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Ebonics – also called African American English, Black Vernacular, Black English Vernacular (BEV), Black English, or African American Vernacular English (AAVE) — is a type of English spoken by some African-Americans. The term was created by the psychologist Robert Williams, who took the words ebony (black) and phonics (sounds) and joined them. Although this term is accepted, some linguists prefer calling it African American Vernacular English (AAVE) because they believe that the word Ebonics is “a term that also has other meanings or strong connotations”.


No. 30; American view of Africa from 1839

Some linguists believe that "Ebonics" (AAVE) have African origins.

Linguists have some theories about the origin of Ebonics. One theory is that Ebonics have an English origin because of the fact that most of the vocabulary and much of its pronunciation and grammar came from the nonstandard dialects of English servants and other workers that interacted with African slaves.

Other theory talks more about the African origins because of its similarity in pronunciation; an example of this could be that West African languages often lack th sounds and final consonant clusters. There’s also the distinction made between completed actions (e.g. He done walked) and habitual actions (e.g. We be walkin’) in the Ebonics tense-aspect system it’s similar with the West African language system as well as other aspects.

Distinctive FeaturesEdit


  • Unstressed syllables
Initial and Medial unstressed syllable deletion. It occurs in most varieties of English, most frequent in Ebonics, possibly more common in older speakers (e.g. about →[baʊt], government → [gʌvmnt]).
Haplology. Deletion of reduplicated syllable (e.g. Mississippi → [mɪsɪpi], probably → [prɑbli]).
Prevocalic voicing of /p/ in initial unstressed syllables (pajamas → [b'ə'd'͡ʒ'æm'əz]', potato → [bəteɪɾo])

  • Clusters
Final Cluster Reduction. In final voiced consonant cluster, the second consonant is deleted (e.g. hand → [hæn], cold → [koʊl]).
Metathesis. Metathesised forms of final /s/ + stop clusters (e.g. ask → aks, grasp → graps).
Backing in /str/ Clusters. Substitution of /k/ for /t/ in initial /str/clusters (e.g. street → [skrit], straw → [skrɔ]).
Initial /r/ Cluster Reduction. This is more often viewed with /Ѳr/ clusters or in unstressed syllables (e.g. throw → ['Ѳ'oʊ]',' professor → [pofεsɚ]).
Initial /j/ cluster Reduction. Deletion of /j/ in /cj/ sequences. It is usually followed by /u/ vowel (e.g. computer → [kəmpuɾɚ], beautiful → [buɾɪfl]).
Initial /j/ Cluster Rhotacization. Rhotacization of /j/ in /Cj/ sequences. It is usually followed by /u/ vowel, possibly a regional variant of Initial /j/ cluster Reduction.

  • Final consonants
Final Consonant Deletion. Deletion of singleton consonants in syllable-final position. When final nasals consonants are deleted, the nasality is maintained on preceding vowel. When voiced obstruents are deleted, the length of the preceding vowel is maintained. Consonants remaining from reduced final clusters may be eligible for deletion (e.g. man → [mæ˜], five → [faɪ]).
Final Obstruent Devoicing. Syllable-final obstruents are devoiced; the length of the preceding vowel is maintained (as in bad → [bæ:t]).
Final /d/ Glottalization. Final voiceless /d/ becomes a glottal stop or a glottalized /t/ (an extension of Final Obstruent Devoicing).

  • Interdental Fricatives
Labialization of Interdental Fricatives. Interdental fricatives are replaced with labiodental fricatives (e.g. bath → [bæf], thumb → [fʌm], mother → [mʌvɚ]).
Stopping of Interdental Fricatives. Interdental fricatives are replaced with stops (e.g. this → [dɪs], father → [fɑdɚ]).
Stopping of Interdental Voiceless Fricatives Near Nasals. /Ѳ/ is replaced with /t/ contiguous to a nasal consonant (e.g. tenth → [tεnt], nothing → [nʌtn]).
Alveolarization of Voiceless Interdental Fricatives. /Ѳ/ is replaced with /s/ when syllable final and within word before another consonant (e.g. bathroom → [bæsrum]).

