Black English in Literature Analysis

Historical Background

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

The term “black English” was coined during the 1960’s to identify African American language styles. Beginning in the 1940’s with seminal studies by Lorenzo Turner of the Gullah dialect, the investigation of black English was continued by such scholars as J. L. Dillard, Geneva Smitherman, Molefi Kete Asante, and Joseph Holloway.

Generally, Africans brought to North America during slavery were denied formal education. Having their own languages, they adapted linguistic patterns of their mother tongues, creating dialects that blended African and English expressions. The syntactical and grammatical structures of African languages merged with English forms. Black English has been primarily associated with the Southern states, although Africans were also transported to the North. Furthermore, internal migration resulted in the transfer of Southern black dialects to Northern urban areas.

Recognized by its alteration of standard English verbs and pronouns, suggesting the influence of grammatical structures of African languages, black English is also identified by a lexicon. The study of English spoken by African Americans can also be linked to black folklore in which altered spelling has been used to approximate the sound of black dialect.