What is ‘Proper English’?: A Brief History On AAVE and It’s Usage

Today, Africans are in many places around the world. Outside of Africa, the countries with the highest population of Africans are Brazil, the United States, Colombia, Jamaica, and Haiti. Sadly, a lot of this movement was involuntary. Due to slavery and the Triangular Slave Trade, Africans have a long history of being treated as items and a commodity instead of human beings. A lot of history has been caused to be lost because when Africans came to the Americas, their names had to be changed and they couldn’t speak their language. Slaves were instead forced to speak English. This caused the creation of African American Vernacular English, also known as AAVE because they were not properly taught English.

Today, AAVE is seen as improper English and often has the connotation of “ghetto” and something that shouldn’t be spoken in academia. Yet, words that derive from AAVE, such as “bae”, “lit” and “on fleek” are often seen as trendy and even sold for consumption but black people never get any credit for it.

A notable case of this happened to Kayla Lewis, also known as Peaches Monroe. In 2014, she posted this on the social media website, Vine, and it immediately went viral. The words “on fleek” were immediately everywhere on social media and even clothing lines. On her GoFundMe page, she states “Everyone has used the phrase/word but I haven’t received any money behind it or recognition”. AAVE is commonly used for consumption for companies, but yet the original creators never get credit.

AAVE does not deserve to be ridiculed, rather be seen as a way of culture and a way to communicate with others.

It seems like when words that derive from AAVE, such as “lit”, “squad” and “turnt” are trends, it is seen as “cool”, but when it is actually spoken by a black person, it is seen as a sign of lesser intelligence and not being able to speak. So, what makes proper English, proper English? Why does AAVE have such a negative undertone, for something that wasn’t African Americans’ fault? AAVE is typically seen as lower class and uneducated when, in fact, it is just another American dialect, like New York slang or Midwestern slang. AAVE is typically seen as “speaking black” or “ghetto talk”, and when a black person is seen speaking Standard English, they are told that they “talk white”. It is impossible to speak a certain race. It is possible that someone can speak with an accent, but it is impossible to talk ‘like’ a race of people. This idea is rooted in racism, the notion that black people do not have the ability to speak fluently or properly.

Language is an integral part of a culture and is vital in the way we speak to people. There are many dialects in the English language: American, British, Nigerian, Scottish, Australian and the list goes on. When Africans first came to America, they didn’t know a single word of English. The fact that they were able to come up with their own language and their own way of communicating is incredibly impressive, considering the way that they were brought up. AAVE does not deserve to be ridiculed, rather be seen as a way of culture and a way to communicate with others.

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Linda Lubi
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Linda Lubi is a 16 year old student from Minnesota. She hopes to one day study politics and become a human rights lawyer. For now, you’ll probably find her scrolling through Twitter and watching Netflix in her free time.

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