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What is African American English?

African American English (AAE) is a systematic, rule-governed oral language system. American English has many varieties (e.g., Southern English and Appalachian English). AAE is a variety of American English that is spoken by many African American (AA) children, but not all of them. Children learn AAE in their homes and communities. AAE represents a strong cultural connection for children to their families, their churches, and other meaningful spaces outside of school. Although you may see evidence of AAE in your student’s writing, like most spoken language varieties, it is not technically a written system.

AAE has distinct features and rules that are represented in all 5 language domains:

  1. Syntax rules for creating sentences
  2. Morphology word endings and prefixes
  3. Phonology — rules for sounds in words
  4. Semantics rules for word meanings
  5. Pragmatics — rules for conventions

Children develop an understanding of the use of AAE through listening to and engaging in conversations with other AAE speakers. Washington and Seidenberg’s 2021 article, Teaching Reading to African American Children, provides more examples of AAE, including a table with features and examples from children who speak AAE.

Reading Universe is made possible by generous support from Jim & Donna Barksdale, the American Federation of Teachers, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and three anonymous donors.

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