African American Vernacular English Is Getting It’s Own Dictionary

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The Oxford Dictionary Of African American English

Source: Matthew Horwood / Getty

Another resource for Black linguistics is on the way. In the next few years, we will have the Oxford Dictionary of African American English. According to The New York Times, this new dictionary is a product of a collaboration between Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Oxford University Press.

The Oxford Dictionary of African American English won’t just consist of definitions and photos. With each word there will a historical background provided. The people behind these words will also be recognized. The origins of the word will be included as well.

“You wouldn’t normally think of a dictionary as a way of telling the story of the evolution of the African American people, but it is,” Henry Louis Gates Jr., the project’s editor in chief and the Hutchins Center’s director, said. “If you sat down and read the dictionary, you’d get a history of the African American people from A to Z.”

This project is being funded by grants from the Mellon and Wagner Foundations, the Times noted.

This project came to life after Oxford asked Gates to come on board to ensure language that is specific to the Black community was represented. Gates then took that idea to the next level.

“Black people took English and reinvented it, to make it reflect their sensibilities and to make it mirror their cultural selves,” Gates added.

Tracey Weldon, a member of the dictionary’s advisory board, said this project will highlight Black people’s contribution to the English language.

“It is almost never the case that African American English is recognized as even legitimate, much less ‘good’ or something to be lauded,” she said. “And yet it is the lexicon, it is the vocabulary that is the most imitated and celebrated — but not with the African American speech community being given credit for it.”

The Oxford Dictionary of African American English will be available in three years.

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