Let’s get one thing straight from the start: whoever you are, wherever you are, you speak a dialect of English. English does not and has never followed one set of rules, conventions, or vocabulary. Historically, the English language did not even exist until the conventions which governed older languages had mixed and reordered enough so that people in Britain could no longer be understood by people in other communities. Even in the earliest days of English, not everyone spoke the same version of the language; but what united all English dialects was that all English speakers could understand each other, although at times only with great difficulty. This is the most basic definition of a language: a system of symbols that two or more people use to communicate.
So, it is because English speakers in New Zealand can communicate with English speakers in Texas that both are said to share a language. Although both dialects have developed independently, they can be grouped on equal footing into a single category. Just as Vulgar Latin gave rise to the Romance languages spoken today, so too did Early Modern English give rise to the many dialects of English now spoken throughout the world. The conception that any particular dialect is a version of another is a myth which rests on thinking that most people would not accept if it were universally applied. After all, we would never say that Portuguese is a subcategory of Spanish (or vice versa); yet many people consider vernacular dialects to be deviant versions of some perfect English. This perfect, mythical form goes by an appropriately imposing name: Standard English.
Standard English towers above all other dialects, a monolithic written system which school children worldwide are instructed in as though its conventions had descended from the sky by chariot. The term refers to the set of grammatical rules and conventions used by professional and academic writers in the English-speaking world’s elite institutions. While Standard English is in no way a superior or a default form of English, it is the one that has been codified in books. Its usefulness lies in providing a single system of conventions to which all writers can adhere, a usefulness that should not be understated. But it did not give birth to the world’s spoken dialects, nor is it in any way logically preferable to them.
From a linguistic point of view, dialects are siblings, not parents and children. And while Standard English may be preferred by society, its siblings are no less worthy of their place in the family for it. Were all varieties but Standard English to die out someday, we’d be left with only the least interesting, least well-rounded sibling, and our linguistic culture would suffer for it. Among these many slighted siblings are regional dialects, socioeconomic dialects, ethnic dialects, and a whole panoply of other lects. The dialect which this article will discuss in particular is one of the most widely spoken and least investigated in the United States: Black American Vernacular English (BAVE).
BAVE refers to the spoken English used in most Black American communities. If you’ve ever lived in a community where people speak BAVE, then you’re already familiar with at least one version of this dialect. Describing every variety of BAVE in use today could not be done in less than a few hundred pages, and I’m in no position to even try to do it. Instead, what I will focus on here are some common features that distinguish BAVE from other dialects of American English. As a counterpoint to BAVE, I will discuss General American English, which is a dialect of spoken English which nearly all Americans have some experience with—at least those who own televisions.
General American English (GAE) is the category used by linguists to describe (roughly) the varieties of spoken English used by White Americans not living in the Northeast or Southeast. GAE is the spoken language of government, education, and media in the United States. The category is vague, mostly used as a shorthand, but is nonetheless useful. The many varieties of English that can be grouped under GAE largely adhere to the same grammatical and phonological conventions and share the same vocabulary. GAE’s hegemony relies on a close correspondence to the conventions of Standard English, though the two systems are not identical. Distinguishing between Standard English and General American English is vital, since referring to the two interchangeably assumes that all speakers both possess a high level of literacy and also follow written conventions when they speak. In reality, very few people actually speak according to the rules of Standard English, rules that when followed in conversation can make the speaker seem stilted or pretentious.
Now, if the dialect you speak happens to be a prestige dialect (like GAE), you’ll find a high correspondence between your native speech patterns and the grammar of textbooks and the accents of national newscasters. If you happen to speak a non-prestige dialect (Southern American English, for example), you’ll find a lesser correspondence between the way you speak and the way prestige speakers do. What is important to remember, regardless of what dialect you speak (or what accent under the GAE heading you use), is that there is no one proper dialect or accent which others are deviations from. The pronunciation keys in dictionaries may lead you to believe that there are correct pronunciations for all English words; but these keys really only indicate conventional pronunciations in a particular prestige dialect. Those Americans who believe that there is a right way to pronounce a controversial word are probably referring to the conventional pronunciation in GAE, which is a convention, nothing more.
