The Emergence of Black English
Text and commentary
Debate over the evolution of Black English Vernacular (BEV) has permeated Afro-American studies, creole linguistics, dialectology, and sociolinguistics for a quarter of a century with little sign of a satisfactory resolution, primarily because evidence that bears directly on the earlier stages of BEV is sparse. This book brings together 11 transcripts of mechanical recordings of interviews with former slaves born well over a century ago. It attempts to make this crucial source of data as widely known as possible and to explore its importance for the study of Black English Vernacular in view of various problems of textual composition and interpretation. It does so by providing a complete description of the contents of the recordings, by providing transcripts of most of the contents, and by publishing a group of interpretive essays which examine the data in the light of other relevant historical, cultural, social, and linguistic evidence and which provide contexts for interpretation and analysis. In these essays a group of diverse scholars on BEV analyze the same texts for the first time; the lack of consensus that emerges may seem surprising, but in fact highlights some of the basic problems of textual composition and interpretation and of scholarly dispositions that underlie the study of BEV. The papers raise crucial questions about the evolution of BEV, about its relationship to other varieties, and, most important, about the construction and interpretation of linguistic texts.