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Seattle’s history of Black language: African American English, code-switching and why it matters today

Published on June 27, 2022

Northwest African American Museum from Mount Baker Ridge Viewpoint
Image Credit: Joe Mabel (CC BY 4.0)

“Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” is a crowd favorite for the Northwest African American Museum’s African American Choir Ensemble.

Based on the spiritual “Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You ’Round,” the song is a civil rights anthem with lyrics that reflect a piece of the Black experience: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round / I’m gonna keep on a walkin’, keep on a-talkin’.”

Its verses are rich in African American English, also known as AAE or African American Vernacular English, says NAAM president and CEO LaNesha DeBardelaben. And it’s an example of how central language is to Black culture, as Black people seamlessly weave significance and shared interpretation into their speech.

African American English stems from colonial circumstances. There is general consensus that AAE developed from a creole language, or a mixed language, sourced from West African languages, Caribbean creoles and English, says Alicia Beckford Wassink, Director of the Sociolinguistics Laboratory, and professor of Linguistics in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Washington.

“Enslaved peoples did not fully abandon their heritage languages. They brought at least some features of their home languages (both West African languages or creoles from West Africa, Jamaica or Barbados) to the U.S.,” Wassink explained in an email. “Most speakers then shifted to English, but their English still shows features of an earlier creole.”

Continue reading at The Seattle Times.

Originally written by Sierra Starks for The Seattle Times.
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