The argument of this essay, however, is that it is in speech communication style generally, even as Englishization occurs, that African Americans retain their essential Africanness. Precise discovery of lexical items is not necessary to argue continuity.
Jack Berry stated that “almost every one of the languages spoken South of the Sahara is tonal, using pitch distinctions to differentiate words in much the same way European languages use stress.” That African American language behavior is characterized by a significant control over vocal inflection and modulation is fairly well established. African Americans mean something precise by their pitch, as in speaking such words as Jesus, man, say. Vocal color plays a vital role for the black public speaker, particularly the preacher, who utilizes various intonations and inflections to modify or amplify specific ideas, concepts, or emotions.
Harmonizing is a principal function of black speech behavior, and every attempt is made to reach internal harmony, the blending of sounds and ideas, for effectiveness. Thus the audience frequently responds with interjections, such as “Amen,” “Speak,” “Pray on,” and “Tell the truth.” Such interjections are similar to the Igbo “He speaks,” “Let him speak,” “Speak on,” and “He has spoken.” A certain noticeable communicative style is transmitted in tone, rhythm, or pitch in these cases. In fact, the so-called black voice can be recognized by other Ebonics speakers by pitch and tone. Thus the more prevalent the African rhythm, tone, and pitch in the vocalization, the more distinctly African is the voice.
One is tempted to suggest that whites in some southern communities, having learned the peculiar intonations and sounds of their African nurses, speak with African tone and pitch. On the other hand, some blacks speak with an almost precise European intonation pattern with no trace of African vocal color. This behavior indicates that language interference has affected the speech of blacks and whites alike. One cannot be sure even how long the African communicative styles will remain. The time may come when we will be able to observe only rare instances of the pitch, rhythm, and tone of Africa. In a real sense the linguists’ early ecstasy over such African lexical retentions as OK, okra, and go-go marked the beginning of a general merging of African lexical items into the general American vocabulary.
Indicators of Linguistic Relationship
It is not necessary to expand on the role of syntactical features of Ebonics as indicators of linguistic relationship. Such an expansion will explicate certain communicative processes that cannot be explained by retention of lexical items alone. For this reason greater insight may be gained by a detailed treatment of two types of syntactical phenomena: serial verbal construction and tense-aspect usage.
Serial verblike constructions appear in Ebonics quite frequently, and some West African languages also use several verbs to express actions that require only one vern in English. John Bendor-Samuel described this feature in the Gur branch of Niger-Congo:
String of short clauses characterize Gur syntax. Long clauses with a large number of nominal phrases are very unusual. Frequently complex clauses are broken down into a sequence of two or more clauses. Indirect objects, benefactives, and instrumental phrases are avoided. Thus Vagala uses a two verb sequence in a construction such as u é ù tè n literally “he did it gave me” for “he did it for me” and Basari similarly has ù ná ki tu m literally he did connective gave me.
Ayo Bamgbose said that serial verbs refer to the combination of verbs found in many West African languages where all the verbs share a common subject in the surface structure. For example, he cited Twi: òdè sìké no màà me (He take money gave me, meaning “He gave me money”); Vagala: ù kpá kiyzèé mòng ówl (He took knife cut meat, meaning “He cut the meat with a knife”); and Yoruba: ó mú ìwé wá (He took book come, meaning “He brought a book”).
There are some surface variations in the structure of serialization across languages. The description of Ewe is one example:
A peculiarity of Ewe is that we often find a row of verbs one after the other. The chief features of this are that all the verbs stand next to each other without being connected, that all have the same tense or mood, and that in the event of their having a common subject and object, these stand with the first, the others remaining bare: should a conjunction stand between two verbs, the subject and object must be repeated.
Africanisms in American Culture by Joseph Holloway