Oppression: Social Class Approximation Through Language,

A Literary and Historical Linguistic Analysis of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Its Portrayal of Ebonics
Oppression: Social Class Approximation through Language,
A Literary and Historical Linguistic Analysis of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and its Portrayal of Ebonics
By Kristoffer Martin

Dr. Audrey Fessler (19th Century Women’s Literature)

Dr. Lynsey Wolter (History of the English Language)
April 21st 2009

Global Question: What value does language have?
Primary Question: How has African American English been affected by social, gender, and racial class differences in the 19th century?

-With specific reference to “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl”


Part I: An Analysis of African American English.

A Brief History of African American English-linguistic development

-Common Dialect Similarities

-Dialectic differences

-Intralingual and interlingual impressions

Conclusion A

Part II: Literary examples and references indicating influences and differences between African American English and High English in representing Social Class.

-Dialects as portrayed in ILSG

Components of Social Class



Conclusion B

Epilogue: Comprehensive Conclusion

Meta-text (References denoted by superscripted numbers in the main body of the paper)

Works Cited


African American English has been a relegated, but important, piece to the development of the American English since its conception. With the insertion of slaves the development of Black English (or Pidgin) began a separation of engendered intelligence which reinforced the superiority of slave owners. As slaves first interacted with people using this language, and then were freed and spread north, Black English went with it and began to change the Standard English it encountered. Harriet Jacob’s “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” represents this very spread north and the inequality exemplified in language. It details linguistic change in social class separated by gender and race.
The following is an attempt to answer the question of ’what is the value of language? By following the development of Ebonics and the separations of gender and race, both of which are apart of social class, the answer to the question should become clear.

Part I: An Analysis of African American English

American English would not be as it is today if Black English had not been established. Unfortunately, little is known about the history of Ebonics. This is because during slavery times African Americans were usually not allowed to become literate. Consequently the development of Black Englishes1, a simplification and blending of the English and African languages emerged as dialects in slavery holding states. African-American English has many dialects that range in form and share components of other regional dialects of English that were not strictly unique to Black English. Black English dialects utilized a range of dialectical structures that are compounded into a unique form in comparison to the dialects of English they borrowed from. This infusion is derived from the very nature of the situation in which the slaves found themselves, out of their home country, and transplanted into a new social order.

J. L. Dillard’s Black English offers that the idea of influence from native African language on the production of Black English is “too simple” because, it “seem(s) unlikely by the language mixing practices of the slave dealers” that the African Languages would not be in common enough to have an affect on Pidgin production. This is supported through statements by slave captains like Captain William Smith who said, “…as of the languages of Gambia they are so many and so different that the natives on either side the river cannot understand each other” (Dillard 73). A second theory was that the Pidgin English came from the mixture of native language with the English Colonies that existed in Africa which Dillard address as “even less likely in view of dialectic leveling, a very well-known phenomenon in migration, which means that even the white residents of colonial America did not speak or transmit ‘British’ regional dialects.” This means that it is more than likely that African American English started after the injection of slaves into North America and not through the interaction of previous slavery ships from other countries and the mixing of African languages before their capture and sale by slave traders.

Pidgin languages, however, started long before the advent of Afro-American English. Such languages have been around since the first enslavement of one people by another. What causes the creation of pidgin language is a “brutal necessity” of which “the rules of language are dictated by what the language must convey” (Baldwin 151). Pidgin languages are built around intersecting languages of people who need to communicate. So what did Black English have to convey? Though native African languages survived in the first generation of slaves, and new slaves brought to the US, these languages were wiped out except for a few handfuls of words by the third or forth generation of US born slaves. An event expressed by Second Language Acquisition studies as linguistic acculturation. The native African languages were replaced by pidgin in the first generation of slaves, which later became a Creole as a first language along with Standard English. Pidgin (and later the Creole it turned into) was a way to communicate, simply, with a new language that often did not fall in the same linguistic category that most native African languages did. Pidgin served as an intermediary language to communicate with other slaves who did not speak in-common native languages and to communicate with the slave masters. Millward describes pidgin as “nobody’s native language” and it is a “contact language used between groups whose native languages are mutually unintelligible” (404). In a sense this maybe why Pidgin and Creole languages are looked down upon today, their simplicity and nonstandard-ness is different from the English everyone else speaks. The subtle difference between a Pidgin language and a Creole language is how they are used and how they perpetuate. A Pidgin becomes a Creole once it becomes the native language of a people. Usually this occurs when people who speak a pidgin have children, such as the slaves in the US did, and the children grow up with the pidgin as their first language (Millward 404).

