British Eubonics

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Fri May 10 02:12:09 UTC 2002

In the USA people with ebon skins speak Ebonic, but in Britain the
ebon-skinned speak with great flourish the euphonic Eubonic tongue.

In a message dated 05/08/2002 9:09:39 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
dcamp911 at JUNO.COM writes:

> why do Black Brits lose their differentiation by the second generation
>  while American Blacks remain recognizable for the most part after
>  multiple generations?
>  {Blacks there tend to live in largely Black neighborhoods and have Black
>  friends.}

In a message dated 05/09/2002 7:09:02 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
slang at BLUEYONDER.CO.UK writes:

>  second and subsequent generations of Black Britons
>  (primarily Afro-Caribbeans who arrived en masse in the 1950s/60s) and other
>  established immigrant groups (e.g. East African Asians and Sylhetis,
>  arriving in the 1970s) speak with their local, i.e. British regional
>   That said, British teenagers of whatever ethnicity are unified
>  in one thing: they all talk 'Black American', or at least that version
>  retailed by rap music.

Now is the chance to apply that "propagation channel" argument I used in the
recent pumpernickel thread.

In the US Ebonic(s) (or "AAVE" or "Black English") is rather homogenous,
without much regional variation.  Why?  Two reasons.

1) Unlike European peasants, slaves in the US were geographically mobile.
Some ran away, some went along with their owners when the owners moved, and
many were sold by slave traders somewhere distant from their previous
location.  Most slaves were in daily contact with fellow slaves who came from
places hundreds of miles away.  A piece of slave slang that became popular in
say Virginia would be transported to at least a few locations in Texas in a
matter of months.

Hence there was an effective means of propating new words and other
linguistic features, plus the mixing of slaves from different areas prevented
(with a few exceptions such as the Gullah speakers) the growth of regional
slave dialects and encouraged a rather uniform slave dialect.

After the Civil War African-Americans retained and increased their
geographical mobility, e.g. an African-American could always move from
segregated housing in one city to segregated housing in a different city.

Similarly the mobility of whites has prevented the major dialects in the US
from drifting apart the way Russian and Polish have.

2) Until circa 1790 most slaves lived in a fairly small geographic area,
namely the Tidewater from Georgia to Delmarva.  This geographical closeness
over a period of a century and a half aided the growth of a single slave
dialect (the future AAVE).  From this restricted area the major movement
pattern was into the Mississippi Valley in the first half of the 19th
Century.  In the 20th Century the major movement of African-Americans was
from the South to metropolitan areas mostly in the North.  Some states still
do not have a significant African-American population.

As a result of 1) and 2), almost all African-Americans speak either an AAVE
that has little regional variation, or else have been assimilated into white
lingusitic patterns.

A much different linguistic scenario occurred in England (I will ignore the
complications of language patterns in still-somewhat-Celtic-speaking Wales
and Scotland).  Until the Industrial Revolution most Englishpeople lived all
their lives within a short distance of where they were born.  The English
lacked the geographical mobility of African-Americans, either slave or free.
Only a relatively small number of Englishpeople travelled, and most of these
spent years in London, or perhaps Oxford and Cambridge.

So it should be no surprise that in England there is a standard speech
("Queen's English"?) based on London/Oxbridge speech that the educated use
country-wide, overlying a number of quite distinct regional dialects.

As Jonathon Green reports,  major Black immigration to England started only
in the 1950's, and involved Black (or non-white) people from a number of
dialect areas such as Jamaica, South Africa, Pakistan,...  AAVE has been
evolving since the 1600's, five or six times as long a period as Black Brits
have been around in sizable numbers.  This being the 20th Century,
geographical mobility is less important than such things as telephones,
radio, or the telly.  But in England, as far as I know, radio and the telly
spread the Queen's English rather than would-be Black Britspeak (however, see
exception described below).  The conditions that created a unified AAVE are
lacking in England.

What has happened, I am pretty sure, is a variation of the US Melting Pot.
In the US there were large immigrations from non-English-speaking countries
such as Germany, Sweden, Italy, or Tsarist Russia.  The immigrants spoke
their native languages, but finding the US to be a monolingual country, they
also learned English.  Their children may or may not have learned the Old
Country language, but they definitely learned English like the native-born
they were.

The situation in England differs, but more in degree than in kind.  The Black
immigrants speak not foreign languages but rather exotic dialects of English.
 However, like the US, England is a monolingual country, and those born in
England learn to communicate in English.  But English has distinctive
regional dialects, so the native-born Black Brits pick up the local variety
of English (just like Italians settling in Georgia find their children
speaking with a Southern accent).  The process of the children learning the
local English dialect rather than their parent's out-of-country dialect is
made easier by the fact that both generations speak mutually intelligible
dialects of English.

But the BBC speaks the Queen's English.  What gives? "British teenagers of
whatever ethnicity are unified
>  in one thing: they all talk 'Black American', or at least that version
>  retailed by rap music."  Where do they pick up this "Black American"?
>From movies and other mass entertainment.

      - James A. Landau

More information about the Ads-l mailing list