Herbert Martin's speech "The African American Oral Tradition" is about how African American writers imply oral forms in their literary works. African American literatures use several different types of genres to form its basis about slavery. Genres such as, spiritual, folk songs and gospels are all intertwined together to form each individual work.
Martin begins by explaining the language of the African Americans. The law forbade anyone to teach the slaves standard English; therefore, they learned solely by ear. When they transferred the language that they heard to paper, a new style of language was formed which was referred to as dialect. Dialect was not Standard English because it was what the African Americans perceived they had heard or how they thought the word was spelled, since they were forbidden to learn Standard English. Dunbar is celebrated as the first African American writer. His literacy is still alive, however with a stigma attached. Dunbar was introduced to the public, whom despised dialect, but celebrated Dunbar whom used dialect.
Because of the bad stigma attached to dialect, African Americans did not like to be associated with this style of language. They wanted to learn proper English. Wheatley, Dulaney, along with Walker were among the first to use formal verses in their writings.
Folk poems are known as the lesser child to formal verses. Catches are a type of folk poem that is often used as sales and pitch songs. A catch was sung by martin that went like this; "Strawberries Come and feel my sweet strawberries!" These songs are used to let people know what they have in their cart that they are selling.
Martin speaks of the two elements that are essential to African American Literature, the spiritual and the sermon. Spirituals talk about salvation and freedom in the afterlife. Baldwin, a preacher is an example of a spiritual writer. A sermon, on the other hand, is a more humorous was to use dialect.