Henry Louis Gates, Jr. To Oversee Oxford’s ‘African American English’ Dictionary

The research will encompass spelling, meaning, history, and pronunciation of African American English and will take into account the words of prominent African American writers, as well as the words of the common everyday African American. 

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Henry Louis Gates Jr. will head the African American English Dictionary project. Photo: WikiMedia Commons

By Cori Zaragoza, Staff Writer

Oxford University Press has announced that it will undertake a three year project to create a dictionary of “African American English.” Additionally, Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Black Harvard literary critic, will be overseeing the project, according to the University. 

“Every speaker of American English borrows heavily from words invented by African Americans, whether they know it or not.  While many scholars have compiled dictionaries of African American usage and vocabulary, no one has yet had the resources to undertake a large-scale, systematic study, based on historical principles, of the myriad contributions that African Americans have made to the shape and structure of the English language that Americans speak today.  This project, at long last, will address that need,” said Henry Louis Gates Jr. in a press release by Oxford 

The project is being funded in parts by the Mellon and Wagner Foundations. The goal of the dictionary is to “document the lexicon of African American English (AAE) in a dictionary based on historical principles,” according to an Oxford University press release. 

Over three years, the Oxford English dictionary will be working with the Hutchins Center’s network of scholars of African American studies to specifically study African American English and create a definitive record of it. The research will encompass spelling, meaning, history, and pronunciation of African American English and will take into account the words of prominent African American writers, as well as the words of the common everyday African American. 

“The editing of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English will realize a dream I’ve  nurtured since I first studied the pages of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language:  to research and compile fully and systematically the richness of African American English,” Henry Louis Gates Jr. said in a press release. “This massive project draws upon decades of scholarship from the most sophisticated linguists… and the crowd-sourced contributions of speakers of African American English as well.”

According to the Oxford University Press, the dictionary is slated for release in 2025.

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