The use of /r/ for /l/ in initial consonant clusters, a feature found in some Atlantic English-based creoles, occurs sporadically in representations of African American English, in words such as bress ‘bless’, prease ‘please’, and grad ‘glad’, from the colonial period to the mid-twentieth century. This study documents and analyzes the history of these representations and compares the feature with similar occurrences in several Caribbean creoles, finding an ultimate source in the phonologies of several African languages whose speakers were enslaved and brought to North America. The history of the representation of bress in American literature shows it to have become an iconic stereotype, fueled in part by the minstrel show tradition. The occurrence and eventual disappearance of the pronunciation in African American English may be explained in terms of the “new dialect formation” model, with emphasis on the role of the individual in language acquisition and change.

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