  • Other Fricatives
Stopping of Voiced Fricatives Before Syllabic Nasals. Voiced fricatives preceding syllabic nasals may be stopped. /d/ may actually go to a glottal stop through Final Obstruent Devoicing and American English allophonic rule of /t/ realized as a glottal stop before syllabic nasals (e.g. seven → [sεbm], wasn’t → [wʌdnt] or [wʌʔn]).

  • Lateral Liquids
Vocalization of /l/. Postvocalic (but not intervocalic) and syllabic /l/ is pronounced as a back vowel.
Deletion of /l/ Before Labials. When /l/ comes after a vowel and before a labial consonant in the same syllable, /l/ may be deleted (e.g. help → [hεp], Rudolph → ['rudɔf']).

  • Vocalic & Postvocalic /r/
Derhotacization or Deletion of Vocalic and Postvocalic /r/. Vocalic /r/ (also known as syllabic /r/ or a rhotic vowel) is produced as a non-rhotic vowel. Postvocalic /r/ (also known as a rhotic diphthong) is produced as non-rhotic vowel or deleted. Following front vowels, most often replaced by non-rhotic vowel. Following back vowels, most often deleted. Intervocalic /r/ may also be affected, especially when following mid back vowel (e.g. zipper → ['zɪpə'], bird → [b'ɜ'd]).
Schwa Offglide. A schwa offglide may follow vocalic or postvocalic /r/ (e.g. chair → [t'͡ʃεɚə'], ears → ['ɪɚəz']).
Vowel Centralization Before /r/. Front vowels preceding /r/ may be centralized, deleted, or rhotacized (e.g. bear → ['bɝ'], here → ['hɝ']).
Raised Onglide to Stressed Syllabic /r/. Addition of /ɛ/-like quality as onglide to stressed syllabic /r/.

  • Diphthongs (non-rhotic)
Monophthongization of /aɪ/. Second element of diphthong /aɪ/ is deleted, the first element is typically lengthened (e.g. pie → [pa:], ride → [ra:], time → [ta:m]).
Monophthongization of /aʊ/. Second element of diphthong /aʊ/ is deleted (e.g. cowboy → ['kaboɪ']).
Monophthongization or Central Offglide of /ɔɪ/. Second element of diphthong /ɔɪ/ is deleted or centralized (e.g. toybox → ['tɔbɑks]').

  • Vowels (non-rhotic)
Tensing of Lax Vowels. Lax vowels are produced as tense vowels, especially before liquids & velars (still → ['stiəl'], pig → ['piəg']).
/ɪ/ /ε/ Merger Before Nasals. Before nasal consonants (/m/, /n/, and /ŋ/), /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ are pronounced [ɪ], making pin and pen homophones.
Tense/Lax Merger Before /l/. Before tautosyllablic /l/, tense front vowels are laxed (e.g., the words "wheel" and "will" are homophones).
Raised /æ/. /æ/ is raised to /ɛ/ and /e/ (e.g. ham → [hεm], wagon → [wεgn]).
Rhotacization of /ɪ/. Rhotacization of /ɪ/ in words with following postvocalic or syllabic /l/ (e.g. milk → ['mɝk'], pickle → ['pɝkl']).

  • Features that existed in earlier forms of Ebonics (AAVE)
Long Offglides of /æ/. /æ/ is produced with long off glide towards [i]. It’s more common before voiceless fricatives (e.g. glass → ['glæɪs']).
Monophthongal /e/ and /o/. /e/ and /o/ are produced as monophthongs (cake → [kek], coat → [kot]).

  • Prosodic Features
Front Stressing. Some words in Ebonics differ from Standard English because of the stress placement. Words like police, Detroit and guitar are stressed in the first syllable.


  • The verb “be”

In Ebonics this verb is often not included. (This may occur as is, ‘s, are, ‘re, etc.) For example:

In future sentences with gonna (going to)

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

I don’t care what he say, you __ gonna laugh.

I don’t care what he says, you’re going to laugh.

Before verbs with the –ing or –in ending (progressive)

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

He __ buying a new car!

He’s buying a new car!

I don’t know what he__ talkin’ about.

