The Creolist Hypothesis (mid-1960 and 1970s)

  • The Creolist Hypothesis postulates a creole origin for AAVE:

  • In the course of European colonialist expansion, English-based creoles had developed in West Africa and it can be assumed that the African slaves who were transported to North America to work on the plantations in the US-American South spoke an English-based creole.

  • In this connection, the Creolist Hypothesis asserts that AAVE has evolved from a Plantation Creole which was spoken in the United States before the Civil War. This creole could be Gullah which is an English-based creole still spoken today in the United States on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina. Gullah has its roots in the languages of plantation slaves. AAVE then might have emerged from Gullah in a developmental process in the course of which the linguistic structure of Gullah was modified through decreolization. Hence, Gullah may constitute an earlier stage in the development of AAVE.

  • According to this view, AAVE is not simply a dialect of English but has to be seen rather as an English-based creole language. This English-based creole is highly decreolized in character as it has assimilated to (white) American English to a high degree. However, it characteristically preserves typical creole features in its grammar.

Strong support for a creole ancestry of AAVE comes from historical documents and the finding that several structural features of AAVE correspond with specific structural features of creole grammars. Such features include, for example, copula deletion, omission of verbal present tense marker –s, completive or perfective ‘done’ to indicate the completion of an action and the application of remote time ‘been’ which resembles the past tense marker 'bin' in a number of English-lexified pidgins/creoles. (-> See The Linguistic Characteristics of AAVE and The Design Features of Pidgin Grammars).

(Information adapted from Sebba, 1997)