Introduction (10 minutes)

Welcome to Module 4 of Introduction to African-American English for ESL Instructors. During this fourth module of our course, we will consider and answer the following essential questions:

  • In what significant ways do the lexicons of AAE and SE differ?
  • How do speakers of AAE express meaning in distinctive ways?
  • How can knowledge of the lexicon of AAE be used to answer students’ questions about AAE?

Review of the terms lexicon and semantics (10 minutes)

  • The term lexicon refers to the vocabulary (all the words) of a language or language variety.
  • The term semantics refers to how meaning is expressed in a language or language variety.
  • The term lexicon and semantics are related in that they both deal with meaning, but the two terms and not synonymous.

Lexical differences between AAE and SE (20 minutes)

  • No two varieties of the same language have identical lexicons (sets of words).
  • There are three main types of lexical differences between AAE and SE:
    • Words that exist in AAE but not SE (examples include saddity, woadie, finna, pot liquor and the discourse marker yo)
    • Words that exist in SE but not AAE (examples include many irregular past tense verb forms such as swam and turned)
    • Words that exist in both AAE but SE but have additional meanings or a different meaning in SE (examples include kitchen and ashy)
  • AAE has classes of words (such as preverbal particles) that do not exist in SE, although they have parallel forms in SE with different meanings.
    • Examples include been, done, and steady

Activity 4.1: Exploring the use of done in AAE (20 minutes)

  • During this activity, participants will learn more about how speaks of AAE use the preverbal particle done.
  • In AAE, done is placed before the verb to emphasize that the verbal action has been completed.
  • In AAE, done expresses perfective aspect. In some but not all cases, it is roughly interchangeable with SE have used before a past participle.
  • It’s important to understand that the AAE preverbal particle done is not the same word as the SE past participle of do.
  • Participants will work with an assigned partner to complete this activity.

Words that exist in AAE but not SE (20 minutes)

AAE has multiple classes of words that do not exist in SE:

  • Preverbal markers such as finna, boutta, and tryna
    • The preverbal markers finna and boutta are used to express precise timing of the verbal action while tryna expresses the speaker’s volition vis-à-vis the verbal action.
  • Content words (typically nouns and verbs) that either do not exist in SE or have become obsolete in SE
    • Some examples include saddity, souse, pot liquor, funeralize, woadie, skrilla (among many others)
  • Discourse markers such as doe (etymologically related to SE “though”) and yo (not the interjection “yo,” which exists in both AAE and SE)
  • This class of words is likely to pose the greatest challenge to English learners who interact with speakers of AAE, since ELs likely have no knowledge of such terms from their previous formal English language studies.

Words that exist in both AAE and SE but have different meanings in each variety (20 minutes)

  • This class of words is significantly larger than the set of words that exist in AAE but not SE.
  • Examples include several preverbal markers such as been, done, steady, and come.
    • Although these words exist in SE, the perform significantly different grammatical and semantic functions.
    • In SE, they are content words, but in AAE they are function words.
  • There are many content words that fall into this group, such as ashy, kitchen, mannish, whip, and strapped.
  • AAE has many slang terms to refer to money or valuable objects, men, and women that are either not used in SE or have different meanings in SE.
    • Refer participants to Green (2002), pages 28-30, for a fairly comprehensive list of such terms in AAE.

Activity 4.2: How speakers of AAE use stay (20 minutes)

  • In this activity, participants will work in small groups to explore the various ways the AAE term stay is used.
  • In AAE, stay is both a function word (a preverbal marker) and a content word.
  • In AAE, stay as a verb can mean “live/reside” and forms the phrasal verb stay by, which has a meaning unique to AAE.

Word formation strategies unique to AAE (10 minutes)

AAE utilizes certain word formation strategies that do not exit in SE. These include:

  • The template get ones [noun] on
  • Use of the derivational morpheme -ass to form “ass words” (or AWs)
    • This suffix is typically added to adjectives and functions as an intensifier (e.g., prettyass car)
    • AWs are not considered obscene by most speakers of AAE
  • Infixation of own to create intensified reflexive pronouns
    • Examples include hisownself, herownself, theyownselves

Activity 4.3: Stunt 101 (Part 2) (20 minutes)

  • In this activity, participants will listen to and analyze the same song they listened to in Activity 2.3.
  • This time, participants will focus on vocabulary by listening for words (1) that exist in AAE but not SE, and (2) exist in both AAE and SE but have different meanings in SE.
  • After individually completing this activity using a graphic organizer, participants will compare their work to that of the rest of the group.

Applying knowledge of the lexicon of AAE when answering students’ questions (20 minutes)

  • The lexicon of AAE is likely to be one of the most challenging aspects of the language variety for English learners.
  • English learners should know that AAE has its own vocabulary with some words that do not exit in SE and many words that exist in SE but have different or additional meanings in AAE.
  • Provide English learners with concrete examples from authentic usage whenever possible when answering their questions about the lexicon of AAE.
  • Instructors should avoid using technical linguistic terms like lexicon and semantics with students. Student-friendly language such as vocabulary and meaning can be used instead in almost all cases.
  • Encourage English learners to politely and appropriately negotiate meaning with the speakers of AAE with whom they interact.
    • It is completely acceptable and in fact preferable for ESL students to ask speakers of AAE what unknown terms mean.

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.