Black English today is certainly looked down upon as it was in the 18th and 19th centuries. James Baldwin states in his essay If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What It Is? “people evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances” (151). Historically the Pidgin and later Creole of slaves was seen as ignorant or uneducated, and even today the concept of Black English is not well accepted. “Many native speakers of Standard English assume that nonstandard speakers are ignorant, lazy, and less capable intellectually” (Baugh 4). Creole English has its own rules, and is just as grammatical in nature as Standard English. It was a new language created out of diversity as a way for slaves and then later freed Afro-Americans to control and preserve their history as a unique culture. Unfortunately as Dillard points out in Black English most runaways and freed slaves had to obtain a relative semblance to Standard English to escape, and most likely even a level of literacy. Field hands who spoke the Plantation Creole were less likely to escape when compared to those of a higher class of slave, those who worked in the household and were exposed more often to Standard English (85). In the case of Harriet Jacobs and her narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl the variance of slave class and Black English language approximation is presented in just this manner.

Jacob’s presents the Black English of her time in class levels and of the few examples of true Black English she provides, the phonological, morphological, grammatical, and syntactic differences that exist come forth. In the following passage we see Harriet use Black English vernacular in her friend Betty’s dialogue, in comparison to her narrative and how she speaks to her masters.
When my friend came, at her usual time, I told her what had happened. “I knows who it was,” said she. “’Pend upon it, ’twas dat Jenny. Dat nigger allers go de debble in her.” I suggested that she might have seen or heard something excited her curiosity. “Tut tut chile!” Exclaimed Betty, “she ain’t seen notin’, nor learn notin’.” (258)
Some of the key changes in Black English as seen above are changes in beginning consonant sounds, short simple sentences, and end consonant drops. What I find odd however is the switch up that Jacobs does with Betty’s speech when she is depending on her for supplies and good word. In the following example the heavy Black English used by Betty becomes closer to Standard English.

“I don’t want no tanks, honey. I’se glad I could help you, and I hope de good Lord will open de path for you. I’se gwine wid you to de lower gate. Put your hands in your pockets, and walk rickety, like de sailors.” (259)
The use of a double negative occurs and the change of beginning consonants exists, but the syntax and grammar is less simplified and more like Standard English.

I think that some of the key differences in Black English in the 18th century, as provided by Jacobs are as follows. Voiced palate and labial dental sounds, like |th| become voiced |d| in the beginning of words (will to vill), voiceless |th| drops the h to a voiceless |t| in the beginning of words, but becomes |d| at the end of words. The dropping of the g in the ending ing to make the more simple sound of -in instead of the diphthong -ing is common; and the use of is in a contraction instead of am, and possibly the odd formation of gwine for going, also occurs. Most of these changes are like the changes expressed by Dillard and Millward in Black Englishes of the period that Jacobs was writing in. Jacobs’ examples of Black English vernacular is spread over both a period of time and over a period of transition from one part of the country to another. She started in Edenton, North Carolina, went west to Green Hall Plantation, Wateree River, Kershaw County North Carolina, after several years there she moved north west to Virginia, and then to New York. The vernacular she encounters and describes over this period of time of travel corresponds to language approximation to Standard English by Black English dialect speakers, along with social class positions. A similar track of travel occurred by a British visitor, J.F.D Smyth which Dillard gives an account of.2

