Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-768dbb666b-qc52z Total loading time: 0.52 Render date: 2023-02-07T01:16:38.854Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

3 - Profiles of Change

The Early Lifespan of African American Language

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 November 2020

Mary Kohn
Kansas State University
Walt Wolfram
North Carolina State University
Charlie Farrington
University of Oregon
Jennifer Renn
Purdue University, Indiana
Janneke Van Hofwegen
Google, Inc.
Get access


In this chapter, we consider trajectories of change in vernacular African American Language (AAL) based on a set of seven temporal data points, from 48 months of age to post-secondary (19-21 years of age), using a Dialect Density Measure (DDM). Although different trajectories are uncovered, the predominant pattern is the “roller-coaster effect,” in which children’s vernacular index entering school recedes over the first four grades, accelerates during sixth to eighth grade, then recedes again as they proceed through secondary and post-secondary school. Comparison of token-based and type-based inventories show a high correlation in the results, and most individual variables also follow this pattern. However, some variables that are acquired during the later acquisition phase, such as ‘habitual be’ and copula/auxiliary absence, may show divergent patterns over the early lifespan.

African American Language
Language development from Infancy to Adulthood
, pp. 46 - 72
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Arnett, Jeffery J. 2001. Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Baugh, John. 1983. Black Street Speech: Its History, Structure, and Survival. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Bigham, Douglas S. 2008. Dialect Contact and Accommodation among Emerging Adults in a University Setting. Ph.D. Dissertation. Austin, TX: University of Texas at Austin.
Bigham, Douglas S. 2012. Emerging adulthood in sociolinguistics. Language and Linguistics Compass 6(8): 533544.
Brice Heath, Shirley. 1983. Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bucholtz, Mary. 1999. “Why be normal?”: Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls. Language in Society 28(2): 203223.
Callahan-Price, Erin. 2011. Generalized acquisition constraints and dialect-specific norms in child AAE copula development. Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Language Variation (NWAV) 40, Washington, DC: Georgetown University.
Cameron, Richard. 2005. Aging and gendering. Language in Society 34(1): 2361.
Cedergren, Henrietta and Sankoff, David. 1974. Variable rules: Performance as a statistical reflection of competence. Language 50(2): 333355.
Chambers, Jack. 1995. Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and Its Social Significance. Oxford: Blackwell.
Chambers, Jack. 2003. Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and Its Social Significance. Oxford: Blackwell.
Cheshire, Jenny. 1987. Age and generation-specific use of language. In Ammon, Ulrich, Dittmar, Norbert, and Mattheier, Klaus (eds.), Sociolinguistics: An Introductory Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, 760767 Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Cheshire, Jenny. 2005. Age and generation-specific use of language. In Ammon, Ulrich, Dittmar, Norbert, Mattheier, Klaus, and Trudgill, Peter (eds.), Sociolinguistics: An Introductory Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, 15521563. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Craig, Holly K., and Washington, Julie A.. 2006. Malik Goes to School: Examining the Language Skills of African American Students from Preschool-5th Grade. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Craig, Holly K., Thompson, Connie, Washington, Julie A., and Potter, Stephanie L.. 2003. Phonological features of child African American English. Journal of Speech, Hearing, and Language Research 46(3): 623635.
Cukor-Avila, Patricia. 2001. Coexisting grammars: The relationship between the evolution of African American and Southern White Vernacular English in the South. In Lanehart, Sonja L. (ed.), A Sociocultural History and Some Phonological Evidence: Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English, 93128. Philadelphia, PA/Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Cukor-Avila, Patricia, and Bailey, Guy. 2011. The interaction of transmission and diffusion in the spread of linguistic forms. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics (Selected papers from NWAV 40) 17(2): 4149.
Deser, Toni. 1990. Dialect Transmission and Variation: An Acoustic Analysis of Vowels in Six Urban Detroit families. Ph.D. dissertation. Boston, MA: Boston University.
Dillard, J. L. 1972. Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States. New York: Random House.
