African American Vernacular English/Pronunciation

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African American Vernacular English (AAVE), differs from standard Mainstream American English (MAE) pronunciation in a number of ways. These mostly involve reductions in consonant clusters, as well as the alteration of the dental fricatives: ð and θ ("th"); and the velar nasal: ŋ.

Sound Changes[edit | edit source]

TH sounds: ð and θ[edit | edit source]

The dental fricatives: ð as in thy, and θ as in thigh, are cross-linguistically uncommon, and in many dialects of English (not just AAVE), they become alveolar/dental plosives "d" and "t", labio-dental fricatives (v and f) or both. In AAVE, they can become either, and the change depends on the context.

  1. At the start of a word, they become plosives, therefore
  • ð becomes d so that "the" is pronounced "da"
/ð/ ---> /d/ so that /ðʌ/ ---> /dʌ/
  • θ becomes a t so that "thin" is pronounced "tin."
/θ/ ---> /t/ so that /θɪn/ ---> /tɪn/

Velar nasal: "ng"[edit | edit source]

AAVE does not have the velar nasal /ŋ/ (ng) found in MAE, instead, it becomes /n/, a feature is also found in some southern American English dialects.

/ŋ/ (represented as <ng>) is pronounced /n/ (<n>) so that talking (IPA /tɔːkiŋ/) becomes talkin', or /tɔːkin/

Consonant cluster reduction[edit | edit source]

Final consonant clusters[edit | edit source]

English has a large number of word-final consonant clusters, these can be divided into three types. Note that for the present time, we are not including consonant clusters formed by plurals and past tense, as AAVE has different rules for those.

  • 1. Unvoiced consonant clusters
    • sp
    • st
    • sk
    • ft
    • pt
  • 2. Voiced consonant clusters
    • nd
    • ld
    • rb
    • rd
  • 3 Mixed consonant clusters
    • mp
    • nt
    • nk
    • lt
    • rp
    • rt
    • rk

All English dialects have already begun the process of cluster reduction, (notice the pronunciation of "thumb" and "thing", "talk") however AAVE takes it further. In normal circumstances, all final consonant clusters of the first two types are reduced, with the second letter not being pronounced. In the third kind, with mixed clusters, the final consonant is pronounced.


  • test ---> tes' /test/--->/tes/
  • tend ---> ten' /tend/--->/ten/


  • tent ---> tent (no change)

Morphophonology[edit | edit source]

In AAVE, morphological markers are retained, even if they result in word final clusters

Plural[edit | edit source]

The plural marker in AAVE is pronounced, even if it forms a word-final cluster. Therefore

  • pest ---> pes' /pest/ ---> /pes/


  • pets ---> pets (no change)

Past tense[edit | edit source]

The past tense marker is also retained compare

  • past ---> pas' /pæst/ ---> /pæs/
  • passed ---> passed /pæst/ ---> /pæst/ (no change)

Possessive[edit | edit source]

Initial consonant clusters[edit | edit source]

MAE has a number of initial consonant clusters containing three sounds. In this clusters, the first letter is always /s/ (MAE has a few loanwords from Yiddish which start with an "sh" sound, but AAVE does not have these words) the final letter is always /r/, and the middle letter is always an unvoiced plosive: /p/, /t/, or /k/.

  • spring
  • string
  • screen

In AAVE, the consonant cluster "str" is reduced to "sr", however "spr" and "skr" are pronounced in full.

Final R[edit | edit source]

Er- Is pronounced as [ʌ]. Like Holler is pronounced as Holluh

<oor>, Or,Our, <ure>- The r or re isn't pronounced so it sounds like doe, foe, shoe, and yo.

A- [ʌ], like, I have uh dolla.

Words such as talking and partner are pronounced like pawtna and tawkin