Asante, Molefi Kete. 1990.

"African elements in African-American English."

Africanisms in American culture, ed. Joseph E. Holloway, 19-33. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.


Asante's main thrust is that vestiges of African language and linguistic culture survive in African-American English (AAE) in many forms. He argues that black Americans retained basic components of African culture, and subtle linguistic and communicative artifacts are being utilized in AAE.

Initially, he notes, researchers of AAE were interested in lexical items which appeared to have African origins, such as "go-go" and "okra" -- though he points out that many early researchers (mostly white) did not acknowledge the possibility of African lexical influence on modern AAE.

Asante goes beyond the lexicon, however, and stresses the historical significance of other linguistic features. He suggests that sociolinguists look at combinations of sounds, units of meaning and syntax behaviors which make up the communicative style of AAE speakers, rather than focusing on specific units. For example, like many West African languages, and unlike Standard American English (SAE), AAE favours verbal aspect over tense, and allows the serialization of verbs (e.g. "I hear tell you went home"). Asante also claims that the prevalence of tone languages in African Americans' linguistic history has led to the significance of pitch distinctions in modern AAE. Ritualized language behaviours such as "harmonizing", or call-response patterns, can be traced back to West African precedents.

Asante contends that African linguistic remnants are found in modern AAE due to the creolization process, which maintained features of communication style while changing (for the most part) the lexicon and phonology, and later the morphology and grammar. The result is that a Gestalt of African influence on AAE can be found on all levels, not just (and perhaps even least significantly) at the lexicon. Asante emphasizes that it is on the level of communicative style and folkloristic modalities where the real continuity from African to African American culture is most visible.