Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type




First Advisor

Deborah L. Vietze

Second Advisor

Tiffany Floyd

Third Advisor

Adriana Espinosa


African American Vernacular English, African American English, Identity, Ethnic Identity, Ethnolinguistic Identity, Adolescent Identity, Black Identity Development


This study’s purposes were to provide support for the Social identity theory of African American English (Vietze & Glasco, 2022) and the meanings African American English (AAE) speakers assign to their dialect. The study was primarily based on Tajfel’s (1979) social identity theory that proposes individuals derive a sense of self from group membership. The qualitative analyses examined ethnic and language group memberships. Ethnic identity development (Phinney, 1992), and ethnolinguistic identity theories (Giles and Johnson, 1987) guided narrative and content analyses of Kiese Laymon’s memoir, Heavy: An American Memoir (Laymon, 2018). The sample included 21 African American English conversations (N=84) and 26 narrative passages (N= 191) from Kiese’s adolescence. The researcher used directed content analyses to determine if the African American English conversations contained any dimensions of Phinney’s (1992) ethnic identity development framework or Giles and Johnson’s (1987) ethnolinguistic identity theory. The researcher used narrative analysis to explore Kiese’s narrative meaning making (McClean, 2005) of African American English. The content analyses indicated there was a relationship between African American English use and ethnic identity. The content analyses also indicated there was a relationship between African American English and ethnolinguistic identity. The narrative analysis confirmed that Kiese interpreted African American English interactions as centrifugal to his own and a general Black identity. The exploratory thematic analysis demonstrated three novel contributions: AAE speakers spontaneously create AAE expressions, AAE speaker’s diglossia poses communication challenges, and AAE speakers may prefer to use dialect to convey distress. Recommendations for future research are discussed.



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