J.F.D. Smyth, who acquired a slave while in the US in Carolina in the late 18th century states this about the language of the salve, “…for he scarcely understood a single word I said to him, nor did I know one syllable of his language” (Dillard 87). This shows that even nearing the turn of the century there was a lacking understanding of Black Englishes separated by region and class position; which could then be argued that this stage of Black English Dialects was nearly as unrecognizable as the Old English to a Modern English speaker. I believe that slaves used their dialect’s incomprehensibility as a means of controlling who purchased them, and where they went. If a slave owner could not understand a slave, he would be less inclined to purchase that slave. The practice of language separation made this difficult to maintain among slaves, but once groups with similar native languages formed under the same ownership, their pidgin language would have been far more likely to be unique. It so happened that this slave that Smyth had purchased was of eastern Virginia, which would have had a closer dialect to a new slave pidgin than to plantation Creole, was sold by Smyth who then purchased a second slave who originated on a plantation in North Carolina. The example of language given by Smyth of the new slave’s language is understandable, but no where near Standard English. “Key massa, you just leave me, me sit here, great fish jump up into de canoe, here he is massa, fine fish, massa…” (Dillard 87). Dillard clarifies this separation and evolution of Black English with Benjamin Franklin’s reiteration of the verbiage of a slave using the enclitic (a word which is joined to another so closely as to lose its proper accent, as the pronoun thee in prithee (pray thee)) vowel -ee in his Information to Those Who Would Remove to America “Boccarorra (a form of buckra ‘white men’) make the Black Man workee, make a Horse workee, make the Ox workee, make ebery thing workee…”(Dillard 89). These examples of Black Englishes over the course of Smyth’s travels during the American Revolution (late 18th century) show a separation and difference between the new slave Pidgin and plantation Creole. More over it supports the transition of language class and position of Pidgin and Creole usage from east to west that Jacobs illustrates in Incidents. The progression of examples of the language from region to region, as depicted by Smyth, shows a closer approximation to Standard English. This progression was observed by writers and slavers alike and noted upon through the 18th century and by the 19th century Black English was so common that it had filtered into many publications. Because of this, the recognition of regional Black Englishes arose.

Regional differences as depicted by Jacobs and by Dillard, which extended from the main centers of slave trade, are key indicators of language class approximation.

In the 19th century a separation in slavery policy formed between the north and south and African American freed slaves, who had moved to the north, began an era of writing that is now called the Slave Narratives. Freed slaves used Standard English as a political tool to elevate themselves to a status of equality. “It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity” (Baldwin). Unfortunately, I believe that in doing so they destroyed any chance of Black English ever of being seen as an equal international dialect; the very act lowered the status of slaves unable to use Standard English to a greater extent. This is the beginning of the stunting of Black English in its development, and is probably one of the top reasons why it plateaued in the mid-19th century. With the advent of the US Civil War, even more slave narratives and stories came into the public eye and yet more African Americans gave up the Creole English for Standard English in their attempt to raise themselves above the status of slaves.
From an intralinguistic (with in a language, or in this case a point of view with in the community of Black English speakers) point of view the shift towards Standard English came at a cost of losing the function and validity Black English had as a tool to maintain a community, even though it carries on into the 20th and 21st centuries. From an interlinguistic point of view words that could not be dropped or lost, as they did not have equivalents in Standard English, were borrowed, supplying loan words like jazz. What I believe to be the case, from the circumstances that the preceding evidences suggest is that socially the slave race was then divided into an upper and lower class of African Americans, something not really seen during the period of slavery though suggested by the progression both Smyth and Jacobs’ use; and with it came upper and lower class African American Vernacular English. Obviously the lower class was far closer to the Creole dialects, while the upper class was closer to the Standard English. Jacobs’ illustration of linguistic change progression in Black English from East to West and from lower class to upper class positions of slaves supports this idea of a separation between upper and lower class AAVE in the late 19th century, though few examples in the later part of Incidents are forth right.

Black English in the U.S. developed and followed a progression very similar to the development of Standard English, but did so in a far shorter time (probably because an end language already existed and changes from Early Modern English to Present Day English impacted upon the Black Englishes.) With the advent of social class structure reform and the end of slavery, the need for the Black English as a means of controlling where and to whom a slave was sold to, dropped away. Slavery alone furnished the need for Black English to exist and without slavery the Creole dialects would be met with greater distain and prejudice from a lopsided social view; but in turn would be the backbone to an entire African American culture in the US.

