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Transforming Anthropology

UNENDANGERED DIALECT, ENDANGERED PEOPLE: THE CASE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN VERNACULAR ENGLISH

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Abstract

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is not an endangered language variety; on the contrary, it is continuing to develop, as all languages, and to diverge from other varieties. The primary correlates of such divergence are residential segregation and poverty, which are part of a developing transgenerational cycle that includes also crime, shorter life spans, and low educational achievement. The most immediate challenge is creating more effective educational programs on a larger scale. In confronting residential segregation, we must be aware that its reduction will lead to greater contact between speakers of AAVE and speakers of other dialects. Recent research implies that, if residential integration increases significantly, AAVE as a whole may be in danger of losing its distinctiveness as a linguistic resource. While many of us would regret a decrease in the eloquent syntactic and semantic options of AAVE and its possible withering away, we must also consider that the loss of a dialect is a lesser evil than the endangerment AAVE speakers currently confront.

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