Eckert, Penelope. 1989. Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and Identity in the High School. New York: Columbia University, Teachers College Press.
Eckert, Penelope. 1997. Age as a sociolinguistic variable. In Coulmas, Florian (ed.), The Handbook of Sociolinguistics, 151167. Oxford: Blackwell.
Eckert, Penelope. 2000. Linguistic Variation as Social Practice. Oxford: Blackwell.
Eckert, Penelope. 2004. Adolescent language. In Finegan, Edward and Rickford, John (eds.), Language in the USA. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Eckert, Penelope. 2011. Language and power in the preadolescent heterosexual marketplace. American Speech 86(1): 8597.
Eisikovits, Edina. 1998. Girl-talk/Boy-talk: Sex differences in adolescent speech. In Coates, Jennifer (ed.), Language and Gender: A Reader, 4558. Sydney: Australian Professional Publications.
Fasold, Ralph W. 1972. Tense Marking in Black English: A Linguistic and Social Analysis. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Fought, Carmen. 1999. A majority sound change in a minority community: /u/-fronting in Chicano English. Journal of Sociolinguistics 3(1): 523.
Fought, Carmen. 2003. Chicano English in Context. Houndmills, UK/New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
Foulkes, Paul and Docherty, Gerard. 2006. The social life of phonetics and phonology. Journal of Phonetics 34(4): 409438.
Foulkes, Paul, Docherty, Gerard, and Watt, Dominic. 2005. Phonological variation in child directed speech. Language 81(1): 177206.
Giles, Howard, and Coupland, Nikolas. 1991. Contexts of Accommodation: Developments in Applied Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Green, Lisa J. 2002. African American English: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Green, Lisa J. 2011. Language and the African American Child. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Habick, Timothy. 1993. Farmer City, Illinois: Sound systems shifting south. In Frazer, Timothy (ed.), Heartland English, 97124. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.
Hockett, Charles. 1950. Age-grading and linguistic continuity. Language 26(4): 449459.
Kerswill, Paul and Williams, Anne. 2000. Creating a new town koine: Children and language in Milton Keynes. Language in Society 29(1): 65115.
Kerswill, Paul and Williams, Anne. 2005. New towns and koineisation: Linguistic and social correlates. Linguistics 43(5): 10231048.
Kohn, Mary. 2013. Adolescent Ethnolinguistic Stability and Change: A Longitudinal Study. Ph.D. Dissertation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Labov, William. 1964. Stages in the acquisition of Standard English. In Shuy, Roger, Davis, Alva, and Hogan, Robert (eds.), Social Dialects and Language Learning, 77104. Champaign: National Council of Teachers of English.
Labov, William. 1966 [2006]. The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Labov, William. 1972. Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Labov, William. 1998. Co-existent systems in African-American Vernacular English. In Mufwene, Salikoko S., Rickford, John R., Bailey, Guy and Baugh, John (eds.), African-American English: Structure, History and Use, 110153. London and New York: Routledge.
Labov, William. 2001. Principles of Linguistic Change: Social Factors. Vol. 2. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
Labov, William, Cohen, Paul, Robins, Clarence, and Lewis, John. 1968. A Study of the Non-Standard English of Negro and Puerto Rican Speakers in New York City. Report on cooperative research project 3288. New York, NY: Columbia University.
Macaulay, Ronald K. S. 1977. Language, Social Class, and Education: A Glasgow Study. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Mendoza-Denton, Norma. 2008. Homegirls: Language and Cultural Practice among Latina Youth Gangs. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Moore, Emma. 2004. Sociolinguistic style: A multidimensional resource for shared identity creation. Canadian Journal of Linguistics 49(3/4): 375396.
Nahkola, Kari and Saanilahti, Marja. 2004. Mapping language changes in real time: A panel study on Finnish. Language Variation and Change 16(2): 7592.
Oetting, Janna B. and McDonald, Janet L.. 2002. Methods for characterizing participants’ nonmainstream dialect use in child language research. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research 45(3): 505518.
Prichard, Hillary and Tamminga, Meredith. 2012. The impact of higher education on Philadelphia vowels. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics (Selected papers from NWAV 40) 18(2): 8795.
Rickford, John R. 1999. African American Vernacular English. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