Part II: Literary examples and references indicating influences and differences between African American English and High English in representing Social Class.

Slaves used their language to capture the immense weight of their experiences under the oppression of those who would trade and traffic human lives. I believe that among these practices of freed slaves, one was to forego the use of their Pidgin and Creole Englishes in an effort to elevate themselves to a status of equality with their once despised masters. Such that a language class approximation is established, much like the positions of Second Language Learners go through in approximating their language to the new language’s originating culture1. In their attempt to seize the equality and membership of the society that once held them as property they condemned those not so fortunate to suffer more ill fates than that which they escaped. “Language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identity. It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from the larger, public, or communal identity.” (Baldwin) The separation of social class, through racial and gender discrimination was (and still is today) the primary method of disenfranchisement. Often the differences in language dialects are used to determine the status of class, education, and heritage in the US. This function of language has been staunchly illustrated by slave narratives written in the 19th century, among which was Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
Subversively the use of Afro-American Englishes in slave narratives was not a matter of representing the actual form of the dialects, but a means to verify a social convention held by the upper class. Harriet Jacobs uses this convention in her story as a way to confirm the authenticity of the (her) story to the majority, potentially hostile, white audience while inserting actual Creole and Pidgin into the dialogue. Convention aside, Jacobs does one thing that most other slave narratives do not, and that is show the asymmetry of slave relationships between men and women and master and slave through her use of dialects.

In most slave narratives dialects of Creole and Pidgin are intermingled with Standard English, which presented the actual dialect of slaves inaccurately; and in doing so depict a far less intelligent population of African Americans than there actually was. The use of the Pidgin and Creole Englishes was a means of control employed by slaves to maintain their families and forego the loss of sale, the only control they really had. Yet the common belief of Black English was that dialogue "vividly re-create the particular creolization of the English that have proliferated regionally across the American continent; these creolizations were presented as unaffected, “artless” versions of an (over-conventionalized) Standard English" (Levy, Andrew Dialect and Convention: Harriet A. Jacobs’ ILSG, 207) Jacobs shows this use of language, even in following the common use of language other slave narratives used. Levy thinks that Jacobs’ dialect is only substituting one “romantic convention” for another. However, I believe that examples from Incidents like, ‘“Tut! Tut! Chile!” exclaimed Betty, "she ain’t seen notin’, nor hearn notin’. She only ‘spects sometin. Dat’s all. She wants to fine out who hab cut and make my gownd"’(Jacobs, 258) only show that Jacobs was trying to make a much clearer or realistic example of 19th century Black English than what Levy believes she had embodied. Jacobs uses language and her narrative to show class difference between slaves and the upper class, and “focuses on several specific evils of slavery that degraded the black female slave and tore apart the black family” (Stover, Nineteenth-Century African American Women’s Autobiography as Social Discourse: The Example of Harriet Ann Jacobs, 134)

