who does language belong to? who owns the rights to a particular tongue, dialect, or vernacular? can you gate-keep language?

for my dissertation on palestinian hip-hop in israel and the diaspora, i’ve had to do some research on AAVE: african american vernacular english, the dialect spoken among many african americans within their communities, and the dialect used in hip-hop. my question is: is the use of AAVE by arab rappers and hip-hop artists considered appropriation? according to an arab-american friend of mine, his african american entourage consider him one of their own, and if anything, might ostracize him for using standard english when communicating with them.

a few months ago, awkwafina was criticized for using a “blaccent” in the movie, crazy rich asians, despite the fact that she grew up in queens, a predominantly black neighborhood.

because aave is considered “wrong” or “slang”, african american children are often told to speak “properly”. however, a lot of people have noticed that in fact, aave isn’t simply some haphzard misuse of the english language, but is, to some degree, its own language, and certainly its own dialect. it presents all the tenets and elements of a language/dialect, with linguistic and grammatical nuances and peculiarities that must be respected. some examples of this are the habitual ‘be’. to say ‘she be going to the salon’ is to say ‘she’s going to the salon’. ‘she been going to the salon’, on the other hand, means she goes there frequently, but isn’t necessarily there now. and these two variations are not inter-changeable.

another example is the use of double negatives. to say ‘there ain’t no one here’ is to say that ‘there isn’t anyone here’, and it would be incorrect to say ‘there ain’t anyone here’, in both senses.

considering that we agree that aave is a dialect, perhaps even a language in its own right, with its own nuances, the question is: who’s allowed to use it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s