As far as pronunciation goes in reality, there is a vast spectrum across the United States. We are all at least somewhat familiar with differences between accents used by speakers in different regions—perhaps you can even imitate a few of them. While a dialect refers to grammatical, syntactic, and phonemic features, an accent refers only to the ways different speakers pronounce their utterances. This involves sentence-level stress patterns (prosody), as well as individual sounds (phones). For an example of the latter, many Americans pronounce the vowels in “call” and “law” differently than the vowels in “doll” and “lob.” However, almost all White Californians pronounce the four vowels identically, such that “gone” and “John” are perfect rhymes. In Southern Connecticut (where I hail from), we most certainly do not.
So, although accents clearly provide social and regional information about a speaker, even people with thick regional accents (like me) can approach the status of prestige-dialect speakers by following GAE’s grammatical conventions. Although it is troubling how often speakers with regional or ethnic accents are encouraged in higher education and business settings to adjust their pronunciation to approach GAE, not making these accommodations is often not disastrous, so long as prestige-grammar conventions are followed. Although differences in accents are certainly worth studying, this article is not concerned with them; nor will it deal with vocabulary that is not present in GAE, much of which is considered slang. It seems that the grammatical differences between BAVE and GAE are what lead to the majority of misunderstanding and stigma, and these differences are more cut and dry than the phonological ones, and accordingly are less resistant to classification.
Importantly, exploring and understanding the grammatical distinctions between BAVE and GAE is not purely an intellectual exercise; these differences lead to tremendous confusion, confusion which serves to stigmatize the native speech of millions of native English-speaking Americans. As always, in order to understand differences, we must also understand their causes, which requires facing the difficult truth of American racial segregation. The statistics that demonstrate the prevalence of ongoing housing and educational segregation are readily available on the Internet, and I encourage you not to shy away from consulting them. America’s remaining a segregated country is both a cause and an effect of the stark differences between the American English dialects which I am about to discuss; neither situation would exist as it currently does without the other. Therefore, if we intend to ever realize a fully-integrated American society, it is vital that we no longer accept a hierarchy based on linguistic difference.
When I hear and read the ramblings of non-linguists opining on “the way Black people talk,” a few of the same buzzwords tend to arise. Here are three of the leading contenders: improper, uneducated, and ignorant. In order to simply present what is misguided about these labels, I have written the remainder of this article containing only information which can be verified on Wikipedia. Miraculously, there’s enough available on this first-step resource to explain away all the common misconceptions propagated by the ill-informed.
So, let’s start with the truth in the falsity: why do so many people feel comfortable describing BAVE the way they do?
Well, first of all, nearly all students in the United States are instructed using the grammatical conventions of Standard English; it follows that academic and professional writing is usually conducted according to these conventions. Most teachers will refer to Standard English grammar as “correct,” “proper,” or “the way to sound educated.” This has given rise to the first two pejoratives which I named earlier: improper and uneducated. Because the grammatical system used in BAVE does not conform to the conventions of Standard English, it is often described as improper. Most professors at American institutions of higher education instruct students in GAE using books written in Standard English; insofar as this is true, BAVE is not the spoken dialect in elite institutions, which leads to the label of uneducated. Realistically, not everyone using these adjectives to describe BAVE is totally wrong: if an assignment is supposed to be written in Standard English, it would be improper to do otherwise; and if everyone in a board room is speaking GAE, it would sound uneducated not to follow suit.
What this does not mean, however, is that someone who speaks Black American Vernacular English is incapable of speaking General American English or writing in Standard English. Nor does it mean that everyone who speaks GAE is incapable of speaking other dialects. The dialect equivalent of the word bilingual is bidialectal, a term which describes the majority of middle– and upper-class Black Americans. Bidialectal Americans possess an apparent linguistic advantage over their single-dialect counterparts, many of whom have their own regional accents to contend with. In an ideal American public school system, all high-school students of all backgrounds would possess skills in GAE and Standard English, since speaking and writing America’s prestige dialects is necessary for anyone seeking social mobility. In this regard, the question of an equitable formal education actually transcends race.
At no point in this discussion does it make any sense to suggest that BAVE should not exist. Nor does it make any sense for people who speak it as their native dialect to abandon speaking it, just as a Russian or French speaker need not abandon their native language upon moving to the United States. There is simply no legitimate argument for stigmatizing BAVE in and of itself, nor should educators take steps to discourage its use as a living, widely-spoken dialect of English. Those critics on the other extreme who would encourage BAVE speakers not to speak GAE at all (usually for political reasons), should try to keep in mind how vital GAE is for anyone trying to make money in the United States.
