Think before you speak: AAVE

Finna. Periodt. Slay. You might think of these words as Gen Z or internet slang, but they are actually part of AAVE. You might think you don’t know what that is, but chances are you probably know lots of AAVE and use it every day. AAVE, which stands for African American Vernacular English, is a dialect (or some consider it a language) that many Black people speak.

AAVE has a long history that goes back to slavery. According to the internet reference site ThoughtCo., AAVE originated on the plantations in the South. The article states that a “great variation was exhibited in the speech of Africans when they were first brought to the ‘New World’ and to colonial America, as indicated in references to Black speech in slave advertisements and court records.”

AAVE is also known as African American English or Black English. You might have heard of Ebonics, a term coined in the 1970s that became controversial in 1996, when the school board in Oakland, California “recognized it as the ‘primary’ language of its majority African American students and resolved to take it into account in teaching them standard or academic English,” according to The Linguistic Society of America.

That effort never caught on, but AAVE is as popular as ever. I see AAVE on social media every day. Many people use it in the wrong way unconsciously.

One day I was scrolling on TikTok, and I came across a video of a white girl showing her oiling scalp routine. While she was showing the brush that everyone was telling her to get, she said, “…and I periodt got one.” That’s obviously not how you use it correctly. The correct way would be if she said periodt at the end of the sentence.

On Twitter, there’s an account named AAVE struggle tweets that posts screenshots of people misusing AAVE. One of them said, “She served and ate what she served periodt queen purr.” This one doesn’t even make sense in AAVE or standard English.

While some use it without knowing, others use it to gain attention since it’s so “trendy” now. Dr. Tyrone Williams, who teaches African American History at Oak Park and River Forest High School, shared his opinion on people misusing it and gaining attention from it.

“In my everyday experiences, I’m not sure I come in contact with a lot of people using or misusing it based on where we are, but I am cognizant of the fact that there are people out there who capitalize on subaltern cultures in order to promote themselves,” he said.

When people use AAVE, they sometimes don’t treat it like a real language that is connected to a culture with its own rules for grammar and usage. The book “Talking Back Talking Black: Truths About America’s Lingua Franca,” by John McWhorter, compares AAVE to British English. Both have rules and follow patterns. He gives examples of the correct way to use AAVE, including this sentence: “Shirley get to worrying. She worried cause she know the rest of them girls going to get valentines cards from their boyfriend.” McWhorter notes in Black English, the third-person singular verb drops the s, and the word them usually replaces the word “those”.

So, how should we make sure people use AAVE correctly? There is no easy way to find a solution for this problem, because AAVE has so many words and phrases people don’t even know are AAVE, like tho, pressed, hella, boo, extra (as in someone doing too much), “It do be like that” and so much more. This is nothing new. Things get stolen from Black culture all the time and get renamed.

One big example is our hairstyles. I always see non-Blacks wearing box braids and cornrows and not knowing the names of these styles. They often call edges sticky bangs.

These mistakes happen because people fail to educate themselves. They should want to know the history to be educated on this topic. Some think schools should teach AAVE, and others think Black people should only use it. I believe if you’re gonna use it, do your research and give it’s right label. However, Black people are allowed to gatekeep it and shouldn’t get shamed for wanting to do so.

I know many might think this is not a big deal, that these are just words and phrases. But it is a big deal. It’s how we talk to each other. It’s what we use to code switch when relating to different groups and cultures. So, when people just use it without thinking and call it Gen Z slang, they are taking something from a culture, giving it a new name and claiming it as their own.