Dialogue to Jacobs was a means of showing a separation of social class, which she and other former slaves noticed. The challenges of social class separation through dialect forms are marginalized in most readings of ILSG for a less warranted acceptance of slave narrative conventions. But with a closer reading of Jacobs’ use of dialect a clear separation of gender roles and racial roles is presented. Through out her account Jacobs (Linda) does not use the Pidgin as she presents other slaves as doing, nor the interlingual mix of Pidgin and Standard English, but rather she only uses Standard English. As a tool this elevates her to the equal footing of her slave masters and the white audience she is writing for. Even with this class positioning, she still describes a separation between how she acts around upper class (white slave owners) and other slaves.
The dynamic relationship between Mr. Flint and Linda shows the highest stage of equity approximation between master and slave. Mr. Flint, wanting Linda for himself (sexually and otherwise) fails the principles of his faith deeming a moral status and social status as his attitude towards Linda. The same then becomes true of Linda, who though she must obey Mr. Flint she withholds the one thing Mr. Flint wants of her. In this sense her gender is preserved, her honor as a woman is held and she is above Mr. Flint from the stance of morality, but from race she is still beneath him and still owned by him. A similar approximation of equality occurs between Mrs. Flint and Linda. In her attempt to find asylum from Mr. Flint, Linda seeks out Mrs. Flint for protection from his advances, even knowing that it was all too possible that she would be flogged or beat for the act. Unlike her represented position with Mr. Flint, Linda’s status is differently assumed between her and Mrs. Flint, who sees her first and foremost as a fellow woman. "Slavery is terrible for men; but it is far more terrible for women. Superadded to the burden common to all, they have wrongs, and sufferings, and mortifications peculiarly their own “(Jacobs 218-219) Mrs. Flint saw Linda as another rival for the sexual and emotional connection to her husband (not that Mrs. Flint, after the number of affairs that Mr. Flint had in the past really cared for the connection). The fundamental difference here is that gender for slaves and white women were not much different in the eyes of men, and arguably Mrs. Flint’s view of Linda as a slave was less established in ILSG as her image of Linda as a fellow woman. Jacob’s represents this connection of an almost anti-oppressor relationship between Linda and Mrs. Flint in their language.
’”Did you know you were to sleep in the doctor’s room?"
“Yes, ma’am.”
“Who told you?”
“My master.”
“Will you answer truly all the questions I ask?”
“Tell me, then, as you hope to be forgiven, are you innocent of what I have accused you?”’ (Jacobs, 164-165)
Mrs. Flint’s language is exact, un-condescending and purpose filled. It shows neither ownership nor forced articulation. It has neither intonation of nor attempted pidgin. A clear sign of matriarchal respect regardless of the social station they both carry. Gender at this time, as presented by Jacobs, heavily influences the treatment of slaves. Further both level of perceived intelligence and education determines the separation in 2class level approximation. This separation with in the gender and racial discrimination lies then a hierarchal dissemination between perceived intelligences and there in social class approximation. This hierarchal structure is presented based on linguistic capability through out the Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. If Linda was not as educated as she was, and as well mannered as she was, the connection that Mrs. Flint makes with Linda, however distained it might have been, would not have had the same view of status on both women’s parts. For this moment, when Mrs. Flint speaks to Linda about Mr. Flint’s affair, slavery is left behind and it is two women speaking on terms of adultery. This very section shows the discrimination towards women, and how white women were treated as slaves just as much as black women were3. “Many who have at last made the discovery that the negroes have some rights as well as other members of the human family, have yet to be convinced that women are entitled to any” (Douglass (from Feminism) 85)

In conversations with other slaves including her grandmother there is an inflection of overtly inserted Creole language that does not accurately represent the pidgin that slaves used. This is closer to the common slave narrative convention in representing Black Englishes. The common practice in slave narrative writers was to use specific non-halting vocabulary from Black Englishes with in an otherwise Standard English sentence. For example, from the first page of chapter three, “‘Please, massa, hire me this year. I will work very hard, massa.’” The sentence is more or less a normal sentence, but the use of massa versus master is one of these covert insertions of Black English. Fredrick Douglass in his Narrative of his life does a similar thing on the last page of chapter one (and through out the narrative), in example “‘Now, you d——d b—-h, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!’” Here he used learn in stead of teach, a commonly expected switch in the Black English Vernaculars. However Jacobs steps away from this convention the lower or further characters in her narrative are from the social class approximation. A strong example is a step below Linda’s approximation to Linda’s grandmother who has nearly perfect Standard English with the exception of swap off in specific creole conventions. Instead of using doesn’t she uses don’t in the following example. “‘Poor little souls! what would you do without a mother? She don’t love you as I do”’ (Jacobs,

Another step down in social approximation we see even greater deviation from Standard English, in the following example it is Linda listening to two women, one of whom is a house-maid, “‘Did you know Linda Brent’s children was sold off to the speculator yesterday. They say ole massa Flint was glad to see ’em drove off out of town” (Jacobs, 255) The house-maid who speaks is at yet a lower station in the social hierarchal structure than either Linda or he grandmother. This pattern follows constantly through the hierarchal structure of approximation in ILSG. Linda is higher up than both her grandmother and the made. She is seated with a certain level of privilege that the other slaves she works with do not have. She speaks directly and often with her masters, and as stated before is even, in some sense, on par with Mrs. Flint. Linda’s language and use of English is also on the same level of her masters through out the novel, where as her Grandmother’s vernacular is slightly affected by Creole, and the made has a strong injection of Creole in her speech.

