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James Weldon Johnson has noted the distinct dialect of African Americans, and has rightly aligned this dialect to a unique cultural contribution that they have made to the United States. 1 The cultural contributions continue to this day, as well as contributions to the English language.
When thinking of language, one must necessarily also think of culture since the two are inseparable. In Johnson's time , he refers to ragtime, Negro spirituals, and Negro poets as sources of a unique cultural imprint found in the psyche of America. Although the terminology has changed, the intent is unchanged today. Now it is hip hop, R&B, sports, acting and dance that influence the United States with a vibrant linguistic and cultural tapestry. 2 Most of these are infused with the pronounced dialects that were once termed "Negro." As language is prone to, these dialects have evolved, but the common language reflects this influence. Terms like "you know what I'm sayin'" and "I feel you" are so mainstream , yet identifiable in the black culture, that they are accepted and used in general by all.
When watching an actor such as Will Smith, it becomes impossible to separate the actor from his identity as an African American man ; the language he uses is typically African American dialect . This language is not pronunciation alone, but reflects terms that have developed and evolved as people who were once slaves sought to forge their own culture from a variety of African cultures they were once a part of. One might also consider Morgan Freeman as one who is exemplary of Negro dialect. While his pronunciations are distinct and usually grammatically correct, he nevertheless has a sing-song rhythm to his speech that is unmistakably African American. Regardless of their artistic merit, rap and hip hop artists embody modern African American dialect to a great extent, along with the mores that the lifestyles of this subculture represent. The sub-genre
Gangsta Rap provides a glaring example of the subtle and distinctive change in pronunciation that is typical of perceived black dialect.
When considering contemporary writers who employ dialect, Maya Angelou and Alex Haley come to mind. Both have used expressions of African American dialect heavily in their writing. In summary, Negro dialect remains to this day in an evolved form; it is a manifestation of a synthesized African American culture that is distinct and influential in the United States. The dialect and culture that we now identify as African American arose by necessity from the only race of people who came to this country as involuntary immigrants; perhaps because of their anomalous status , their culture and language have remained intact.