So, it seems to me that only someone who would shun non-native English speakers for using a language other than English while living in the United States can really raise an objection to a goal of bidialectal BAVE-GAE speakers. The idea that BAVE is a “dumbed-down version” of Standard English—an idea which ought to be eradicated—relies on simple prejudice, the feeling that difference equals inferiority. It would be just as patently foolish to suggest that Spanish is a dumbed-down version of French. However, there are some grammatical features of BAVE that casual observation might suggest are merely GAE features which have been simplified. In order to avoid falling into this trap, casual listeners must remind themselves as often as necessary that these features have evolved from Early Modern English, not from GAE or from Standard English. To understand these differences, we’ll have to talk about grammar in detail—and as all good grammar lessons do, this one starts with an anecdote.
A few months ago, I was sitting on a park bench in Morningside Heights outlining a novella I had just been hired to ghostwrite. As is common for writers at the beginning of a new project, I was happy to be distracted by even the most mundane events. I was soon provided with the perfect opportunity: a stranger began a private phone conversation within earshot. For anyone interested in dialects and accents, I highly recommend eavesdropping on candid conversations; I’ve learned as much about dialect from this practice as I have from reading grammar books.
In this case, a black man in his late thirties was sitting on a nearby bench engaging in a passionate phone conversation in BAVE with his mother. I gleaned after a few seconds that he was denying accusations made by someone named Wanda; based on his demeanor, it seemed the accusations were not at all flattering. After he made multiple outright denials, his mother seemed to finally ask him why Wanda said what she did if it really was a total fabrication. The man responded: “The woman be hallucinating.” I wrote this down, naturally, because the page in front of me was blank and because it’s clearly a great one-liner. The man’s mother must have then asked him for clarification, because he began to tell his side of the story. “So, I’m sitting downstairs playing spades on my tablet,” he began. I wrote that down too, at this point very excited. The close proximity of “be hallucinating” and “am sitting” was a linguist’s dream, and it’s exactly what spurred me to write this article.
The distinction between these two verbs is where the label of ignorant is undermined completely. Indeed, it is the casual listener who speaks only GAE who is revealed as ignorant in this situation. Without any knowledge of BAVE, the difference between the two verbs might seem senseless. An unknowing listener might think that “be hallucinating” is simply an incorrect verb form, a mistake which adds nothing. As I’ve personally experienced, some people will actively resist explanations of this nuance, claiming that the speaker who used the verb didn’t know what they were saying or that they were simply wrong. But this man knew exactly what he meant by “be hallucinating.”
When a verb takes the form of (am/is/are) + (verb-ing), as in “am sitting,” this indicates that the verb is an ongoing process occurring during a certain period of time. Linguists call this kind of verb continuous or progressive, and the sense is expressible in many languages. Importantly, this progressive sense does not tell us when the verb occurred, but rather how. This alteration of a verb is referred to as aspect, whereas grammatical indications of when are referred to as tenses. When my eavesdropee said “am sitting,” he combined the historical present tense with the progressive aspect: he meant that he sat for an extended period of time at a time in the past. Using the present tense when telling a story about the past is also used in GAE, and any good storyteller is familiar with the convention. The other form, “be hallucinating,” however, is not used in GAE. This form simply does not exist in Standard English grammar.
As it turns out, there is a very intentional difference between “is hallucinating” and “be hallucinating” in BAVE. While the first conveys only one aspect (progressive), the latter conveys two: progressive and habitual. The man was indicating that not only was Wanda hallucinating at the time that she allegedly witnessed whatever she did, but that she also hallucinates habitually. BAVE provides the capacity to combine the habitual aspect and the progressive aspect in one verb. This cannot be done grammatically in GAE––an adequate translation requires an adverb: “The woman is always hallucinating.” Anyone who would suggest that this nuance is unnecessary must be ignoring the fact that this speaker made use of the distinction in a single breath. Of course, one can substitute “is always” for “be” to get across the same idea; but, as usual, meaning and precision are ‘lost in translation.’ Indeed, the difference between the two forms does constitute a translation, since the meaning is roughly the same in both versions while the grammar is not. Let’s take a moment now to consider a situation similar to my experience in Morningside Heights, only this time instead of two dialects, we’ll compare two languages.
