by Elaine Watkins
The works of Urban fiction authors are often the subject of much criticism and debate. With gritty tales translated on the pages of novels now found on the shelves of major bookstores, it is being argued whether or not Standard English should be used. Many of our stories are receiving backlash from critics who believe the usage of vernacular in novels is not justified, but rather a form of perpetuating racism and widespread stereotypes. With many down grading urban books for their wide usage of slang, it leaves us to decide is this really okay, but before we do, lets look at the history of slang/vernacular use in our (African American) literature.
African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a deviant form of English spoken primarily by African Americans, which is also known as Black English, and more commonly Ebonics. There are two generally accepted beliefs as to where AAVE came from. The first is the dialect hypothesis, which is the belief that African slaves who landed in America learned English slowly and inaccurately, passing it from generation to generation with the mistakes they learned in it. The second accepted theory of the development of AAVE is the result of English and other languages from West Africa being integrated to form a new language. The mixing of languages can be attributed to the mixing of slaves who spoke different West African languages who had to create a form of language to communicate with one another. They did so by creating a pidgin language by incorporating West African words into the English language. This Creole was passed down to later generations. It is thought that this form of African American English is slowly losing its Creole, and becoming closer to Standard English with the passage of time.
With slaves being forbidden to read or write the majority of our earlier stories were oral in their origins. These slave narratives have often been recorded to pass from generation to generation, but often times used by whites in minstrel shows to poke fun of African Americans, while dressed in black face. As time has evolved, it is now commonplace to find slang in our everyday literature, especially with Urban fiction’s popularity.
Without passing judgment, I would like to bring this issue to light, and leave you with this quotation as food for thought:
Elaine Watkins is the Editor-in-Chief of The Urban Book Source.
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