Henry Louis Gates is the editor of the Oxford African-American Dictionary.
Historian and Director of the Hutchins Center at Harvard University, Henry Louis Gates Jr. will be the editor of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English.
Gates, winner of the 2018 Benjamin Franklin Creativity Laureate, made the announcement on Twitter Last week. The Oxford Dictionary of African American English will contain popular words and phrases used by historical black figures and black Americans today.
“Just the way Louis Armstrong took the trumpet and flipped it upside down the way people played European classical music,” Gates said. The New York Times. Black people took English and “reinvented it, to reflect their sensibilities and to reflect their cultural selves.”
The dictionary is a joint venture between Oxford University Press and the Hutchins Center. Gates added that the idea for the dictionary came about when the Oxford Press asked him to collaborate on their existing dictionaries, which led him to propose the project.
The dictionary is part of a three-year research project, led by a diverse team of researchers, to preserve the vocabulary of African Americans. Gates said the new dictionary, which is heavily influenced by “words invented by African Americans,” will serve as an authoritative document on African American English.
“Words of African origin such as ‘goober’, ‘gumbo’ and ‘okra’ survived the Middle Passage with our African ancestors,” Gates explained. “And the words we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib’, ‘hokum’ and ‘diss’, ‘hip’ and ‘hep’, ‘bad’ meaning ‘good’ and ‘dig’ meaning ‘understand’ – these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have entered American English by African-American speakers… over the past few hundred years.
Some of the research involved determining where and when a word originated. To do this, the researchers studied books, magazines and newspapers, as these are the simplest documents to date. The project received grants from the Mellon and Wagner Foundations. Those anticipating the dictionary’s release date will have to wait a few years as it won’t be released until 2025 at the earliest.