Imagine that you’re sitting in a café in Berlin. It’s early afternoon on a Saturday, you don’t have work again till Monday, and you’ve got nothing to do and nowhere to be. Because you’ve been living in Germany for a few months, you can speak a bit of the language in conversation; you know a few hundred words and phrases, and your pronunciation isn’t terrible. However, you’ve never taken a class in German grammar, and the rules and conventions mostly elude you. Nonetheless, German, like English, often uses prepositions to indicate the functions of words in a sentence, and so you can almost always understand how nouns in a sentence relate to each other, either by the order in which they appear or by the prepositions that precede them.
As the months go by, you start to notice that the endings of the words for the and a are often slightly different. You know that the word for the always starts with d- and that the word for a always starts with ein-, but the endings change all the time. You figure that these changes are meaningless variations chosen at the whim of the speaker; after all, you can make sense of most of what you hear without distinguishing one ending from another. And so, being ignorant of the nuance carried by these changes in endings, you chock them up to the randomness contained in any language; maybe you surmise that the endings change based on the sound of the following word. Perhaps after a few more weeks pass you notice that they often change to show whether a word is singular or plural.
As it turns out, the changes in the endings of der and ein (the and a) provide a native German speaker with a lot of grammatical information. Not only do these changes show whether a noun is plural, they also indicate gender and case. Although there is no such thing as grammatical gender in English, we do use a case system for personal pronouns: we differentiate between they, them, and their depending on what they is doing in a sentence. Although we could use they in all situations and still figure out the meaning of a sentence, showing the case of personal pronouns is obligatory in Standard English. Germans, who have four cases where English has three, show the case of all common nouns, not just pronouns like he, them, and my. In other words, even “a spoon” and “the tickets” show case, number, and gender in German.
So, even if you don’t know that articles in German indicate gender and case, it isn’t impossible to understand German speakers; the human brain is splendid at figuring out the sense of a sentence with limited information. Likewise, not knowing that multi-word verbs in BAVE indicate differences in aspect will not obscure the meaning of most sentences; after all, both BAVE and GAE are versions of the same language. Therefore, because grammatical complexity does not completely prevent understanding, many GAE speakers will assume that they’re not missing out on anything important when listening to BAVE. For the most part, they’re not at fault for thinking this; no one can know what the rules are doing if they don’t know what they are. Moreover, GAE speakers have been told their whole lives that the way they speak English is the right way to speak it, and most have lived only in a society which denies that the rules and nuances of BAVE actually exist; not only do GAE-only speakers not understand them, they are encouraged by schools and the media to ignore them.
Once we accept that the grammar of BAVE is thoughtful and consistent, we discover that BAVE’s potential for conveying tense and aspect is actually much more nuanced than is GAE’s. In addition to the “be hallucinating” form discussed earlier, there are at least five other aspects in BAVE which GAE lacks: she finna work, she stay working, she steady working, she been working, she come working. Each of these forms indicates a different manner of intentionality or habit. There are also at least eight phases (which indicate tense in degrees), which may also be considered aspects: she been sat, she done sat, she did sit, she do sit, she be sitting, she a-sit, she a-gonna sit, she gonna sit. These tense forms indicate different times in the past, present, and future during which sitting occurs, each with a distinct implication: I been sat, for example, indicates that sitting has been ongoing since a time prior to what the listener had assumed; I be sitting indicates that the listener shouldn’t be surprised that the speaker is currently sitting, since they do so habitually; and I’m a-sit indicates a strong intention to sit in the near future. Tenses and aspects can then be combined to create additional aspects: for example, I been live here, I been done live here, and I done been live here, each of which expresses a slightly different meaning.
Although there is much flexibility in BAVE when stacking aspects and phases to express additional nuance, there are certainly still rules. As in GAE, there are combinations which are not commonly used and which have no conventional meaning. The difference between the tense and aspect systems in the two dialects isn’t that one has conventions and the other doesn’t; they both have rules which speakers do not thoughtlessly violate, without which reliable expression of meaning would be impossible. However, if one does not know the rules, then the distinctions between different forms become meaningless. Because GAE and BAVE share so many features, it can be difficult for GAE speakers to accept that they’re missing anything at all.