The hierarchal structure then comes full circle to the original example of Creole given on page 258. Betty, who is one of Linda’s friends on Flint’s property, is one of the lowest rung of social class approximation and her use of Creole is the closest to actual Black English of the time. What I see then is a hierarchal progression of approximation then does two things in Jacobs’ writing; one, it shows a social class differentiation which at first glance appears innocuous to the characters or representation of slave life, and two, it supplies a means for freed slaves, and slave writers to oppress their fellows in an attempt to find equality in a white society. Though the apparent language between Linda and Mr. Flint is certainly of an oppressor oppressed nature, the actual oppressor in Jacobs’ narrative is Jacobs herself. Unfortunately her use of Standard English and separation of herself from the culture she comes from, linguistically, she oppresses others, as did most other slave narratives. This may seem radical, but the common path to gain anything is to step on others to reach that goal. And though her work did in fact oppress other slaves, it did something far greater. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl generated a path for fellow women slaves to express their experiences. Jacobs’ intentional use of a romantic form that followed the slave narrative genre actually dismissed the traditional slave narrative form as oppressing of others, as she stepped away from the traditional forms of the male slave narrative (physical trauma and escape) and exposed the emotional and psychological abuse that existed towards women. She expressed the structure of oppression of slaves in way that most could not see, using language as a catalyst to show the hierarchal structure of oppression and social class approximation.

The consequence of Jacobs’ narrative was a new way to look at the slave narrative, both from a feminist point of view, but from that of the levels of oppression. The concepts of language she used showed level of education, and the discrimination that was common in the life of a female slave and slaves in general. Though her use of language elevated her to the status of oppressor, equity on par with Mrs. Flint, ILSG preserved the crime of slavery and discrimination. It preserved a sense of the reality of the language used and the power of language when nothing else could leverage the personal rights denied to slaves. The oppression caused by Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was far out weighed by what it accurately and successfully portrayed of the history of slavery in the United States.

Epilogue: What is the value of language?
Language provides a tool to express, define, and gain control. In the instances of slave narratives, they provided a way to become equal to the oppressing white society. Language represents education, knowledge, and society. It represents tradition and unity of a people. It is developed from adversity and combines the uniqueness of its users into a community. Language as used in Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and by freed slaves was a major contributor to the abolishment of slavery, and the gaining of rights by the African American nation in the years to follow ILSG.

Rights activists like Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Lucretia Mott, and George Sand would use language to solidify the women’s rights movement and the black rights movement. The linguistic development of Pidgin and Creole English supplied a foundation to unite African Americans. As a language it became a tradition, though it was nearly lost, and it was carried into the 20th century. The attempt to proximate language and there in social class by freed slaves no longer had the value it once had and instead the use of Black English became a source of power for Black Rights fighters. James Baldwin says “language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identity. It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from the larger, public, or communal identity.” This is the sentiment used by the Black Rights movement. Unfortunately the advancement and settlement of the dialect has had its consequences in the late 20th century and early 21st century. Where once Ebonics was seen as right of inheritance, a tradition passed down, (and though it is still seen as this now), the connotation of the language has lost the power of yesteryears and been turned into what it once was, a means of oppression and disenfranchisement. “Black English is apart of the creation of a black diaspora” that has caused a loss in communal and historical identity in the current era and it has lost the power it once held after the end of slavery. (Baldwin, 153)

Mal-education for those who speak Black English in today’s education system has become the structure for social disenfranchisement of generations of black citizens. The sad truth is even today few white people, who have the station in the highest of echelons of the current social system, “never had any interest in educating black people” unless it was a means for them to assist and work for the white class. (Baldwin, 153) The oppression, racism, and sexism of the 18th and 19th century were carried into the 20th century and now the 21st century, attacking the same groups of people through the same established social class approximation and hierarchal structure. The key difference is that no longer are African Americans enslaved directly to a white upper class, instead classes of monetary power (power often denied to non-white peoples) are enslaved and disenfranchised to a cooperate system. Black English as a dialect has affected generations of different classes, genres of entertainment, and most of all American culture as a whole. So has the situation that it was needed and developed, slavery.
The power of language has been used to fight slavery, and it was used to free the ignorance of an entire people. Unfortunately that language has been suppressed again and lost to a hopelessly enslaved society unwilling to hear the cries of sovereignty of a unique culture. Language is a powerful tool able to bring down the might of kings and squelch the pain of loss, but if it is not allowed to prosper, it will be lost and the situation of slavery seen just a century ago will be free to surface again.

