Code-switching in African-American English (TU15)

English is spoken more extensively across the planet than any language in human history. Estimates suggest that up to two billion people use some English today. The language has developed different forms on every continent, and is used by increasingly diverse groups of users.

This unit looks at a very well-known dialect of English: African-American English. African-American English is a long-standing native dialect of English spoken across the United States. It has roots in the African languages that were brought to the Americas and the Caribbean during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and also the early British English dialects spoken at the time. Like speakers of vernacular dialects around the world, African-American English speakers often have a range of speaking styles that they can use, from more standard to more vernacular. The vernacular variety is called African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Switching between two dialects (or two languages) is sometimes called “code-switching”. The accompanying transcript and discussion points help students understand the grammar of the dialect as well as motivations for code-switching.

AAVE has contributed more to English vocabulary than most dialects through the dominance of African-American music and culture in the United States and globally, from blues and jazz music 100 years ago (e.g. cool, hip, right on, uptight, get down, do your thing, gig) to innumerable terms adopted around the world (e.g. chill out, high five, home boy, player, off the hook, you go girl), often though not always via hip-hop and rap. Paradoxically, despite this global appropriation of the dialect, it remains one of the most stigmatized English dialects in the world, prompting many scholars to suggest that the attitudes to the dialect in fact reflect attitudes to the social group. (This article and video offer a brief summary of a backlash against an attempt to recognize AAVE as the native dialect of Black schoolchildren:

Discussion points


Linguistics Research Digest link
Revisiting New York department stores