None of this happened overnight. The differences between GAE and BAVE are significant, as are the differences between all modern dialects and Early Modern English. The changes which led from Shakespeare’s English to GAE are quite well-documented; as for BAVE, not so much. Because reliable written transcripts of BAVE don’t exist for at least the first two hundred years of the dialect’s existence, it’s difficult to tell exactly how the language developed. Over time, additional aspects and phases must have arisen to meet the needs of speakers. Likewise, some constructions from Early Modern English must have fallen out of favor. As always with languages, such changes happen in tandem; one example from the development of Early Modern English is especially important—the loss of verb conjugations.
People who have studied Romance languages might recall that pronouns are not usually required in main clauses. In Spanish, for example, one need not say yo amo to mean I love—amo suffices on its own; the –o ending definitively signals that I is the subject, just as other endings would signal they or we as the subject, no pronoun required. The same rule applies in many languages, and English is actually peculiarly fussy about requiring a noun even when it’s obvious who the subject is from context.
The reason for this is that a few hundred years ago English speakers stopped fully conjugating their verbs––instead of having six endings for each tense of a verb to indicate the subject, the forms were reduced to two. To compensate for this, speakers began to follow stricter grammatical rules, one of which was the requirement that every verb have a stated subject. By stringently requiring pronouns, Early Modern English grammar allowed for laxity when it came to verb endings, leaving the many varieties of English we have today in which only the she/he/it forms of verbs are conjugated.
What happened was that a tightening of subject-naming conventions allowed speakers to reduce the total number of verb forms necessary to say what they wanted to say and to be understood. This kind of development is constant and common in languages around the world, though it takes many generations to show dramatic effects. Importantly, what is always true of these changes is that they only occur when they do not hinder the ability of speakers to understand each other. English could not have lost its verb endings and also retained optional pronouns; if it had, then “I ate it” and “she ate it” and “they ate it” would all read “ate it.” The natural development of Early Modern English did not permit this much ambiguity. Because all dialects of English now rely so much on syntax, changes in word endings are almost entirely redundant. In other words, there are very few circumstances in which a listener would be confused by a speaker who used only a single form of a verb in all situations.
In Standard English today, even the difference between eat and eats is extraneous, a fact which BAVE speakers take full advantage of. The historical truth is that the English language has been losing verb forms since its origin without ill effects. Even if BAVE had added nothing to Early Modern English, simplifying verb forms would be in and of itself a benefit to the language, a completion of a process that began hundreds of years ago before being halted by the intercession of grammarians. But, as we know, the streamlining of verb forms in BAVE did not come without addition elsewhere; BAVE’s plentitude of tense aspects adds much more grammatical nuance than simplifying redundant verb conjugations takes away.
We are now ready to address the features of BAVE grammar that provide unwitting GAE speakers with the confidence to dismiss BAVE as a “dumbed-down version” of Standard English. Although many grammatical differences have become stigmatized over the decades, three of them are particularly disconcerting for people who are unfamiliar with BAVE grammar: 1) the use of a single form of to be in the present tense; 2) the omission of to be in certain present-tense constructions; and 3) a general lack of case marking.
1) The fact is that to be is the only verb in Standard English that has more than two different forms in a single tense. That the many verb forms found in other languages are lacking from English should not surprise us: because of the required-subject rule, conjugating verbs at all is unnecessary. BAVE grammar does not require conjugating to be in the present tense at all; we is, they is, and I is are correct forms. Furthermore, conjugating the he/she/it forms of regular verbs is also not required, such that “she write books” is grammatically correct. This is no great loss, since there is no situation in which the difference between “she write” and “she writes” will cause confusion.
2) Since no difficulty in understanding is lost when using I is or they is, why not take it a step further? In the present tense, why even include the word is at all? BAVE, like many world languages (Russian, Hebrew, and Arabic being modern examples), allows speakers to omit forms of to be in the present tense. This renders the GAE sentence “They are my brothers” as “They my brothers” in BAVE. If you know the rule, then no meaning is lost. Unlike the additional aspects in BAVE, the are in the GAE version of this sentence adds no meaning. This is not to say that one version is superior to the other, but only that a difference which adds no confusion and sacrifices no nuance is not a difference worth complaining about.
