Henry Louis Gates Jr. Will Guide Oxford University Press Over New African American English Dictionary
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Henry Louis Gates Jr. Will Guide Oxford University Press Over New African American English Dictionary

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and American Research at Harvard University, will provide editorial direction to Oxford University Press as it devises a dictionary that will exclusively be dedicated to “African-American Vernacular English,” according to the Washington Times.

Mellon and Wagner Foundations provided grants for the undertaking. The Oxford Dictionary of African American English (ODAAE) is a seminal erudite initiative focused on documenting the evolution of the vast and historical influential lexicon of AAVE and compiling it into a dictionary, the Oxford English reports.

 “African American English has had a profound impact on the world’s most widely spoken language, yet much of it has been obscured. The ODAAE seeks to acknowledge this contribution more fully and formally and, in doing so, create a powerful tool for a new generation of researchers, students, and scholars to build a more accurate picture of how African American life has influenced how we speak, and therefore who we are,” Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Languages at Oxford University Press, said in a released statement.

The glossary will contain “quotations taken from real examples of language in use,” in conjunction with meanings, pronunciation, spelling, proper usage, and the historical context of each word within the Oxford dictionary notations, as mentioned by the Oxford English Dictionary. 

Gates will lead a group of researchers and editors recruited from Oxford and Harvard, the Washington Times reports.

Gates explained, “Every speaker of American English borrows heavily from words invented by African Americans, whether they know it or not. Words with African origins such as ”goober’, ‘gumbo’ and ‘okra’ survived the Middle Passage along with our African ancestors. And words that we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib,’ ‘hokum’ and ‘diss,’ ‘hip’ and ‘hep,’ ‘bad,’ meaning ‘good,’ and ‘dig,’ meaning ‘to understand’—these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have come into American English from African American speakers, neologisms that emerged out of the Black Experience in this country, over the last few hundred years.”

The dictionary will be available in 2025.