The Oxford Dictionary of African American English is on the way
If you’ve ever seriously considered Black American English as its own language, you’re not alone. And while words like “finna” or “bae” might have you throwing off the scrabble board now, it might not stay that way three years from now, as an Oxford dictionary for African-American English hits the shelves and digital devices. According to the New York Times, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will serve as editor of this very real and very important project.
“Just the way Louis Armstrong took the trumpet and flipped it upside down the way people played European classical music,” told the Timesblacks have taken English and “reinvented it, to reflect their sensibilities and to reflect their cultural identity”.
Gates was recruited early on in the collaborative project created by Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research and Oxford University Press. Initially, Gates was tasked with overseeing black american language representation in existing dictionaries. That was the plan until Gates suggested a more elaborate scheme.
In addition to the standard definitions and spellings you’ll find in any dictionary, this special edition will also include a historical record of the original contributor(s) of the word or phrase. According to Danica Salizar, editor of World Englishes for Oxford Languages, you can expect to find words with double meanings like “kitchen”. According to the phrasing, the word not only represents the place in the house where people gather to eat, but the hair that lives on the back of the neck is known to grow a bit more frizzy than the others.
Readers are also sure to find phrases like “side hustle,” which was once used primarily by black people to describe a second or temporary source of income, and can now be heard anywhere from CNN to Forbes magazine to classify entrepreneurial efforts.
In order to correctly cite the included words, researchers obtain materials such as books, magazines, interviews, archival journals, and even ordinary members of the community. Throughout the timeline of the project, there have been calls on the Oxford website and social media accounts for black people to submit their own contributions.
“Maybe there’s a journal in your grandmother’s attic that has evidence of that word,” Salazar said.
Salazar and Gates both spoke about the fact that the evolution of the black language goes back first to our moving to this country and then our separation.
“You wouldn’t normally think of a dictionary as a way to tell the story of the evolution of African-American people, but it is,” Gates said. “If you sit down and read the dictionary, you’ll get a history of the African American people from A to Z.”
Gates also notes another important call.
“The main thing about African American people, when you read this dictionary,” Gates said, “is that you will say that they are people who love the language.”