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Ep. 16: “What are your thoughts on the [So-Called] African-American Vernacular of English?”

“‘African-American Vernacular of English’ has certain implications just because of the title—because of the fact that it has ‘African-American’ in it. Some of the things that people tend to imply…is that it’s a dialect that all African-Americans speak, which is not accurate.” – Rachel Finley

On this episode of Speaking Of… I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Rachel Finley. Rachel is an actor, director, spoken-word artist, writer, and teacher specializing in acting, voice, and speech. Rachel is currently researching dialects of the African diaspora and I invited her as a follow-up to my last episode. I asked Rachel “What are your thoughts on the “So-Called African American Vernacular of English?” We talked about why AAVE is a useful term for linguists, but less so as a term to describe the accent of an entire race of people. Rachel shared her thoughts on what might be a better term, and offered perspectives on how she approaches researching and teaching accents of the diaspora (and beyond).

Interview Highlights: 

  • Why African-American Vernacular of English or AAVE isn’t an ideal title for an accent.

  • Why having an accent named after a race versus a region or culture is problematic.

  • The difference between intent vs. impact when describing accents.

  • Why focusing on regional accents is more ideal than focusing on one “general” accent.

  • What speech and accent teachers should consider in developing a speech curriculum for a group of students.

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