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Tasks: African American English and Chicano English

Photo: A group picture of several African Americans, taken from above. They are looking up at the camera, smiling.
Åpne bilde i et nytt vindu

Reflect and talk:

The linguistic terminology presented below is all relevant when talking about our use of language. Read quickly through the definitions before you move on to the questions.

  • copula deletion = the absence of the auxiliary verb 'be' in certain constructions where it is usually found in standard English; e.g. 'He nice' instead of 'He is nice'.

  • code switching = the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in a conversation.

  • intragroup communication = communication within a defined group.

  • idiolect = the speech habits peculiar to a particular person.

  • ethnolect = a language spoken by a certain ethnic or cultural subgroup.

  • vernacular = the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people in a particular country or region, or the language used within a particular field or industry.

Discuss in small groups and analyse your own native language. Try to find examples of these (or similar) linguistic features in your everyday speech. Ask yourself:

  1. Do you add or leave out words or in any other way modify standard Norwegian grammar in your everyday speech?

  2. Do you have a specific way of communicating in certain groups, for example with your family or with your friends?

  3. Do you have any language habits that are unique to you?

  4. One example of a Norwegian ethnolect is Vollanorsk. What characterises this ethnolect? Do you know of other ethnolects? Do you use an ethnolect yourself?

  5. How would you describe your vernacular? Is it easy to hear where you are from? Do you know of any groups in society (professions, age groups, social groups, ...) with a distinct vernacular that sets this group apart from others?


AAE and ChE are two varieties of American English that have often been labelled 'incorrect, lazy English' with 'bad grammar', and the prestige they carry in mainstream society is quite low. However, they are often the preferred languages for many people belonging to these ethnic groups, and very often the first language that children in these communities learn.

In your opinion:

  1. Is it right to say that one variant or dialect of a language is more correct than another? Is it right to say that AAE and ChE are 'wrong'? Give reasons for your answer.

  2. To what extent can a language be a barrier to your future success? To what extent can a language give you access to new opportunities in life? Can a language both include and exclude people? How?

  3. Why is it important for people who normally speak AAE and ChE to be able to code switch?

  4. Why do you think ethnolects like AAE and ChE often carry low prestige and status in main stream society? Do you know of other ethnolects, dialects, or accents from other countries that are often frowned upon?

  5. Can languages (like AAE and ChE) be carriers of identity? Explain.

Vocabulary 1:

The following words and expressions all originate from AAE. Go through the list and write down a definition of the expressions you know. You will find the key below.

  • from the gitgo (or getgo)

  • my bad

  • bling

  • chump change

  • diss

  • jones

  • that's how I/we roll

  • gig

  • on fleek

  • rip off

  • back in the day

  • stay woke


from the gitgo-/-getgo = from the beginning

my bad = my fault

bling = expensive, ostentatious clothing and jeweller.

chump change = an insignificant sum of money

diss = disrespect

jones = a desire or appetite for something, addiction

that's how I/we roll = that's how we do things around here

gig = musical engagement, a playing job

on fleek = perfectly done, exactly right

rip off = an act of fraud, a swindle

back in the day = in the past, some time ago

stay woke = stay alert to social and-/-or racial discrimination and injustice

Vocabulary 2:

Many words have been adopted from Spanish into Standard English and are today common words used in everyday language. Match the following English words with the Spanish word from which they derived.

Research 1:

Work in groups. Each group chooses one of the American ethnolects from the list below and tries to find more information about this variant of English.

Look for information about:

  • the geographical area where this variant is used and the number of people who speak it

  • the historical background and development of the variant

  • characteristic pronunciation and vocabulary

  • characteristic grammatical features

  • examples of how this variant is used in popular culture

  • examples of famous people using this variant

  • its status in society

  • actual audio-/-video examples of the variant

You may not find information that covers all these points, but try to find as much information as you can.

Present your findings for the rest of the class.