3) Finally, there’s the issue of case marking. As an example, let’s consider they, them, and their. Grammatically, you should think of these not as three separate words, but rather as three forms of the same word. American grammarians usually call the first form subjective, the second oblique, and the third possessive. But, as we’ve discussed already, grammatical meaning in all dialects of English is conveyed mostly through word order and prepositions. So, it’s no surprise that having three forms for this pronoun is also redundant. We all know in practice that the distinction is unnecessary: when someone says “Me and Sam went to the party,” we are not confused about who the subjects are. The distinction between I and me here is unnecessary, and which form someone uses in this construction does not affect meaning.
Moreover, the difference between who and whom is often disregarded by GAE speakers—much more so than the difference between they and them. However, grammatically speaking, who is to whom as they is to them, and neither distinction is any more necessary than the other. For example, “It depends on who you find,” “Give the money to whomever shows up,” and “I don’t know who it’s meant for” are all grammatically incorrect in Standard English. But did that stop you from understanding any of them? Would it not make more sense to simply use one form in all cases? Of course, this is exactly what most of us do in conversation––we use who in all situations, and we are never misunderstood.
Similar to these common features of GAE, BAVE speakers will often use the subjective form they in place of the possessive form their. This results in phrases like “It’s they problem, ain’t it?” Because the possessive sense of they is indicated by its proximity to problem, marking they to show possession is redundant. The same goes for other possessive nouns: “She my momma sister” unambiguously refers to the speaker’s aunt; no possessive ’s is required to clarify the grammatical relationship. The more non-GAE features which are combined into one sentence, the less like Standard English the sentence appears: “I intend to borrow their sister’s car soon for a little while” is rendered as “I’m-a be borrowing they sister car.” Although this example is highly contrived for effect, the concision in the latter demonstrates how sound and sense are often greatly improved when rendered in BAVE.
Knowing these rules puts GAE speakers in a bit of a quandary: most probably think that they conjugate to be and other verbs in order to be understood; they probably think similarly about declining pronouns and adding the possessive ’s to nouns. But even this brief investigation of BAVE grammar has revealed that GAE speakers do not in fact use these forms to ensure that they are understood. The truth is that adhering to these rules is more culturally necessary than grammatically necessary. The codification of Standard English grammar indeed unified written language throughout the English-speaking world, but it did so at the cost of further development. The natural process by which English first shed verb conjugations and noun cases in favor of rigid syntax did not need to stagnate as it has; sadly, the books which prescribed and described Standard English grammar were not written with future developments in mind. By operating outside the dictates of grammarians, BAVE was able to develop so that most grammatical constructions now exist only out of necessity.
Grammarians have ardently fought to stop Standard English from developing since they first began their meddling, and thus far they have been disturbingly successful in doing so. One of the results has been the international mutual-intelligibility of English speakers on the Internet, a laudable achievement. But whether or not Standard English does more good than harm when it comes to writing should not influence our judgments of spoken English at all. Insofar as no one actually speaks Standard English anyway, looking down on people who do not speak GAE is both intellectually dishonest and patently prejudiced. When examining why we speak the way we do, we must face the true purpose of our adherence to conventions, whether it be thoughtless force of habit, conscious performance of social station, or the genuine aim of being understood. From a grammatical point of view, only the last is logically worth defending, and BAVE does not violate this fundamental purpose of language.
In the United States today, millions of American children go to schools where their native dialect is regularly demeaned by their teachers. Meanwhile, millions of other children are informed that their native dialect is superior to that of their classmates. None of these children are told what a dialect is, what Standard English is, or what the purpose of grammar is. Many are not even educated in Standard English grammar at all, much less taught why it’s worth knowing. The resulting tension between family life and school life for BAVE speakers is disastrous, and the resulting presumption of superiority for GAE speakers only stokes their growing prejudice.
But It would be unfair to condemn these teachers entirely; the majority know little of what’s been covered in this article; the majority only intend to help their students succeed in the professional world. It is therefore vital to a linguistically and racially integrated society that every single public school teacher know what Standard English and Black American Vernacular English are. It is vital that every American student know that no dialect is inherently superior to any other, just as no person is inherently superior to any other; we must better educate our teachers and our children because without knowing the former, they will never believe the latter.
Jeff Giering is a white guy from New Haven, Connecticut who writes prose for a living. He enjoys discussing politics, linguistics, and job offers. You can reach him at email@example.com.