AAVE query

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Thu Apr 27 21:20:01 UTC 2006

I grew up in St. Louis in the '40's, '50's, and '60's and I heard it there,
all the time. I can remember a friend who was trying to hit on a chick say
exactly, "(Hey, baby!) What your name is?" In Cambridge, MA, I once heard a
middle-aged black woman with a thick "West-Indian" accent shout, "What the
number of that bus is?" In fact, though I don't pretend to be a specialist
in BE and, since Cosby and I are the same age and my intuitions are as
eroded as his from living in a primarily-white social milieu, nevertheless,
I've long been under the impression that it has long since been established
such locutions are typical of the dialect. That's one of the reasons that I
recall its use by an Afro- / African-Caribbean. It showed me that the
locution is not peculiar to "Merican." Since she and I were the only two
black people among 25 people or so waiting for the various
buses that stopped at that corner and she wasn't speaking to me, but,
rather, to anyone who could supply the information,
my opinion is that, if she had had the command of sE syntax
typical of the black middle class, she would have asked, "What's the
number of that bus?"

lest she "disgrace the race" by sounding "ignorant" in front of The Man.

BTW, that wouldn't be Miles College, would it? That's the alma mater of my
father and his brother.


On 4/27/06, William Salmon <william.salmon at yale.edu> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       William Salmon <william.salmon at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: AAVE query
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> > Some of my students use "What that is?" in asking questions.  Has
> > this been studied?  Is it regional, hip-prestige, or what?
> >
> > i have asked him if he hears only this one formula, or more things of
> > the same form, like "What your name is?"
> In his (in)famous 2004 speech for the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board
> of Education, Bill Cosby provides a few additional examples...
> "They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't
> even talk the way these people talk: Why you ain't, Where you is, What
> he drive, Where he stay, Where he work, Who you be..."
> WS
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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