  • Cajun English

  • American Indian English

  • Pennsylvania Dutch English

  • Yeshiva English

  • New York Latino English

Research 2:

AAE has been at the centre of numerous controversies relating to the treatment of AAE-speaking students in the classroom. Most curricula in American schools are designed with mainstream American English speakers in mind, and the use of AAE has often been looked down on by teachers. Many believe this tension causes a Black-white achievement gap and explains why AAE users get lower scores on standardised tests.

Use the internet and look for information about how the use of AAE has been received in the educational system. Find information about:

  • the Ann Arbor Decision (1979)

  • the Oakland Ebonics Resolution (1996)

A Black boy in a classroom, sitting by his desk. He's watching what is going on in the front of the classroom, but he looks a bit distraught.

Discuss in class:

  1. Do you think a use of AAE in the classroom would improve or hurt the students' knowledge of Standard English?

  2. Can increased incorporation of AAE in schools reduce the general achievement gap between white and Black students?

  3. Should teachers be better trained in receiving and understanding students who are using AAE as their language at home?

  4. In class, make a pro-/-con list: What were the goals and main arguments on each side of the issue? Should the goal be to eliminate or maintain AAE as an educational language? Which side carries the best arguments?


  1. In the text, you found a reference to the song 'Brenda's got a Baby' by 2Pac. This song is actually based on a true story and inspired by an article in The New York Times.

    You can read the article here: link to article in the New York Times.

    You can listen to the music and read the song lyrics here: link to Youtube video.

    Use the material provided above in addition to other relevant sources, and write an essay where you highlight the sociocultural challenges portrayed in the song.

  2. In the text you have read, there was a reference to the novel The Deportation of Wopper Barraza by Maceo Montoya. In this novel, the protagonist – an illegal immigrant – is being deported back to his 'homeland', Mexico. The plot of the novel bears an uncanny resemblance to recent events in the United States, where there has been increased focus on the problem of illegal immigration across the Mexican border.

    Do some research and find statistics showing how many illegal immigrants are believed to be crossing the Mexican-American border every year, how many immigrants are sent back, and the consequences of illegal immigration in general. Present your findings in an expository text. Remember to refer to your sources.

  3. Wopper Barraza is a 22-year-old illegal immigrant who only knows life in the United States. He has a job and a pregnant girlfriend, and he is now being deported back to Mexico, a country he hasn't been in since he was three years old.

    Place yourself in the shoes of Wopper Barraza, or another young fictional person in the same situation. Write a diary entry where you describe the situation and the emotions involved. What future does this person see? If you like, you can try to use examples of ChE in your text.

  4. Imagine that you are African-American or Chicano living in a white community where everyone communicates using Standard English. However, they do understand AAE -/- ChE. You are new to this community and speak both AAE -/- ChE and Standard English fluently, and you are shocked to see how differently people treat you depending on the language you speak.

    Write a personal text where you describe your experiences when using AAE -/- ChE and when using Standard English. Your text should include reflections related to the ability to code switch.

  5. The novel How to Be Black (2012) by Baratunde Thurston summarises many of the cultural concepts entrenched in AAE. The novel is amusing and highly sarcastic as it outlines various lessons white readers can follow in order to ‘increase their blackness’. In the introduction, the author sums up the idea of being Black rather elegantly:

This is a book about the idea of blackness, how those ideas are changing, and how they differ from the popular ideas promoted in mainstream media and often in the black community itself. You're probably familiar with the popular concept of blackness: hip-hop, crime and prison, fatherless homes, high blood pressure, school dropouts, drugs, athleticism, musical talent, The Wire, affirmative action, poverty, diabetes, the Civil Rights Movement, and, recently, the U.S. presidency. Some of these concepts are stereotypes. Some are true. Most are negative. But in the age of President Barack Obama, all of them are limiting and simply inadequate to the task of capturing the reality of blackness. (Thurston, 2012, p. 11)

Write an essay where you discuss the terms 'prejudice' and 'stereotype' and analyse at least three longstanding stereotypes-/-prejudices regarding the African American population in the United States.

Relatert innhold

CC BY-SASkrevet av Anders Auberg og Karin Søvik.
Sist faglig oppdatert 07.01.2022


Varieties of English