Chapter published in:Keeping in Touch: Emigrant letters across the English-speaking world
Edited by Raymond Hickey
[Advances in Historical Sociolinguistics 10] 2019
‘[T]his is all answer soon’
African American vernacular letters from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
This chapter examines data from the Corpus of Older African American Letters from which two types sets of letters are in focus. The first set of letters was written at the end of the eighteenth in Rhode Island and represent the oldest records by African Americans themselves. While little is known about African American English in the North, the preliminary results show that vernacular features commonly associated with (Southern) African American English are also attested for the North. The second set are letters from two members of the Skipwith family who migrated to Liberia and who kept in touch with their former master. The analysis of the correspondence reveals that father and daughter share a very similar group of dialectal features. However, a closer analysis of selected concord features gives evidence of change in progress in the first decade after emigration, which can be explained by the participation in different networks and which testifies to the value of a well documented family correspondene for historical sociolinguistics.
Keywords: Earlier African American English, vernacular letter writing, Moses Brown Family Papers, Rhode Island, Liberia, Skipwith family, John Hartwell Cocke, verbal -s, past and present be
Published online: 28 November 2019
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