Black Vernacular English or as it is often called, African American Vernacular English (AAVE), is fundamentally a spoken language. In fact, it is several distinct dialects, encompassing the vernacular speech of blacks in the United States, the Caribbean, Britain, and elsewhere. Each of these black vernacular languages emerged within a particular racial and cultural context. Most significantly, the roots of Black Vernacular English lie in the experience of slavery and in the cultural collision between a multitude of African languages and an English-speaking dominant culture. It has been the subject of increased attention and occasional controversy since the 1960s.
The initial evaluation of Black Vernacular English was that is was merely an imperfectly learned approximation of "real" English, differing from it because the speakers were careless and lazy and didn't "follow the rules." It was seen as dialect, in the deprecating use of the word, or slang. The hypothesis was that Black children were "linguistically deprived," that they were either not exposed to the English language as much as other children or that the language they were exposed to was in some way vastly inferior and didn't allow them to develop linguistically as they should have.
Initial research confirmed the faulty hypothesis because researchers failed to take into account situational factors. They gathered data from interviewing young black schoolchildren. Researchers talked to children in ways that intimidated them; the children were, of course, much less responsive, preferring to give as little information as possible or simply to remain silent.
Later, more valid research indicated that black children did not have any kind of linguistic disability. Subsequent research involved gather data from children in a more relaxed setting with interviewers whom they would feel more comfortable with. This confirmed that black children had linguistic capabilities equivalent to their white peers, though there were distinct differences between their respective dialects.
There is debate about whether Black Vernacular English developed from a creole, but most linguists believe that it is probably a post-creole continuum.
Black English (or Black Vernacular English) has grammatical characteristics similar to other English based creoles, such as the English creole spoken in parts of the Dominican Republic that still retain a population of ex-slaves from the US. There exists a continuum between Black Vernacular English and standard English, as usually occurs with post-creoles and their "parent" languages. Individuals have large ranges of variance between their ethnic dialect and standard English.
Black Vernacular English is often unintelligible to speakers of standard English. Cross-cultural misunderstanding, arising from wrong assumptions, often occurs when a speaker of standard English encounters Black Vernacular English. The majority of English speakers tend to think Black Vernacular English, apart from the special slang, it is simply an impoverished version of English with a lot of grammatical mistakes.
There is a difference between making grammatical mistakes in Standard English and speaking correctly in a different variety of the language, one with a slightly different grammar, as is the case with Black Vernacular English which indeed has a regular, systematic grammar of its own.
An excellent example of this is the deletion of the copular verb 'to be'. One might say 'He rich' instead of 'He is rich'; and 'Dey ugly' for 'They are ugly', and so on. At first glance, deletion seems somewhat random, but there is nothing careless about this; there is a grammatical rule governing deletion, and it's actually rather complex to state. A brief version is:
In African-American Vernacular English you may omit forms of the copular verb 'be' provided all of the following conditions are met.
- It must not be accented. You never leave 'is' out of something like 'There already is one!'
- It mustn't end the sentence. You never say, 'I don't know what it is' without the 'is'.
- It mustn't begin the sentence. You never leave out the 'is' in a question like 'Is dat right?'
- It mustn't be an infinitive. You never leave out 'be' in something like 'You got to be strong' or an imperative like 'Be careful', or in one of those habitual aspect cases like 'He be laughin'.'
- It mustn't be in the past tense. You never leave out 'was' or 'were'.
- It mustn't be negated. You never leave out 'ain't' from something like 'He ain't no fool.'
- It mustn't be first person singular. You never leave out the 'am' of sentences like 'I'm yo' main man.'
From these and other readily observable examples, it isn't difficult to conclude that the only reasons for the early results that implied that Black Vernacular English was an "impoverished" version of standard English were simply artifacts of invalid methods of data gathering and interpretation.