English Language
Vernacular English

Vernacular English

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The Fascinating World of English Vernaculars: A Closer Look into Informal Language Variations

With over 1 billion English speakers across the globe, it's no surprise that the language has developed numerous unique variations. In this article, we will explore the world of English vernaculars, the informal forms of the language used by individuals. We will define what vernacular languages are, provide an example of English vernacular, discuss the features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE), and shed light on the prejudices faced by these non-standard forms of English. Additionally, we will touch upon the distinctions between language, dialect, and vernacular.

What is a Vernacular Language?

First, let's define the term 'vernacular language': it refers to a specific form of speech used by a particular group in a particular region. The word 'vernacular' originated from the Latin word 'vernaculus', meaning 'national' or 'domestic'.

Vernacular languages are primarily used in everyday conversations and informal settings within a community. They have their own unique patterns of speech, grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, which have developed over time and differ from the standard form of the language. These non-standard forms are typically spoken and not written.

Standard Language vs Vernacular Language

The standard version of a language has undergone extensive regularization and is considered the "proper" way to speak and write. It is commonly used in formal and official settings, such as education, government, media, and law. Examples of standard languages include Standard British English and Standard American English, which are seen as the "norms".

Diving into Vernacular English

Vernacular English is often associated with a specific register, referring to the level of formality or informality of language. In contrast to standard language, vernaculars do not adhere to strict grammar, syntax, or spelling rules. This approach, known as prescriptivism, aims to standardize language and often considers certain forms as "correct" or "incorrect". On the other hand, descriptivism focuses on the actual usage of language and recognizes that language is constantly evolving.

Vernacular English variations develop over time as communities adapt the language to their needs, resulting in various changes in pronunciation, slang usage, and vocabulary. Due to the lack of official sources and dictionaries, it can be challenging to standardize or accurately describe the features of a particular vernacular language.

It's important to note that there is not a single vernacular English, as they should be viewed in the plural form. For instance, compare the English used in academic settings to that used in daily interactions with friends and family. Similarly, think about a language taught in school, such as French or Spanish; students are usually taught the standard form rather than a specific vernacular.

African American Vernacular English (AAVE): A Unique Vernacular

One of the most well-known English vernaculars is African American Vernacular English (AAVE). It is predominantly spoken by Black Americans and is believed to have originated in the southern states of America during the 17th and 18th centuries. During this time, the British colonized the USA, and the transatlantic slave trade brought thousands of Africans to the southern states, where they were enslaved. As a result, the enslaved Africans were exposed to various British dialects, which influenced the changes and developments in language, eventually resulting in AAVE.

Today, AAVE has its own distinct grammar rules, lexicon, and pronunciation, making it a unique vernacular language. Some linguists believe it may have started as a pidgin or creole language, which is a basic mix of African languages that arose out of necessity when individuals from different parts of Africa had to communicate with each other during slavery.

Understanding the concept of vernacular language and its variations is crucial to appreciating the diverse ways in which people communicate. Despite facing prejudices and lack of recognition, vernacular languages continue to thrive and play a significant role in shaping our everyday interactions. So next time you encounter a vernacular, embrace its uniqueness and diversity!

Understanding African American Vernacular English

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a unique language variety with its own set of features, some of which have origins in British dialects from the southern United States.

Here are some characteristics commonly found in AAVE:

  • Use of double negatives, as in the phrase "Ain't nobody got time."
  • Removal of copula verbs, particularly "to be," as in "He goin' shop." This type of omission can also be found in other languages like Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin.
  • Frequent use of contractions, such as "Y'all gotta go."
  • The use of "done" to indicate the perfective aspect, as in "He done walked." This is equivalent to "He has walked" in standard English.
  • Pronunciation of the "th" sounds (/θ and ð/) as a /d/ sound at the beginning of a word. For example, "them" is pronounced as "dem."

Although these language features are commonly associated with AAVE, they can also be found in other varieties of English.

In fact, AAVE has had a significant impact on internet slang terms, such as "on fleek" and "I'm finna." The use of "be" instead of "am," as in "I be trending," is another example of AAVE's influence on modern language.

For instance, the popular internet slang phrase "eyebrows on fleek" originated from AAVE.

