Big Al and Black Reparations Analysis

Posted: November 26, 2012 in Big Al and Black Reparations Analysis

In this scene Chuck starts off with a preface of Big Al giving the audience a positive, neutral depiction of his character. He states the following:

Chuck:      Anyhow, here with the weather is our old pal. Reliable, friendly, portly Big Al.

Chuck emphasizes his characterization of Big Al, by uttering each descriptor followed by a pause. The writers are painting a picture of Big Al as a reliable, unwavering representation of a friendly African American, unlike the negative representations of the stereotypical African American in prior scenes. This is demonstrated by the depiction of Tron, the local dice player turned world’s wealthiest man. His character uses derogatory language, and uses a dialect that is associated with the stereotypical character he is playing. Alim (2010) explains this perceptual dialectology and states, “blackness is expected to be unclean, dull, unattractive, bad, and yes inarticulate” (p. 207).

After Big Al’s introduction, he starts with what is considered articulate and Standard English (SE). His use of SE is a reflection of the folklinguistic view of articulate being associated with clean, bright, attractive, and good (Alim, 2010). Big Al unexpectedly, makes an announcement of his resignation and surprises Chuck with the following statements:

Big Al:     …This is not my real speaking voice. (Changes voice) Actually Chuck, this my real speaking voice. I talk like a straight up gangsta, bitch.

Big Al feels empowered to diverge from his use of SE and use AAVE. He emphasizes his distinctiveness through using his real speaking voice and shifts to the dialect he identifies with. AAVE represents his social identity and a symbol of solidarity. This is also folklinguistic representation of how speakers of AAVE feel the need to suppress their use of the dialect in order to accommodate to social norms. Reparations disbursement provided Big Al with the social motivation to use AAVE in a SE environment.

Towards the end of the scene Big Al expresses his excitement for his reparations payment through what Baugh and Alim refer to as performativity, which is “the stylistic dramatization of the self that individuals infuse into their behaviors” (Alim & Baugh, 2007, p. 104). Big Al uses performativity in the following dialogue:

Big Al:      (Begins to dance) I’m paid, I’m paid, I’m paid in XXX (begins beat boxing)

His use of stylistic dramatization is a feature that relates to the Black hip-hop culture. He emphasizes his statements “I’m paid” by ticking (a popular hip-hop dance style) and then concludes by beat-boxing another popular feature of the Black hip-hop culture. Big Al’s use of performativity intensifies his social identity with AAVE.

There are particular AAVE language negative structures that are present in this sketch. Dillard (1973) describes the origin of the simple negative structures in AAVE:

From the simple negative structure of Plantation Creole and the antecedent pidgin, decreolized Black English, there developed three negators (dit’n, don’ and ain’) as well as elaborate double negative structures particularly in the following example of ain’: It ain’ no use me workin’ so hard.( p. 102)

Big Al uses the negator ain’ in the sentence “My name ain’ Big Al..”. He also uses the double negative ain’ no in the sentence “Wait a minute. That ain’ no truck”. While this negator is viewed as simple improper English, it is a common feature of AAVE. From the view of the sociolinguist, it is just as significant as the SE form of negation.


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