I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Before adjectives and expressions of location

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

She___ pretty.

She’s pretty.

They __ at the zoo.

They are at the zoo.

In questions

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

Where you at?

Where are you (at)?

She okay?

Is she okay?

Before nouns

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

You___ the one that I like.

You are the one I like.

  • Agreement

Standard English uses the subject-verb agreement. If the subject is third person singular, an –s appears at the end of a regular verb (Juan loves sausages). In Ebonics these distinctions are not always made (Juan love sausages).

  • Tense and aspect
Past Tense: Some past events are conveyed by placing “been” before the verb. Speakers of the Standard English may mistake this with the “present perfect”, because of the “have” or “has” deleted. But these two forms are very different. For example:

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

Luis been married.

Luis has been married.

In the Standard English sentence we are saying that Luis is now no longer married. However, in the Ebonics sentence we are saying the opposite: Luis is still married. The equivalent in Ebonics for Standard English perfect tenses can be expressed with the use of done. For example, the Standard sentence “He has eaten his dinner” can be expressed as “He done eat his dinner”.

Future: The future events are expressed with the use of “gon” or “gonna” instead of "going to".
Events in progress: As well as in Standard English, in Ebonics the verbs ending with –ing or –in are used for expressing that an event is in progress, but Ebonics also has a number of other words which add particular nuances. For example, the word steady can be used to mark actions that occur consistently or persistently (e.g. “Rufino be steady steppin’ in them number nines”).
  • Negatives
Ain’t: It is used in Ebonics (as well as in other variations of English) for making a negation in a simple sentence. It substitutes the Standard English forms am not, isn’t, aren’t, don’t, doesn’t, didn’t, haven’t or hasn’t.

AAVE (Ebonics)

Standard English

You ain´t do your homework.

You didn’t do your homework.

I ain´t eating pizza.

I’m not eating pizza.

Double or multiple negation: This is a characteristic that can be seen in some Romance languages (e.g. the French negation “ne pas” or the “no, nada” in Spanish as in “no vi nada”) and also in English creoles. The double negative is considered incorrect in Standard English because it would mean that the sentence is positive instead of being negative; for example, in the sentence “I didn't want to tell that story to nobody” the “nobody” changes the meaning of the entire sentence. It actually means something like “I didn’t want to tell that story to nobody, so I told it to someone”.


There are a lot of different opinions about Ebonics that created certain controversy; while some people, black and white, see this dialect as a sign of limited education or sophistication, as a legacy of slavery, as an impediment to socioeconomic mobility, as “lazy English”, or associate it with a life of crime, others actually praise it explicitly. Black preachers, comedians and singers (especially rappers) use it for creating a dramatic or realistic effect.
Homeless on the sidewalk

There are people that associate "Ebonics" with poverty and/or criminal life.

There are also different opinions on whether or not Ebonics is a language, dialect or slang. People that call it a language state that it is because “A language is a coherent system of signs - a grammar of elements and rules - which is used in a regular way for purposes of communication, and also for social symbolic purposes. African American Vernacular English, or AAVE - which is sometimes called "Ebonics", but not usually by linguists - does all these things and more, in ways just like other languages do.” Although it’s true that Ebonics have a particular grammar structure, pronunciation and polysemic words, we can say that it is a dialect of English because most of its grammar and pronunciation components are widely shared with English language. We can definitely say that Ebonics is not a slang because of the fact that “Slang refers to a relatively small set of vocabulary items which are ephemeral - they gain and lose currency rapidly, go in and out of style. Slang does not have a grammar or rules of pronunciation; it is not a dialect or a language.”

External Links & EntretainmentEdit


Video GalleryEdit


Sidnell, Jack. "African American Vernacular English (Ebonics)"

Patrick, Peter. “Answers to some Questions about "Ebonics" (= African American English)” University of Essex.

King, Michel. “Ebonics Slang No Substitute for Standard English”

Rickford, John. “What is Ebonics? (African American Vernacular English)”

Stanford University (.pdf file) Pollock, Bailey, Berni, Fletcher, Hinton, Johnson, Roberts, & Weaver.“Phonological Features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE)” (1998)

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