Lexical Variations

First  and foremost, every individual in the world has a unique repertory of words. The type of vocabulary society uses could bring groups of people together, or separate them from other groups (Green, 2002). In particular, the varieties on the lexicon cause disagreement between scholars and the people who speak the variations because it is not part of the mainstream language. In the United States, African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a controversial topic that many citizens in the country consider as an uncivilized way of speaking (Pullum & Geoffrey, 1999).  According to Rickford, “one of the many fascinating features of black vocabulary is how sharply it can divide blacks and whites” (as cited in Pullum & Geoffrey, 1999, p.14). Back in 1996, a school from the district of Oakland, San Francisco was the trigger of one of the most significant changes in African American culture. Academics from the Californian school truly disagreed with the irregularities of language that were produced by the black community. Therefore, those who spoke the African American “slangs” would be disciplined or they were going to be out of school (Pullum & Geoffrey, 1999). Fortunately, a black academic encountered the problem proposing the term of Ebonics as a variety of English language (Saville-Troike, 2009). In short, many linguists refer to Ebonics as African American Vernacular English (Pullum & Geoffrey, 1999).

Furthermore, a major mistake people make is to label African American lexicon as a type of slang. On the contrary, the words that seem to be unusual are words that come from African roots (Green, 2002). For example, the word “jive” comes from the East coast of Africa meaning a kind of dance that black people used to perform (Green, 2002). Nowadays, the word means a group of people having a pleasant conversation. Thus, it does not mean that “jive” is a made up word that tries to corrupt the English language, but it is a word that has a historical background.  Another misconception of AAVE is that it is considered a dialect or sublanguage, due to the fact that it has a series of lexical, phonological and syntactic mistakes; nonetheless, it is a language because it has all the linguistics levels.[1] (Saville-Troike, 2009). In fact, there is not such a difference between a dialect and a language since both have rule-based structures (Pullum & Geoffrey, 1999).

Finally, there are three types of variations on AAVE lexicon. The first classification is southern rural variations during slavery; for example, the word “reckon” refers to “think” (Shan, 2008). Second, black musicians from the 1900-1960 who contributed with the word “kitchen” which is defined as the hair at the nape of the neck (Green, 2002), and finally rap and hip-hop came out with “crib” referring to a house (Clutter. C, 1999 Yorkville). Furthermore, lexicon variations are used by people of different ages, genders, and social classes. Nevertheless, when it comes to African American lexicon, it is said that there is an infinite number of words that represent one. For example, the word “man” can be given different names such as “balla[2],” “scrub,[3]” and “dawg[4]” (Shan, 2008). Indeed, despite all the controversy generated by the scholars or so-called language experts, AAVE is a variation of the English language as well as British and Australian variations (Saville-Troike, 2009).

[1] Linguistic Levels: morphology, lexicon, phonology, syntax, and discourse (Saville-Troike, 2009).

[2] It refers to a man who has acquired money and material possessions.

[3] It refers to a male who is not self-sufficient.

[4] It refers to a male who mistreats females.



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