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Henry Louis Gates Jr. To Oversee Oxford’s New African American Dictionary

Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. will be at the helm of Oxford’s new dictionary that will recognize Black culture’s centuries-long impact on the English language.

On Thursday (July 21), Gates Jr., Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, announced that he will serve as the editor-in-chief of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English.

The new dictionary will house a glossary of popular words and phrases used by Black Americans past and present.

“Just the way Louis Armstrong took the trumpet and turned it inside out from the way people played European classical music,” Gates Jr. told the New York Times, Black people took English and “reinvented it, to make it reflect their sensibilities and to make it mirror their cultural selves.”

According to Gates Jr., Oxford University Press was looking to collaborate with the Hutchins Center on their existing dictionaries, but he proposed a more ambitious venture.

A culmination of three years of research, the new dictionary seeks to preserve the vocabulary of words “invented by African Americans” and serve as a complete and authoritative record of the vernacular.

“Words with African origins such as ‘ ‘goober,’ ‘gumbo’ and ‘okra’ survived the Middle Passage along with our African ancestors,” Gates Jr. said. “And words that we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib,’ ‘hokum’ and ‘diss,’ ‘hip’ and ‘hep,’ ‘bad,’ meaning ‘good,’ and ‘dig,’ meaning ‘to understand ’— these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have come into American English from African American speakers … over the last few hundred years.”

“The bottom line of the African American people, these are people who love language,” Gates Jr. added.

The first edition of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English is scheduled to be released in 2025.

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