Introduction (10 minutes)

Welcome to Module 1 of Introduction to African-American English for ESL Instructors. During this first module of our course, we will consider and answer the following essential questions:

  • What is African-American English (AAE)?
  • What names have been used to describe AAE and why do names matter?
  • What is “Standard” English?
  • Where did AAE come from?
  • Why is it important for ESL instructors to know about AAE?

African-American English (AAE) as a concept and language variety (10 minutes)

  • African-American English is a social variety (or dialect) of American English.
  • African-American English is spoken by many African-Americans and some non-African-Americans throughout the United States.
  • African-American English is just one of many varieties of American English.
  • Some other varieties of American English include New York English (also known as Brooklynese), Southern English, Appalachian English, Western Pennsylvania English (Pittsburghese), and Standard English (or Standard American English).
  • We will be discussing various aspects of “Standard” English throughout the course, including why that label is problematic.

Names that have been used to describe AAE and why names matter (20 minutes)

Over the years, many names have been used to describe the language variety we are calling African-American English (or AAE) in this short course. Some of those names include:

  • Negro dialect
  • Negro English
  • American Negro speech
  • Black dialect
  • Black folk speech
  • Black English
  • Black Vernacular English (BVE)
  • Afro American English
  • African American Language (AAL)
  • African American Vernacular English (AAVE)
  • You may have also heard of the term Ebonics. However, Ebonics is not a synonym for AAE. Ebonics encompasses more language varieties than just African-American English.

Activity 1.1: Standard American English (25 minutes)

During this activity, participants will be asked to examine their own views about Standard English while working with a partner.

Activity 1.2: What is AAE and Who Speaks It? (20 minutes)

In Activity 1.2, participants will learn more about what AAE is and who speaks it.

Theories on the origin and history of AAE (15 minutes)

No one is sure where AAE came from. However, there are three main theories to account for its origin:

  • The Creole (Creolist) Hypothesis: AAE emerged as a creole language when enslaved Africans and the speakers of British English who enslaved them interacted. Some features of AAE, such as copula deletion/zero copula, support this view.
  • The English Origin (Anglicist) Hypothesis: AAE emerged as a regional dialect of English in the southeastern United States. This is the hypothesis that is currently favored by the majority of linguists.
  • The Substrate Hypothesis: A “full-fledged” creole may never have developed, but instead a substrate influence arose out of contact between African languages, Creoles, and English.

Activity 1.3: How did AAE Develop? (20 minutes)

During this activity, participants will learn more about the three main theories that attempt to explain how AAE developed.

  • Participants will read a short article explaining the three main theories.
  • Participants will work in groups of three, with each group member being assigned one of the theories to defend during a short debate.

Why is it important for ESL instructors to know about AAE? (20 minutes)

ESL Instructors need to know about AAE for multiple reasons:

  • Understanding language variation is a useful skill for ESL instructors.
  • Issues related to Standard English frequently arise in class.
  • Many English learners who interact with speakers of African-American English outside the classroom experience difficulties communicating successfully.
  • African-American English is spoken by millions of people in the United States.
  • In Miami, it is important for ESL instructors to know that African-American English is probably spoken as the home language variety by the majority of native English speakers in the city.

Wrap-up, independent research project and study group assignments, and exit ticket (10 minutes)

After the presentation and discussion session has ended, participants will complete an independent research project and engage in reflective work in study groups. Also, before participants leave for the day, they will be asked to complete a brief exit ticket.