I have decided to include a meta-text for this paper to discuss briefly some of the issues that occurred while researching and writing this paper.
General notes: I used brackets as a means to clarify terms that I could not or did not directly introduce.
I developed the theory I present here based on what Baldwin said about language as a tool. I feel that this progression is strongly embedded in the novel, and is truthful to the social class approximation through perceived linguistic prowess (and there in education) of regional dialects of Black English.

Part I
1) I should explain that I use Pidgin and Creole interchangeably at times. This is because through out the process that Black English undergoes and develops through, Pidgin and Creole existed side by side, and arguably were the same language at times. This is another reason for the confusion over the history and progression of the language. Because new slaves brought into the US spoke Pidgin and not Creole, and generations born in the US spoke a Creole and not a Pidgin, the separation is blurred. There is no true distinction between the two languages except for class and slight changes in relation to Standard English and each other.
2) Here I was only giving examples of what the differences as shown by Jacobs and Dillard were between Black English and Standard English. I am not attempting to explain where these differences come from, or why they are there, I am only showing the differences for what they are.

Part II
1) The terminology approximation I used here actually comes from a different class, second language acquisition. In talking about the acquisition of a foreign language there are stages of approximation to proficiency in the language that is closest to the native speaker. This same structure of stages appears to be true for the Black English and the speakers in relation to their social status.
2) I decided to maintain the gender aspect as I found a passage by Jacobs that supports my claim that she saw the incident with Mrs. Flint more on the terms of womanhood and not slave and master.
Problems: Two major problems challenged me in writing this paper, time, and sources. Personally I would have welcomed several more sources and the time to find more sources on both topics of this paper. Further I would want to include a third part that delves into the consequences of the Slave Narrative and Black English on the 20th century education system. Unfortunately I do not have the time for this in this version of the paper.
In the literary analysis I remained in the beginning of Incidents because many of the dialogue examples that I needed to show the progression occurred there and not in the rest of the book. Further the oppressor oppressed dynamic was strongest in the beginning of the novel. In the linguistic part of the essay I did not have the time to break down and develop a backwards analysis of the evolution of Black English, but in a future revision of this paper I plan to present that as well. Extended: I tried to correct several of the mistakes brought to my attention, provide more evidence to support my claims and point out what is original to me more. I still do not feel this paper is complete, but with the time allotted and my being sick I think that the corrections made do help the paper read more clearly.

Consequentially though this is a literary and historical linguistic analysis of Black English and Incidents it became a political analysis of language as well. Which I really couldn’t avoid considering the nature of the analysis.
Thanks much for your time in reading this essay.
Sincerely Kristoffer Martin

Work Cited:
Baldwin, James If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?
Copyright 1979

Baugh, John Out of the Mouths of Slaves copyright 1999

Dillard, J.L. Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States
Copyright 1972 ISBN 0-394-46760-4

Jacobs, Harriet Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl
Douglass, Fredrick Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave
(The Modern Library Classics edition) Copyright 2004 ISBN 0-345-47823-1

Millward, C. M. A Biography of the English Language 2nd Edition
Copyright 1996 ISBN 0-1550-1645-8

Letter Perfect: The Present Perfect in early African American correspondence.
Van Herk, Gerard1 gvanherk@mun.ca
Source: English World-Wide; 2008, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p45-69, 25p, 5 charts
Document Type: Article

Schneir, Miriam (editor) FEMINISM: The Essential Historical Writings, copyright 1992.

