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African American English in the diaspora: Evidence from old-line Nova Scotians

  • Shana Poplack (a1) and Sali Tagliamonte (a1)

Abstract

In this article, we describe a new research project on African Nova Scotian English (ANSE), a variety spoken by descendants of African American slaves who immigrated to Nova Scotia in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Subsequent segregation from surrounding populations has created a situation favoring retention of the vernacular, in conjunction with Standard English. In addition to providing the first systematic linguistic documentation of ANSE, we detail the characteristics of the Canadian scenario that make it an ideal test of the creole-origins and divergence hypotheses: in particular, that, more clearly than other African American English varieties that evolved independently in the diaspora, the Canadian situation has featured no creole influence. This fact can effectively date the occurrence of any creole-like features in contemporary ANSE (and, by extension, other varieties of African American Vernacular English [AAVE]) to (at least) the late 18th century, an important time-depth characterization. We then present the results of a series of quantitative analyses of linguistically diagnostic features and compare them to those obtained for (1) another transplanted variety of African American English (Samaná English) and (2) a prototype variety (the Ex-slave Recordings), and note the striking similarities among them. The results militate in favor of a genetic relationship among ANSE and its counterparts as a common precursor of contemporary varieties, thereby providing the first methodologically consistent cross-linguistic comparison of three distinct vestiges of “early” African American English, and contributing missing links in the history and development of AAVE.

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