Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

The Interpretation of African American Vernacular English in Museums

The Interpretation of African American Vernacular English in Museums

Kelsey McKoy

As human beings, the way in which we interpret the world around us and establish our agency and identity is largely based on language and our interaction with one another as well as with our environment. In the paper that follows I seek to address how African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is interpreted within exhibits conveying the history of slavery at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Detroit Historical Museum? Museums are cultural institutions that aid in providing information pertaining to the events of slavery that are not commonly (if at all) taught in schools, it is important that the information is understood to its fullest extent. In this instance, these institutions create exhibits that are intended to appeal to a wide range of visitors from various backgrounds. Thus, I predict that in order to maintain its universal appeal exhibits that interpret the history of slavery, do so by way of Standard English (SE) as juxtapose to AAVE. In gathering the data for my research, I collected material from various sources of linguistic literature and visited two exhibitions one from each museum. The first was the “Doorway to Freedom: Detroit and the Underground Railroad” at the Detroit Historical Museum and the second was “And Still We Rise” at the Charles H. Wright Museum. During my visit, I collected photos and conducted interviews with the collections and exhibitions manager from both museums. As a result of my data it was indicated that SE was commonly used in exhibitions interpreting slavery as it is universally easier to understand.

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April 2, 2018 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. This sounds interesting, especially since museums are usually very academic, so the language used in exhibits is expected to be SE while still being accessible. I remember from going through the exhibit at the Detroit Historical Museum that there is an audio track that plays, with people speaking about their experiences. Was this track also in SE, or was it closer to AAVE? I am not sure I could identify between the two, but I think I recall the audio track deviating, at least to a small degree, from SE. I can not say whether this qualifies as AAVE though. So I wonder if there is a difference in these exhibits between the formal written components of the exhibits and the less formal components, such as audio tracks or direct quotes.

    Comment by Samantha Spolarich | April 23, 2018 | Reply


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