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May 26th, 2014:

Oakland Board of Trade Ad – Pseudo African-American Vernacular – Sunset Magazine – Vol. XII, 1904 – African-American English, Ronald A. Perry


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Sunset Magazine – Volume XII – 1904 – CLICK FOR LINK – Google Books (PDF)

The arrival of the first slaves in North America marked the beginning of an American fascination with the culture and speech of these black men who had exchanged a barbarous existence in Africa for a life of servitude among civilized, English-speaking Christians. But however much novelists like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain, or songwriters like Stephen Foster attempted to represent black speech, one finds in their work little indication of their having carefully studied it. Touches of “nigger” dialect lend pathos to the speeches of Stowe’s Uncle Tom, humor to the philosophizing of Twain’s runaway slave Jim, and sentimentality to Stephen Foster’s Uncle Ned (“He’s gone war de good niggers¹ go…”) precisely due to its being “bad” English. An example of such pseudo African-American dialect is “Oh! Susanna”. This Stephen Foster composition, sung by generations of American schoolchildren in Standard English, is given here in the original version:

I come from Alabama
with my Banjo on my knee—
I’s g’wine to Lou’siana,
My true lub² for to see,
It rain’d all night de day I left,
De wedder it was dry;
The sun so hot I froze to def—
Susanna, don’t you cry.


¹During the nineteenth century the word “nigger”, had not yet acquired its meaning as a racial slur. As a colloquial term for “Negro” it occurs in the songs of Stephen Foster, the writings of Mark Twain and Walt Whitman, and even in reported conversations of Abraham Lincoln. Some have insisted that such traditional literature be censored.

² Nineteenth century caricatures of African-Americans inexplicably represent them as being unable to pronounce the phoneme “v”, so that we frequently have black preachers talking about “ebil” (evil) and “de debil” (the devil).

– African Americans as Perceived by White Society, African-American English –  Ronald Alan Perry – Revista No. 31


The Africans who were brought forcibly to America over a period of three centuries developed a characteristic speech that combined the English of their white masters with grammatical and phonetic features common to West African languages. This speech, known as “Ebonics” or African American Vernacular English, is characterized by the simplification or transformation of certain phonemes and by copula omission (un-conjugated “to be”). A decision by the Oakland, California school district to recognize “Ebonics” as a distinct African-American language has fueled debate as to whether it is a dialect of English, a language distinct from English, or simply bad English. In any event, this “black” English has fascinated white society and occupies an important place in Anglophonic literature, folklore and music. As manifested in the musical genre known as blues, it has influenced all of today’s popular music, prompting even Britons to imitate certain aspects of African-American speech. – Professor Ronald A. Perry – Universidad de Technólica  de Pereira