[This is a syllabus for a course I taught in Fall 1997 at Georgetown University. Obviously the course is over! so information about meeting times etc. was deleted. Also, I moved from Georgetown to the University of Essex in Fall 1998, so the course is not currently active and contact info for me has changed (email: patrickp@essex.ac.uk ). If you're interested in the subject, follow links to my webpage on AAE.]


Seminar: African American Vernacular English (Ling 786)

Prof. Peter L. Patrick - Fall 1997 - Georgetown University


In this seminar we'll survey some of the most important features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), investigating both its structure and patterns of use. We'll begin by jointly exploring classic and recent descriptions of AAVE in order to develop a shared base of knowledge. Participants will then develop independent research topics, leading class discussions on relevant readings. Each class member will produce a final paper of substantial length and depth and present it to the seminar. Basic knowledge of descriptive linguistics and sociolinguistics is assumed.

The study of the vernacular speech of American Slave Descendants is one of the principal foundations upon which modern sociolinguistics has been constructed. AAVE has provided challenges of theoretical description which formal linguists have only recently begun to meet. The public use of AAVE and the reactions of non-native speakers to it, especially in gate-keeping social institutions, constitute one of the greatest challenges to applied linguistics. AAVE can and should be described and studied just like any other language variety in the world; but as a historical mystery and a contemporary "hot-button" issue, it's also important to consider AAVE in its social, political and cultural context.

The first half of the course will consider some of the primary issues. In the second half, the topics and literature nominated by participants, as part of their research projects, will be our focus. In the middle of the semester (Sat., Oct. 18) the class is invited to attend a 1-day conference on Ebonics at Temple University in Philadelphia, which is organized so that expert views will encounter community perspectives. 



The following texts are being used:

John Baugh. 1983. Black Street Speech. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

Guy Bailey, Natalie Maynor and Patricia Cukor-Avila, eds. 1991. The Emergence of Black English. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishers.

We'll also read a special issue of the journal American Speech (1987) focused on the divergence controversy; a course-pack with about 30 articles [see Selected Readings]; and a preliminary version of a new, state-of-the-art survey volume, African American English: Structure, history and use, edited by Salikoko Mufwene, John Rickford, Guy Bailey and John Baugh [now available from Routledge]


Grade Requirements

A full-length research paper (30pp.+) is required, and will count for 50% of the grade. This will be broken up as follows: a prospectus is due Oct. 2 (5%), a poster version will be presented on the last day of class, Dec. 4 (for 15%), and the final written version is due on the exam date (30%).

An annotated bibliography is also required, with one entry per week (12 entries), for 25% of the grade. The remaining 25% will be awarded for various aspects of class participation. Since it is a seminar, all class sessions will be in a discussion format, driven and led by student interests, with the instructor acting as facilitator and resource. Full participation in discussion and preparation of readings will be needed from everyone, every week, to make the experience as rewarding as possible.


Participation (25%)

Participants will be responsible for preparing all the readings for each session, and for discussing them - formulating views and questions, and making sure they are aired. Each participant will also volunteer to lead the discussion on several of the assigned topics in the first half of the semester. After selecting your own research topic in the first month, you will also decide on a few readings for the rest of the class; in the second half of the term, you'll lead a discussion of your topic. Seminar participants are also requested to search out notable AAVE materials (e.g. audio or video clips, literary or oral-history accounts of speech) to share with others from time to time, as well as other resources that you may find. Several times in the first half, you may be asked to examine AAVE data and give brief informal descriptions or analyses relating it to current discussion topics.


Annotated Bibliography (25%)

As a way to reflect on the readings, and to consolidate your understanding, you will be asked to turn in a weekly summary of a significant reading. Initially you will want to choose this from the assigned selections, but as you develop your own research topic, you may choose from readings relevant to it. You should do 12 of these, averaging a page or less. This summary should include the full reference and your name. It is not intended to be a mini-essay or collection of your original insights, but something more modest - a simple abstract or description of the contents, such as you would find helpful in an online abstracts service. (Please write your own, however! don't use ones published on such services, or anywhere else.) You are strongly encouraged to send them to me online, and I will forward them to the rest of the seminar. After the end of the semester, the resulting summaries may be posted on a web-page of materials related to this course (all writers will be credited). [still in progress]


Research Project (50%)

The most substantial contribution required of you is a full-length (30pp.+) research paper on a topic of your choice, approved by the instructor. Sample topics will be suggested - papers I would like to see written! - but you are encouraged to develop your own. Please use standard procedures and guides for citations and reference, observe the Georgetown University Honor Code, and avoid plagiarism (I'll post guidelines; if you're in doubt, consult me early).

A prospectus outlining your plans is due Oct. 2, and is worth 5% of your grade. It should address the following points: a) a title, b) background issues, c) why the project is worth doing, d) the questions that need to be answered, e) links to other research, and f) sources to examine (i.e. the relevant bibliography, but also data sources as needed). Two pages plus bibliography is about right. If sources are not available in our library you should research availability in other ones or by interlibrary loan (if you ask me early, I may be able to help).

On the last day of class, Dec. 4, the seminar will hold an open poster/talk session in which each participant will discuss their research with attendees from the Georgetown Linguistics Dept. and beyond. This counts for 15% of your grade. The final written version of the paper is due on the scheduled exam date and counts 30%. It should include a 1-page abstract. There will be no incompletes given in this course. [and there weren't! It was a great class]


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