Novels Written in African American Vernacular English

[By Kenton Rambsy]

The language choices black novelists make constitute a liberation from Eurocentric concepts of literature as they manipulates the narrative mode and Standard English dialect and rely more on African AmericanVernacular English (AAVE). The use of AAVE for the speech of novel characters helps to give voice to groups of people who are often times disregarded from mainstream culture. The language choices of black writers offer insight into the emotional and social thoughts of black Southern communities—communities of people who, during the time of these publications, were grossly overlooked, undervalued, and misrepresented in literary representations.   

Today, I am extending the conversations of “word play” in black novels and focusing on three novels in our “100 Novels Collection”—Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Margaret Walker’s Jubilee, and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. These three novels rely almost exclusively on AAVE to offer the accounts of distinct impression about three female protagonists.  Below, I have provided excerpts from the novel that give you a sense of how characters use AAVE to express distinct ideas about very complicated cultural and social issues.
On Jaine’s returning to town.
Pheoby:   “Yes indeed. You know if you pass some people and don’t speak tuh suit ‘em dey got tuh go way back in yo’ life and see whut you ever done. They know mo’ ‘bout yuh than you do yo’ self. An envious heart makes a treacherous ear. They done ‘heard’ ‘bout you just what they hope done happened.”
On starting menstruation  
Aunt Sally:   “My Maw say that us colored folks knows what we knows now fore us come here from Affiky and that wisdom be your business with your womanhood: bout not letting your foots touch ground barefooted when your womanhood is on you. They useta hang up the young gals in the swinging trees and take them off way way from everybody else and they don’t take no bazing with water and they don’t let they footses straddle the reows in the fields less the crops will shrivel up and die. Just like a woman big with younguns don’t touch no fresh meat at hog-killing time, less they wants them to spile. You gotta be careful when your womanhood is on you.”
On recounting the ways of God to Nettie
Cellie:   “Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift.
Trying to chase that old white man out of my head.  I been so busy
thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make.
Not a blade of corn (how  it  do that?)
not the color purple (where it come from?).  Nothing.”