Communication Breakdown: An Analysis Of Regional Dialects In Blues Music

2480 words - 10 pages

In itself, music has intrinsic value. From Ludwig Van Beethoven to Miles Davis, instrumental music can stand on its own legs, and have meaning that transcends grammatical meaning. However, the implementation of words that are either spoken or sung creates a new genre, and a different aesthetic. In a sense, this is literature juxtaposed over rhythm and melody. This has the effect of giving a more concrete meaning to the music, and more emotion to the words or lyrics. It is a matter of taste, and a subject of intense debate to try and say one style of music does this the best. Blues music, one of America’s greatest exports, is a contender for this title, and is also interesting in a linguistic sense.
This is not understood without understanding language: the ever-changing medium by which human beings communicate ideas. Some might argue that this ability is what differentiates us from other animals. The function of this is to be able to understand each other, whether we are trying to say, “Look out, there’s a saber-toothed cat attempting to have you for dinner,” or, “My sweet darling, I will love you until my last dying breath.” This ability gives us a better chance at surviving; therefore, it has been passed on through the generations and underwent endless permutations.
One of the many permutations that language has made is into what is collectively known as English. This particular tongue was brought to the British Isles in the Sixth Century CE by Northern Europeans or “Germanic” people. (Kemmer) It followed English colonists around the world, including areas in North America, which will be the subject of this essay.
Eventually, the West African slaves that were brought to the American South to work in an agricultural context developed and adapted the English language with their own dialects. This is the root of the language that is used within blues music, which remains one of America’s most important contributions music in recent history.
The dialect that is prevalent in blues music is known as African American Vernacular English, or Ebonics. Though the roots of AAVE are not recorded well, it is believed that it developed as a “creole” language. (Rickford) This is basically just the blending of two or more languages. This dialect is the result of an earlier generation learning the language of their captors, and the subsequent passing down of the acquired language to descendants.
The language itself is affected by how much contact there is with speakers of the root language. This suggests a variation, or a spectrum that John Rickford categorizes. The three categories are basilect, mesolect, and acrolect. Basolect speakers are operating within the creole version of the language. A mesolect speaker has creole characteristics as well as language structures related to the root language. Acrolect speakers are just those who speak the standard version of the root language. (Rickford)
The work of Rickford and others suggest that the language...

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