Oxford University Press has announced it will produce a new dictionary of “African American English,” which will include slang ranging from “hip” to “diss.”
Black Harvard literary critic Henry Louis Gates Jr. will oversee the three-year project for Oxford Languages to compile the “Oxford Dictionary of African American English,” the publisher said in a news release Thursday.
The new book will include “quotations taken from real examples of language in use,” alongside the usual Oxford dictionary notations on the meaning, pronunciation, spelling, usage and history of each word.
“This will serve to acknowledge the contributions of African-American writers, thinkers, and artists, as well as everyday African Americans, to the evolution of the English lexicon,” Oxford University Press said in the release. “Evidence will be gathered from such diverse sources as novels, academic research papers, newspapers and magazines, song lyrics, recipes, social media and more.”
Mr. Gates, director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, will oversee a team of researchers and editors from Oxford and Harvard.
“Every speaker of American English borrows heavily from words invented by African Americans, whether they know it or not,” Mr. Gates said.
He cited the words “goober,” “gumbo,” “okra,” “cool,” “crib,” “hokum,” “diss,” “hip,” “hep,” “bad” (meaning good) and “dig” (meaning to understand) as examples.
“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,” he said.
The professor said his team will solicit “crowd-sourced contributions” to the dictionary from Black Americans to give the most accurate snapshot of African American English and its contributions to the English language. The three-year research project is being funded partly by grants from the Mellon and Wagner Foundations.
• Sean Salai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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