Learn English – African American Vernacular English


I was going through some articles about "African American Vernacular English". Article 1. Article 2. These articles give some examples, but they do not clearly specify hard rules to be followed in AAVE.

First of all, I don't even have strong skills in Standard English, so understanding AAVE seems a lot more difficult for me. I did, however, craft a few sentences in both SE and AAVE to validate what understanding I do have. Are the following conversions correct? You don't have to validate each and every item, but rather guide me with rules that I should follow, but didn't, in the following examples.

  • What the hell are you all doing here? — What the hell y'all doin' here?
  • Hey you! What the hell are you doing man? Stop that nonsense now. Do you get it? — Hey you! What the hell ya doin’ man? Stop that nonsense now. D'ya get it?
  • Come on, can't you open your mouths? — Come on, ya can't open your mouths??
  • Hey, who's out there? — Hey, who out there?
  • I know, you're listening to us — I know, ya listenin’ to us
  • Somebody is out there man. — Somebody out there man.
  • Wow, it's delicious. — Wow, it delicious.
  • Holy crap, who're these people? — Holy crap, who these people?

Best Answer

I know the dialect a bit (I could speak it some back in the 80's, but I haven't kept it up very well).

From what I can see, I'd say you are only about 1/3 of the way there. The third you have is that you've constructed sentences that follow the dialect's rules (mostly). What you are missing is that the dialect has some of its own parts of speech that standard AmE doesn't have, and that it has its own vocabulary.

Let's take your first sentence:

What the hell are you all doing here? — What the hell y'all doin' here?

As a dumb translation, it probably works. However, AAVE has a whole mess of its own tenses and aspects that a true AAVE user would apply here, given half a chance. For instance, if you think the activity has been going on for a while, you might say "been doin'". If it is something you want to imply is truly habitual (a concept most other English speakers don't even think about expressing), you'd say "be doin'" (or more likely "be" followed by a more descriptive verb).

Now for vocabulary, this just doesn't look like the words an AAVE speaker would use. For example, I can't ever in my life remember a speaker using the phrase "What the hell". Doesn't mean it doesn't happen, but the F word is far more likely there. Or in the next sentence:

Hey you! What the hell ya doin’ man? Stop that nonsense now. D'ya get it?

"Hey you" is never used. Often "Yo" is used instead (interestingly, the Philly accent also does this). The word "nonsense" really sticks out. AAVE has much more colorful words for that concept. In my day you'd say someone "be buggin'". In fact, you'd be better off replacing all four sentences with "Foo'*(or perhaps the N-word here)! Why you be buggin'?" (which again implies habitual behavior, but in this case as a ploy to shame the listener into calming down). However, the vocabulary of AAVE changes crazy fast, so there's probably another phrase for that now.

Really, my suggestion if there's any money in this would be to get yourself a consultant who knows the language (better than I!). If you want/need to do it yourself and have some time, try to hang out with people who authentically speak it. If you have no way to physically do that, perhaps as a last resort try hanging out on Black Twitter for a few months and/or listen to a lot of Rap and Blues music.