Linguistic Bibliography

Baugh, John Out of the Mouths of Slaves; African American Language and Educational Malpractice Copyright 1999 ISBN 0-292-70872-6

Dillard, J.L. Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States
Copyright 1972 ISBN 0-394-46760-4

Millward, C. M. A Biography of the English Language 2nd Edition
Copyright 1996 ISBN 0-1550-1645-8

Public and academic understandings about language: The intellectual history of Ebonics.
Kretzschmar, Jr., William A.1 kretzsch@uga.edu
English World-Wide; 2008, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p70-95, 26p
Author Affiliations: University of Georgia
ISSN: 0172-8865
DOI: 10.1075/eww.29.1.05kre
Database: Communication & Mass Media Complete

Letter Perfect: The Present Perfect in early African American correspondence.
Van Herk, Gerard1 gvanherk@mun.ca
English World-Wide; 2008, Vol. 29 Issue 1, p45-69, 25p, 5 charts
Document Type: Article
Author Affiliations: Memorial University of Newfoundland
ISSN: 0172-8865
DOI: 10.1075/eww.29.1.04van
Database: Communication & Mass Media Complete

The earliest Gullah/aave texts: A case of 19th‐century mesolectal variation.
Troike, Rudolph C.1 rtroike@email.arizona.edu
Journal of Pidgin & Creole Languages; 2003, Vol. 18 Issue 2, p159-229, 71p
Document Type: Article
Author Affiliations: University of Arizona.
ISSN: 0920-9034
DOI: 10.1177/0075424206293381
Journal of English Linguistics 2006; 34; 233
Edgar W. Schneider and Ulrich Miethaner
American English
Complementation Patterns in an Electronic Corpus of Earlier African
When I started to using BLUR: Accounting for Unusual Verb

Dialect and Convention: Harriet A. Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Andrew Levy
Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Sep., 1990), pp. 206-219
University of California Press Stable
Accessed: 04/04/2009 16:59

Theorizing the Postcoloniality of African American English
Mary B. Zeigler and Viktor Osinubi
Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 32, No. 5 (May, 2002), pp. 588-609
Sage Publications, Inc. Stable
Accessed: 04/04/2009 17:09

Dialect Accommodation in a Bi-Ethnic Mountain Enclave Community: More Evidence on the Development of African American English
Christine Mallinson and Walt Wolfram
Language in Society, Vol. 31, No. 5 (Nov., 2002), pp. 743-775
Cambridge University Press Stable
Accessed: 04/04/2009 17:07

Literary Bibliography

Jacobs, Harriet Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl (The Modern Library Classics edition) Copyright 2004 ISBN 0-345-47823-1

Baldwin, James If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?
Copyright 1979

The Novelization of Voice in Early African American Narrative
William L. Andrews Source: PMLA, Vol. 105, No. 1, Special Topic: African and African American Literature (Jan., 1990), pp. 23-34
Modern Language Association Stable
Accessed: 04/04/2009 17:02

Native Daughters: My Place and Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Robin Dizard Source: MELUS, Vol. 22, No. 4, Ethnic Autobiography (Winter, 1997), pp. 147-162
The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS) Stable
Accessed: 04/04/2009 17:00

Through Slave Culture’s Lens Comes the Abundant Source: Harriet A. Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Karen E. Beardslee Source: MELUS, Vol. 24, No. 1, African American Literature (Spring, 1999), pp. 37-58
The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States (MELUS) Stable
04/04/2009 17:01

African-American Slave Narratives: Literacy, the Body, Authority
Lindon Barrett Source: American Literary History, Vol. 7, No. 3, Imagining a National Culture (Autumn, 1995), pp. 415-442
Oxford University Press Stable
Accessed: 04/04/2009 17:02

Dialect and Convention: Harriet A. Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
Andrew Levy Source: Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Sep., 1990), pp. 206-219
University of California Press Stable
04/04/2009 16:59

Nineteenth-Century African American Women’s Autobiography as Social Discourse: The Example of Harriet Ann Jacobs
Johnnie M. Stover Source: College English, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Nov., 2003), pp. 133-154 National Council of Teachers of English Stable
04/04/2009 16:51

Oppression: Social Class Approximation Through Language,


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A literary analysis of Black English in slave narratives.


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