Different Language, Different Rules

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The following are some of the linguistic differences between Mainstream American English and African-American language. The patterns in the latter, some linguists argue, are derived from the rules governing many West African languages and persist in the language that many African-American students speak, using English vocabulary.

Mainstream American English:

The "th'' sound is regularly used at the beginning of words.
So: then, they.

To show possession, speakers use an apostrophe followed by "s.''
So: John's cousin.

The "irregular'' past tense of the verb "to be'':

singular: I was, you were, he was
plural: we were, you were, they were

Two negatives in a sentence make a positive statement.
So: "It isn't likely that there won't be any rain'' means it will probably rain.

African-American language:

At the beginning of words, "th'' is pronounced as "d.'' The "th'' sound does not exist in many West African languages.
So: den, dey.

To show possession, speakers use word order and word stress.
So: John cousin.

The "regular'' past tense of the verb "to be'':

singular: I was, you was, he was
plural: we was, you was, they was

The more negatives used in a sentence the more negative the statement becomes.
So: "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.

Vol. 13, Issue 36

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