieties of AAE even though the extent of regional dialect influence on the language practices of American ethnic groups has been relatively understudied (cf. Fought 2003, 88-91). The author then discusses AAE as a rule-based, intricately patterned linguistic system. Concluding her introduction is a historical overview of the naming practices related to AAE, as well as a brief account of the origins controversy.

Chapter 1, "Lexicons and Meanings," explains that the AAE lexicon does not simply consist of slang; rather, it may be divided into two categories of lexical differences: words consistently used by all age groups of AAE speakers, and those used consistently by only certain age groups—namely, adolescents and young adults. She notes that in the latter category, many social factors, such as age, region, and class, shape lexical variation in AAE, reflecting differences in the cultural experiences of African Americans (for example, the urban-rural distinction). Green points out that although some words found in the AAE lexicon occur in other American English varieties, they may have different meanings or may be used in different linguistic environments. She cites several examples of AAE lexical items (such as get over, mash, finna, and steady), showing not only the pronunciations and meanings of these words, but also the contexts in which they may be used. This chapter ends with a discussion of how AAE speakers apply productive linguistic processes to generate new words and phrases, most notably in the case of innovative slang. [End Page 219]

The next two chapters make up Green's two-part overview of AAE syntax. Chapter 2 covers auxiliaries and verbal markers in AAE, explaining how the use of these features in AAE distinguishes them from mainstream English. She stresses the possibility that some aspectual forms may appear to be like standard English but are used in different ways. Several salient verbal markers in AAE are described, such as be, bin, dn, and bin dn. The illustrative charts and exercises that she provides help elucidate these features' specific functions and systematic nature. Similarly impressive is chapter 3, which discusses syntactic and morphosyntactic patterns in AAE. Green's treatment of features such as existential it and dey, question formation, preterite had sequencing, verbal -s, and genitive marking is painstakingly detailed and comprehensive. Although her presentation of copious examples may seem a bit pedantic at times, the fact that she gives examples of these features in use should hold the interest of both students and AAE scholars. Furthermore, by frequently using examples from natural conversation to provide ample evidence of the rule-governed nature of AAE syntax and morphosyntax, Green reinforces her claims about the structural complexity and systematic nature of AAE as a complete linguistic system.

Chapter 4 discusses the phonology of AAE, covering not only typically cited features such as consonant cluster reduction, devoicing of final consonants, and the production of // and /θ/, but also features such as the vocalization of /r/ and /l/, the substitution of /skr/ for /str/, and the status of diphthongs and other vowel sounds. As in previous chapters, Green consistently explains how the different pronunciations in AAE versus standard English pronunciations are due not to incorrect pronunciations but to different linguistic constraints that are part...


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pp. 219-223
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Archived 2005
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