Uplifting African American English (AAE)

Feb 26, 2021 | Blog

CHAT uplifts African American English (AAE), a dialect shared by many Black communities in the United States. Complex and systematic, AAE not only reflects the intricacies of human language, but also the ingenuity of the speakers themselves. AAE was first developed by enslaved Africans during the Atlantic slave trade in the 1600s. While European enslavers intentionally grouped people from different African nations – who spoke various languages – to inhibit communication and stifle protest, enslaved Africans successfully merged their diverse languages with English to create a linguistic system that facilitated communication, built solidarity, and ultimately resisted colonial subjugation.  

Honoring the history of linguistic varieties is crucial in becoming not only an effective speech-language pathologist, but a culturally affirming one. As speech-language pathologist Dionna Latimer-Hearn powerfully shares: 

“AAE is the only dialect that can thoroughly capture the plight of my ancestors and the richness of my upbringing, while expressing the beauty and complexity of many African American communities. Banishing or pathologizing AAE, whether intentional or due to misunderstanding, effectively removes the voice of a people— my people.” 

Latimer-Hearn’s statement reveals a sobering reality: the rampant misdiagnosis of AAE-speaking children perpetuates oppression. Whether intentional or due to a lack of cultural responsiveness training, the fact remains that Black children are frequently diagnosed as having language disorders rather than differences. As professionals committed to empowering clients through communication, we must ensure we do not silence their voices in the process. By uplifting the origins of AAE, CHAT strives to build a future where Black communities and AAE speakers are affirmed both inside and outside the classroom.