A Look at Examples of African American Vernacular English

Now that we have covered the main features of AAVE, let's take a closer look at some specific examples found in literature.

Here is an excerpt from Angie Thomas' novel "The Hate U Give":

"Lord have mercy. My heart 'bout broke when I heard...Poor Rosalie. All she going through and now this. Barbara said Rosalie not sure how she gon' pay to bury him."

In this example, Mrs. Rooks' character speaks in AAVE, evident through the use of contractions ('bout' and 'gon') and the omission of copula verbs ('All she going through...' and 'Rosalie not sure...').

Another example can be found in Toni Morrison's novel "Beloved":

"She don't love me like I love her. I don't love nobody but her."

This passage also reflects several features of AAVE, such as the usage of the contraction "don't" instead of "does not" and the double negative in the second sentence ("don't love nobody").

African American Vernacular English and Prejudice

Vernacular languages, including AAVE, are often considered non-standard forms of English and are stereotypically associated with uneducated individuals. This can lead to discrimination and prejudice against those who use these varieties.

Linguist Peter Trudgill (2016) argues that discriminating against someone based on their accent, dialect, or native language is a form of linguistic prejudice.

Many individuals who speak AAVE report feeling discriminated against in certain environments and may feel compelled to switch to standard English in more formal settings, such as when applying for jobs.

Vernacular English, Dialect, and Language: What's the Difference?

You may be wondering about the distinction between a language, a vernacular, and a dialect. The answer is not straightforward.

As languages constantly evolve, it becomes difficult to define and classify them. AAVE, for example, can be classified as a dialect, a sociolect (a social dialect), an ethnolect (an ethnic dialect), a vernacular, and even a language known as Ebonics.

Here is a brief overview of how these terms are generally understood:

  • Language: A complex and fluid system of communication with its own grammar and vocabulary.
  • Vernacular: A non-standard variety of a language used by a particular group or community.
  • Dialect: A regional or social variety of a language that differs in pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary from other varieties.

In conclusion, African American Vernacular English is a rich and complex language variety that is often stigmatized and associated with prejudice. It is important to recognize and appreciate the linguistic diversity within our communities and avoid discrimination based on language use.

The Importance of Dialects and Vernaculars in Language

Language has often been seen as a set of rules and structures that must be followed precisely. However, the reality is that there is no one "correct" version of a language. Instead, there are various dialects and vernaculars that exist within each language. These unique forms of speech serve as significant markers of a community's identity and culture.

What is a Dialect?

A dialect is a linguistic variation spoken by a specific group of people that is different from the standard version. These groups are often united by a social factor, such as location, age, gender, occupation, or ethnicity. Regional dialects, like the Geordie dialect spoken in Newcastle and its surrounding areas, emerge within specific regions. Meanwhile, dialects influenced by social factors are known as sociolects, and those shaped by ethnic groups are called ethnolects.

What is a Vernacular?

Similar to dialects, a vernacular is a form of language used in informal settings by a community. However, vernaculars are typically more established than dialects and have their own unique grammatical rules, vocabulary, and pronunciation. It can be challenging to determine whether a dialect should be classified as a vernacular, or if a vernacular should be considered a separate language, as these distinctions can be influenced by political factors. For example, languages such as Italian, French, and Spanish were once considered vernaculars but are now recognized as distinct languages.

Will African American Vernacular English (AAVE) Be Considered a Language?

African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is widely spoken within African American communities and is gaining recognition as a distinct form of English. It has its own unique grammatical rules, vocabulary, syntax, and pronunciation, making it a distinct dialect. Some linguists may view it as "incorrect" because it differs from the standard version of English. However, others argue that it is not incorrect but rather a reflection of everyday life and should be respected as a valid form of expression.

The Key Takeaway on Vernacular English

In summary, vernacular languages are informal and unstandardized forms of speech that hold great significance within a particular region or community. They have their own distinct grammatical rules, vocabulary, and pronunciation. AAVE is an example of a vernacular English spoken by black Americans and serves as an essential part of their daily lives and culture.


  • P. Trudgill. Dialect Matters: Respecting Vernacular Language, 2016.
  • A. Thomas. The Hate U Give, 2017.
  • T. Morrison. Beloved, 1987.

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