391BH Oral Styles and Discourse Modes in African American English (Honors) (3 units)

Fall 2007


MWF 11:15-12:05 - Morrill II - 132




Lisa Green []


Ex-slave narratives, which were collected as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, have been used as resources for linguistic patterns in studies about the historical origin of African American English (AAE), a linguistic system used by some African Americans in the US, but prison work songs, which were collected from ‘leased’ convicts and prison inmates in the southern US, have not been discussed in linguistic analyses of AAE. This course investigates properties and the structure of discourse by considering discourse modes (e.g., narrative, report, description, argument, and information) that were used to develop ex-slave narratives and prison work songs. Strategies that early AAE speakers used to move narratives along and the type of information that is conveyed by the linguistic units and sequences of sentences in these early to mid 20th century oral texts will be considered. In addition this course investigates time markers that speakers use to talk about events in the distant past and the role they play in the temporal interpretation of these texts. We will raise questions about the extent to which basic syntactic and semantic tools can also be extended to sermons and other types of oral discourse in the AAE-speaking community. Data show that four- and five-year-old developing AAE-speaking children use had as a time marker in narratives. Finally, this course considers developmental strategies that children use in structuring the discourse and talking about events in the past. In this honors course, students will complete basic linguistic description of oral and written text. In addition they will design and carry out a research project in which they will use the George P. Rawick volumes and Library of Congress narratives as primary data sources.