Scholars of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) have generally assumed that the invariant am typical of minstrel depictions of Black speech was a fabrication, used neither by modern nor earlier Black Americans. However, the frequency with which invariant am occurs in renditions of interviews with ex-slave speech has always lent a certain uncertainty here, despite claims that these must have been distortions introduced by the interviewers. The author argues that the use of invariant am in a great many literary sources written by Black writers with sober intention, grammatical descriptions of Black speech that note invariant am as a feature, and the use of invariant am in regional British dialects imported to the New World suggest that invariant am was present in earlier AAVE and common among Black slaves and their immediate descendants, yet had largely disappeared by World War II.

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