Black on White (59:00)
Gullah—the African-influenced dialect of Georgia’s Sea Islands—has undergone few changes since the first slave ships landed 300 years ago, and provides a clear window into the shaping of African-American English. This classic PBS program traces that story from the west coast of Africa through the American South, then to large northern cities in the 1920s. Studying the origins of West African pidgin English and creole speech—along with the tendency of 19th-century white Southerners to pick up speech habits from their black nursemaids—the program highlights the impact of WWI-era industrialization and the migration of jazz musicians to New York and Chicago. (59 minutes)
African Origins of Black American English (03:45)
The roots of Black American English are heard in many Southern churches--from the pulpit and in the celebration of the Negro spirituals. Islands off the coast of Charleston, SC, are the "missing link" between African and American English.
Gullah Language (05:01)
On islands off the coast of South Carolina, Blacks speak a language that remains nearly the same as it did 300 years ago. Gullah is a dying language but one that offers a key to the history of Black American English.
Pidgin English in Africa (04:02)
In Sierra Leone, the chief is celebrated in words and song in the Gullah language. Slave traders brought English to Africa first through African middlemen who then spoke Pidgin English, a language still spoken in African ports.
African Creole (04:47)
English Creoles in West Africa are derived from the early pidgins spoken 300 years ago in slave ports. Viewers of this segment hear Creole spoken on a riverboat and learn about the language rules of African Creole.
Plantation Creole (05:39)
While Charleston was the slave capital, slaves took their African pidgin onto the plantations where it evolved into plantation Creole. The language of both slaves and owners was affected by African pidgin.
Black Influence on Southern Speech (05:26)
Most plantation owners had an accent typical of southern England, but it was modified by the speech patterns of their slaves. What emerged were the sounds of the southern aristocracy.
Gullah, Jive, and Jazz (06:14)
In the 1930s, Blacks began to carry the verbal traditions of the South into the cities of the North in music, song, and dance. The host discusses George Gershwin and jive talk. Archival film footage shows a Harlem nightclub in the 1920s.
Harlem Jazz (03:53)
Archival film footage shows Cab Calloway using jive talk and jazz dancing as part of his act. His band plays and sings jazz music.
Poetry and Speeches About the Black Condition (04:05)
In the North, most Blacks lived segregated lives in the ghettos. Black poetry comes from a self-described bootblack and a man who plays the spoons. Archival film footage shows civil rights riots and a speech by Martin Luther King.
Black English vs. Standardized English (04:33)
Blacks who move up the social ladder modify their speech patterns to "talk white." The city's schools teach standardized English to black students to improve their chances of employment.
Street English and Language Change (03:47)
Major changes in English do not occur because of education, but come about on the streets where cultures clash, and where language and vocabulary are essential to group identity.
Street Rappers and Black English (02:58)
The language of the streets can be heard in street rappers and poets that perform in this segment. The vigor and zest of English comes from the English of everyone--white and black.