"Talking Black in America" Examining African American English

African Americans have always had their own culture way before arriving to the States; from their hairstyles and music, to their clothing and food.

So the idea of having their own language shouldn’t be a surprise, but for some it is.  It’s always been an unspoken rule that, “slang” is used in a certain place and a certain time, but why?

Talking Black in America, produced by Neal Hutcheson, is a film solely based on the understanding of the African American language discussing its history, and importance. The movie focused not only on different African Americans, but also their communities to understand the “black” language.  

Backing up that information, professional linguist were also interviewed and helped explain to the audience the meaning of the language.

“Seven high school groups have seen the film and their response was outstanding,” said Walt Wolfram, executive producer of the film.

The film discussed that teachers have a difficulty teaching kids on how to speak in a professional manner because of their use of home language. Many kids feel as though they have to put on a different persona when talking to the “white” man.  

Patient, a business major student at the University of Maryland, explains how she has to speak a different “language” because of the environment that she is in.

Patient further explains that her interactions and conversations with her white classmates are different than talking to her friends from her own background.  

She says, “When I’m in class trying to study for a homework assignment I don’t start the conversation like, ‘Wassup, you tryna study together’? I say, ‘Hey, would you like to study together’?

Many students from minority backgrounds, including those at the University of Maryland, in Patient’s position feel the same way.  The idea of having to change their personality and language makes them feel as if the way they talk is wrong.  

In the documentary some people explained the process of code switching, which is the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation, when they are in different environments. Portraying this in the film shows how the difference in the culture is not wrong; it’s just another way of speaking.

After the viewing of the film there was a Q&A with executive producer Wolfram and Sheri Parks who moderated the question and answer section of the night.  There were a lot of questions to Wolfram about how people should go about using the African American language and how America can change the way we see black language as something different and not something wrong.  To seek some of the missing questions that were not answered that night, Wolfram announced that there will be a sequel to the movie. Wolfram wanted the viewers to understand black language and to appreciate its meaning and value to the African American people.