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Black English Essay

5228 words - 21 pages

The English that was brought to America in seventeenth century was, of course, the language--or versions of the language--of Early Modern England. The year of the Captain John Smith's founding of Jamestown (1607) coincides roughly with Shakespeare's writing of Timon of Athens and Pericles, and the King James Bible (the "Authorized Version") was published only four years later, in 1611.
It was not long before writers on both sides of the Atlantic began to acknowledge the language's divergence. As early as the mid-seventeenth century, Samuel Johnson, in a review of Lewis Evans's "Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical, and Mechanical Essays," pays the [American] writer's language ...view middle of the document...

(Dissertation on the English Language 384-85, quoted in Dillard 32-3)
Three stages of settlement and influence can be discerned:
1. Beginning with the English settlement of Jamestown in 1607 and the landing of the Puritans in Massachusetts in 1620 (though the Pilgrims encountered Native Americans who were already speaking a pidgin English: Dillard 9ff.), the English language is established in America (along with Dutch, German, French, and other tongues).
2. The American Revolution creates a separate political identity, and along with it an expressed desire for a distinct linguistic identity. The Louisiana Purchase and the consequent expansion westward, accelerated by the discovery of gold in California contribute to linguistic intermingling and dialect leveling in the West.
3. The period of European immigration to the U. S. after the Civil War marks the next stage of large-scale linguistic infusions. Since the vast majority of these immigrants settled in the North, that is arguably the region where the greatest linguistic impact of immigration was also felt (see Carver 96-7).
An issue that transcends periodization is the language that results from the forced immigration of slaves from Africa: Black Vernacular English/African-American English/Ebonics.
More Recent influences
Since the mid-twentieth century, large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants have come to the U.S. from Mexico, Latin America, Puerto Rico, and Cuba, many settling in the formerly Spanish-speaking states of California, New Mexico, parts of Texas, and Arizona. Since the 1960s and the War in Vietnam, large numbers of Indo-Chinese immigrants have arrived, especially in the Pacific Coast states. One consequence of recent immigration, especially where Spanish-speakers are nearing majority status, is the passage of "English Only" or "Official English" laws. At present (1999), twenty-two states have adopted such laws and three others have Official English laws of somewhat different status: Louisiana has required records to be kept in English since 1811; Hawaii has English and Hawaiian established as official languages; and English was accorded official status by the Supreme Court in Massachusetts.
Early American English
The greatest linguistic influence results from first period of immigration and the establishment of the settlements of the original thirteen colonies:
* Northern
* New England was first settled by English speakers between 1620-1640. After the Puritans settle the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620, a second settlement center is established in 1635 in the Lower Connecticut River Valley (on the western side of the river). Even today, the Connecticut River is an important regional dialect boundary, separating the r-less dialect of Boston from the more r-ful dialects in western New England. Religious dissenters from the Massachusetts Bay Colony found the Rhode Island Colony in 1638, and the Narragansett Bay area forms another distinctive dialect...

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