Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Comparing nineteenth century literature portrayals of AAVE by black and white authors

Comparing nineteenth century literature portrayals of AAVE by black and white authors

Sam M

Research concerning African American English in general is not common and even less common is the study of the dialect in written form. Thus, this paper asks a unique question – is there a difference in how black and white writers portrayed black speakers of AAVE in literature? I examine four nineteenth-century literary works dating from 1852-1888 for uses of double negation in both white and black characters and compare them for frequency of use. I find that there is indeed a difference in how these writers portrayed black characters speech. African American writers used fewer AAVE constructions than white writers. I think these findings demonstrate to us possible attitudes of white writers toward African Americans, and black writers toward themselves. Future research on this issue could reveal more systematic difference in portrayals of black characters and could provide further insight into the attitudes toward African Americans at the time.

April 5, 2019 - Posted by | abstract


  1. It sounds like you have enough cases to argue effectively for the phenomenon. Even if you can’t answer it, the next question is “why?” Are non-white authors using AAVE as a means of social control, keeping their characters “in their place,” or do they simply pride themselves on their skill in writing in dialect? Are black authors aspirational in their avoidance of AAVE, or simply even-handed? All (or none) of the above, on a case-by-case basis? I hope you have (or can foresee) enough data to at least ask and illustrate questions like these.

    Comment by Daniel Harrison | April 5, 2019 | Reply

  2. I think examining the difference between how African American writers portray their AAVE speaking characters to how white writers portray them opens an interesting line of research. Is there a difference and for what reasons might those differences exist. When considering the historical implications of AAVE, the question becomes why does the author want their character portrayed like this. Is it for accuracy or a subtle societal message?

    The topic of your paper is interesting and could lead to a greater examination of authorial intent when discussing speech and dialect portrayel.

    Comment by Shannon McKeown | April 23, 2019 | Reply

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