Seattle’s history of Black language: African American English, code-switching and why it matters today (read full article on the Seattle Times)

Read the full article by Sierra Starks to learn more about Black language, the history of African American English (AAE), code-switching, and the positive cultural effects of embracing Black English. Start reading below…

““Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round” is a crowd favorite for the Northwest African American Museum’s African American Choir Ensemble.

Based on the spiritual “Don’t You Let Nobody Turn You ’Round,” the song is a civil rights anthem with lyrics that reflect a piece of the Black experience: “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me ’round / I’m gonna keep on a walkin’, keep on a-talkin’.”

Its verses are rich in African American English, also known as AAE or African American Vernacular English, says NAAM president and CEO LaNesha DeBardelaben. And it’s an example of how central language is to Black culture, as Black people seamlessly weave significance and shared interpretation into their speech.

“Now that is African American Vernacular,” DeBardelaben said of the lyrics celebrating Black resilience. “But we all understand what that means and how rooted it is in the sense of self-determination and collective strength.”

The choir is practicing for three Seattle performances surrounding Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of chattel slavery in the U.S. on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and proclaimed all enslaved people free — more than two years after President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. A year later in Galveston, the first Juneteenth celebration took place, and in 2021, Juneteenth was made a federal holiday.

Seattle’s Juneteenth celebrations are a call for community convening and a celebration of Black culture, DeBardelaben said. And a significant part of Black culture is language, specifically AAE.”


Read the remainder of the article on the Seattle Times website.

By Meaghan Wood (She/Her)
Meaghan Wood (She/Her) Career Coach