Published Online: January 15, 1997


A Language Comparison

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A Language Comparison

There are various linguistic differences between mainstream American English and what is known as ebonics, African-American language or vernacular, or black English. Some linguists argue that the language patterns of African-American language or dialect are derived from African languages and continue to exist in the English used by some black students.

Standard American English

  • The th sound is regularly used at the beginning of words, as in "they'' and "then.''
  • The past tense of the verb "to be'':
Singular Plural
I was we were
you were you were
he was they were
  • Two negatives in a sentence make a positive statement:

"It isn't likely that there won't be any rain'' means that it probably will rain.

African-American Language

  • At the beginning of words, the th sound is pronounced as a d. The th sound does not exist in many West African languages, so they becomes "dey,'' and then becomes "den.''
  • The past tense of the verb "to be'':
Singular Plural
I was we was
you was you was
he was they was
  • The more negatives in a sentence, the more negative the sentence becomes:

"Nobody don't have no excuse'' means everyone is without an excuse.

SOURCE: The Language Development Program for African-American Students, Los Angeles Unified School District.

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