What do the following phrases have in common?
“It’s the AAVE for me,” “Chile, anyways,” “We been knew,” “Finna,” “Periodt, “No cap,” Well, aside from being ingrained in “Internet culture” and often incorrectly referred to as “Gen Z slang,” “internet lingo” or “stan language,” they’re all rooted in AAVE – African American Ventricular English. AAVE is an established, recognized system of linguistics and a dialect of English natively spoken by Black communities, notably in the United States and Canada.
AAVE isn’t a product of the 21st century, but a culturally significant aspect of African American culture, influenced by various African languages, that traces its origins back to slavery in the United States. Since its beginnings in the American South, AAVE has been disseminated, misused and integrated into the “internet culture machine,” producing “trendy” phrases and memes for user’s consumption globally. Globalism’s extensive role in creating a shared popular culture on the internet contributes to the common misconception that AAVE is Internet/Gen Z/Twitter slang.
The co-opting of AAVE into Internet lingo and usage by nonBlack people isn’t something new or exclusive to Gen Z as other generations have done the same. However, Gen Z, the “most technologically saturated generation” born into the boom of social media and the internet as we know it today, is infamous for its appropriation and misuse of AAVE. Consequently, a shocking majority of the “trendy” words found in Gen Z‘s vocabulary are, in fact, AAVE due to the proximity of nonBlack people to Black circles and Black communication via Twitter and other social media platforms.
By reducing a rich, historical and culturally relevant language to “Internet Slang,” Anti-Blackness is perpetuated, whether intended or not, due to the racist, colonial systems that disadvantage and demean Black AAVE speakers. When Black people use AAVE, they are often frowned at or ridiculed for their “bad English” or “bad grammar” by a racist society embedded in oppressive, Anti-Black beliefs. Despite having an established and distinct dialect to communicate, Black people are forced to engage in codeswitching – alternating between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation – to “fit in” and successfully access the same opportunities as their nonBlack counterparts. This language inequity is also influenced by linguistic prescriptivism – the idea that language must adhere to a set of prewritten rules, which is inherently colonialist and racist.
When nonBlack people on the internet, specifically Gen Z, use and misuse AAVE without knowing its origins and attribute it to “internet slang,” “stan language,” or “meme culture, they are engaging in the commodification of Black culture, which exploits Black people, their language, means of expression and inventions. Moreover, the short and cyclic life span of AAVE on the internet caused by nonBlack people growing tired of certain “Internet slang” words and deeming them as ‘cringe’ or ‘outdated’ contributes to the degrading of AAVE and its speakers. After the trending AAVE word(s) absorbed and abused by mainstream internet culture fades away, Black people whose use of the words is linguistic are looked down upon for their continued use of the “dead trend.”
AAVE’s short life span on the internet and nonBlack people’s ignorant attitudes of its influence on mainstream “internet slang” was notably seen when famous Drag Queen Trixie Mattel made a tweet calling for specific phrases rooted in AAVE to be left in 2020. In Black circles, it provoked an ongoing discourse on nonBlack and Gay people’s use/misuse, misunderstanding and dismissal of AAVE. Hence, the use of AAVE in nonBlack LGBTQ+ circles is problematized when nonBlack gays are ignorant of the origins of some “drag slang/gay-lingo/iconic words” or claim AAVE is meant “for the gays.” Staking a claim to AAVE as a nonBlack Queer person because it is commonly used in LGBTQ+ circles, specifically ball culture and the drag scene, without recognizing Black Queer pioneers’ influence on the language also contributes to the degradation of AAVE and its native speakers.
Due to the increasingly interconnected nature of the world, the lines between subculture and mainstream internet culture are blurred as marginalized languages such as AAVE are absorbed and gentrified for everyone’s usage. This linguistic gentrification leads to the overwhelming lack of awareness seen in nonBlack people’s unknown use of AAVE, thinking it is “internet slang.” It also leads to the demeaning of Black people’s use of AAVE offline by the inherently racist perception that it is “improper English” and its speakers are “illiterate,” which compels many AAVE speakers to codeswitch. Breaking the 4th wall, I want to personify this problem by highlighting how my lived experience as a multilingual Black person in Canada who often uses AAVE and code-switches. Seeing the mockery, misuse, and memeification of AAVE by ignorant nonBlack, Gen Z people on the internet frustrates and saddens me. When I use AAVE online or offline, I am met with racist preconceived notions or stereotypes and have my intellectuality judged. As a result, I am overly cautious of using “proper” grammar when speaking or texting despite English being my first and, unfortunately, colonial language. Codeswitching is as part of my everyday life, as is oiling my 4c hair. When nonBlack people use AAVE in their “internet lingo,” they are seen as merely adapting to mainstream/popular culture and can discard it anytime, with no consequences attached.
Due to the ever-evolving nature of language and popular culture and considering’s Globalism role on the Internet, it is reasonable to expect that AAVE or any other marginalized language will always be embedded into our “collective lingo.” Therefore, the solution to eradicating the collective ignorance and misuse of AAVE and the racist, negative impacts on its Black native speakers is to respect AAVE like any other dialect or language in the world. Like you would do to any language before attempting to use it – learn accurate terminology and research the origins of AAVE. Question if your use or perceptions of AAVE as a nonBlack person is embedded in racist, colonial thought and correct any negative implicit biases you may have. Do not police the use of AAVE by Black speakers or subjugate it to a “trend” with a short life span. Speak up when you notice Black people being ridiculed or discriminated against for using AAVE. Educate others who are not aware of their use/misuse of AAVE and amplify Black voices.
Cil is a Psychology student with Law school on their mind and an INFJ first-gen Nigerian-Canadian with big hair and dreams. Taking classes, workshops, and volunteer opportunities that expand their knowledge of global socio-political issues fuels them to advocate for positive change in the world. This passion for social advocacy work is reflected in their graphic designs, volunteer projects, school clubs and organization memberships. In their spare time, you may find them drinking tea, reading articles, creating art, writing amateur poetry, listening to lofi music or watching Studio Ghibli movies in their nature-themed room in the Prairies.