Oxford University Press and Harvard University are collaborating to create the Oxford Dictionary of African American English (ODAAE).
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Director of Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and American Research, will provide editorial guidance to Oxford as it develops a dictionary dedicated to African American Vernacular English (AAVE).
“African American English has had a profound impact on the world’s most widely spoken language, yet much of it has been obscured,” Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Languages at Oxford University Press said in a written statement.
“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,” he continued.
Each dictionary entry will include quotations from real-world examples of language in use and meaning, pronunciation, spelling, usage and history. According to the release, this is meant to recognize the contributions of African American writers, artists everyday people “to the evolution of the US English lexicon and the English lexicon as a whole.”
“Every speaker of American English borrows heavily from words invented by African Americans, whether they know it or not,” said Gates, Jr.
“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,” he added.
The three-year project is partly funded by grants from the Mellon and Wagner Foundations. The Oxford Dictionary of African American English is scheduled to be released in 2025.