Episode 76 (African-American English)

Patricia Cukor-Avila

The topic of the May 2024 podcast is African-American English, which Paul discusses with American Dialect Society President Patricia Cukor-Avila. Paul and Patricia principally listen to and analyze historic Black dialects in the United States, from Colonial days to the early 20th century. Gullah is discussed in depth.

Recordings come from Patricia’s own research, done over several decades in a small Texas town (nicknamed “Springville”), plus IDEA, YouTube, and the Library of Congress’s Voices Remembering Slavery.

In addition to her role with the American Dialect Society, Patricia Cukor-Avila is professor of linguistics at the University of North Texas. Her primary research focuses on the study of linguistic change and variation, specifically grammatical change over time in African-American English. Her longitudinal study (1988-present), with Dr. Guy Bailey, of a rural Texas community has provided much of the data for presentations and articles concerning approaches to sociolinguistic fieldwork, transmission and diffusion, and language change over the lifespan, as well as documenting innovations in African-American English. This research was included in the 2004 PBS documentary by Robert McNeil Do You Speak American?

She is one of the associate producers of the award-winning documentary series Talking Black in America and was interviewed in the 2017 documentary Talking Black in America and the 2022 documentary Talking Black in America: Roots in that series. She is co-editor (with Guy Bailey and Natalie Maynor) of The Emergence of Black English: Text and Commentary (1991) and author of several articles and book chapters, most recently a co-author (with Guy Bailey and Juan Salinas) of a monograph Inheritance and Innovation in the Evolution of Rural African American English in the Cambridge Elements World Englishes series.

To learn more about Patricia, visit UNT’s website. For more information on the American Dialect Society, visit their website.

To listen to the full sound clip of Wallace Quarterman, referenced in this podcast, click or tap the triangle-shaped play button below. And go here for a transcript.


To listen to the complete audio clip of IDEA’s South Carolina 12, go here.

Listen to the entire recording of Booker T. Washington that Paul and Patricia discuss:

Other podcast episodes referenced in this episode, or those with similar themes, include:
March 2024 (Episode 74): Folk Linguistics, with Dennis Preston
February 2024 (Episode 73): The American Dialect Society, with Betsy Evans
August 2021 (Episode 43): Heightened Language and Black Playwrights, with Jacqueline Springfield
December 2020 (Episode 35): The First Sound Recordings, with Patrick Feaster
August 2019 (Episode 19): Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), with Joan Hall

(Bach’s Cello Suite #1 in G Major BMV 1007 Prelude (by Ivan Dolgunov) is courtesy of Jamendo Licensing.)