When you were a kid, did you learn the saying, “Ain’t ain’t a word so I ain’t going to say it”? Yeah, I won’t be passing on that reminder to my own kids!
A colleague of mine with a strong background in speech pathology tipped me off to AAVE (African American Vernacular English) in a Facebook thread that I was following during the most recent days of social unrest in our country. I am not an expert, nor am I Black, but I am interested in learning more about AAVE, and wondering how I hadn’t heard of it before. There are many thesis studies and extensive research publications you can read to learn more, but here is what I found from my reading and research.
The spoken word of rhymes and rhythms is still used today as a playful way POC share community and togetherness. Poetry, theater, and music are seen as ways to preserve and keep stories and heritage of the Black community here in America. Traditionally, West African communities have Griots and their role in Africa is to preserve the genealogies, historical narratives, and oral traditions of their community as a whole.
Personally, as a mother of a mixed race, bi-lingual daughter, I need to remind myself constantly how incredibly smart she (and my husband) is for being able to switch back and forth between the Korean and English language, and sometimes even use both languages in one single sentence! Black and bi-lingual students in the traditional American classroom are often re-corrected by teachers if they use AAVE or another language native to them. The constant re-correction often has a negative impact on students and can cause feelings of inferiority.
In reality, children’s ability to switch their dialect depending on if they are with family in private, outside the home with friends, or at school takes a lot of practice. “Style shifting” or “Code switching”, as my friend, Joe Davis, calls it, is actually quite a skill. As an adult public speaker, Joe expresses the importance of intentionality when he is deciding which dialect he is going to let shine through at speaking engagements. He asks himself, “Who is my audience and what do I want them to hear today?”
It’s a challenge, being in the world of content creation and blogging. I find myself writing every day and feeling the pressure to write using proper tenses and correct sentence structure and spelling. Especially when we are used to using social media and texting where we tend to type how we talk, using slang, emojis, shortcuts, acronyms. If we like to edit and correct language and pride ourselves in correct grammar usage, are we prejudice to a certain degree without even knowing? Are we taking into account who our audience is and only correcting mainstream English with mainstream English? Even auto-correct on our computers and smart devices is programmed to correct “incorrect” English.
Ain’t and Other Common Words We Often Hear
I know a number of words and phrases in Nepalese, Korean, Chinese, German, and Spanish, and little did I know that, thanks to mainstream music, I know a few words of AAVE as well. Many of our favorite musicians and song lyrics are recited/quoted every day without people acknowledging the history behind the artistic expression. Hip Hop Nation Language (HHNL) is another dialect that not all African Americans speak, and not only African Americans speak. That is a whole separate topic in itself. A few common words you may hear daily include:
Ain’t (Amt, isn’t, didn’t or don’t)
Col’ coffee (Cold Coffee)
Contribute to Duluth Mom
We are always accepting guest contributions of any style and background. We have a team of fellow mothers and writers who will bounce ideas back and forth with you. If the spoken word is more your style, we would absolutely love for you to share your talents with the Duluth Mom community.
Submit a piece of writing or poetry here.