Rickford, John R., and Price, McKenzie. 2013. Girlz II women: Age-grading, language change and stylistic variation. Journal of Sociolinguistics 17(2): 143179.
Roberts, Julie. 1994. Acquisition of Variable Rules: (-t,d) Deletion and (ing) Production in Preschool Children. Ph.D. Dissertation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
Roberts, Julie. 1997. Hitting a moving target: Acquisition of sound change in progress by Philadelphia children. Language Variation and Change 9(2): 249266.
Roberts, Julie. 2002. Child language variation. In Chambers, J.K., Trudgill, Peter, and Schilling-Estes, Natalie (eds.), The Handbook of Language Variation and Change, 333348. Oxford: Blackwell.
Rowe, Ryan D. 2005. The Development of African American English in the Oldest Black Town in America: -s Absence in Princeville, North Carolina. Master’s Thesis. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.
Sankoff, Gillian. 2004. Adolescents, young adults and the critical period: Two case studies from “Seven up.” In Fought, Carmen (ed.), Sociolinguistic Variation: Critical Reflections, 121139. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sankoff, Gillian. 2005. Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies in sociolinguistics. In Trudgill, Peter (ed.), Sociolinguistics/soziolinguistik: An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society, 10031013. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Sankoff, Gillian and Blondeau, Hélène. 2007. Longitudinal change across the lifespan: /r/ in Montreal French. Language 83(3): 560588.
Sankoff, David, Tagliamonte, Sali A., and Smith, Eric. 2005. Goldvarb (Version 3.0b3) (Computer Program).
Sankoff, David, Tagliamonte, Sali A., and Smith, Eric. 2015. Goldvarb Yosemite: A variable rule application for Macintosh. Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto.
Seymour, Harry N., and Roeper, Thomas. 1999. Grammatical acquisition of African American English. In Taylor, Orlando L. and Leonard, Lawrence (eds.), Language Acquisition across North America: Cross-cultural and Cross-linguistic Perspectives; 109153. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Co.
Stewart, William A. 1965. Urban Negro speech: Sociolinguistic factors affecting English teaching. In Shuy, Roger W. (ed.), Social Dialects and Language Learning, 1018. Champaign, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Stewart, William A. 1968. Continuity and change in American Negro dialects. The Florida F L Reporter 6: 1416, 18, 30.
Stockman, Ida. J., and Vaughn-Cooke, Anna Fay. 1989. Addressing new questions about black children’s language. In Schiffrin, Deborah and Fasold, Ralph W. (eds.), Current Issues in Linguistic Theory, 52, 275300. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins.
Smith, Jennifer, Durham, Mercedes, and Fortune, Liane. 2007. “Mam, my trousers is fa’in doon!” Community, caregiver, and child in the acquisition of variation in a Scottish dialect. Language Variation and Change 19(1): 6399.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2006. Analysing Sociolinguistic Variation. New York/Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tagliamonte, Sali A. 2011. Variationist Sociolinguistics: Change, Observation, Interpretation. Malden/Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Trudgill, Peter. 1974. The Social Differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Trudgill, Peter. 1986. Dialects in Contact. Oxford: Blackwell.
Van Hofwegen, Janneke. 2015. The development of African American English through childhood and adolescence. In Lanehart, Sonja L. (ed.), Oxford Handbook of African American Language, 454474. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Van Hofwegen, Janneke, and Wolfram, Walt. 2010. Coming of age in African American English: A longitudinal study. Journal of Sociolinguistics 14: 427–55.
Van Hofwegen, Janneke and Wolfram, Walt. 2017. On the utility of composite indices in longitudinal language study. In Wagner, Suzanne Evans and Buchstaller, Isabelle (eds.), Panel Studies of Variation and Change. Routledge Studies in Language Change Series, 7198. New York: Routledge.
Wagner, Suzanne Evans. 2008. Language Change and Stabilization in the Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood. Ph.D. dissertation. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania.
Wagner, Suzanne E. 2012a. Real-time evidence for age grad(ing) in late adolescence. Language Variation and Change 24(2): 179202.
Wagner, Suzanne E. 2012b. Age-grading in sociolinguistic theory. Language and Linguistics Compass 6(6): 371–82.
Wolfram, Walter A. 1969. A Sociolinguistic Description of Detroit Negro speech. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Wolfram, Walt and Christian, Donna. 1976. Appalachian Speech. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats