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  1. Today • ‘Standard’ vs. ‘Nonstandard’ dialects • African American English • The ‘Ebonics’ controversy

  2. Summary • Daniels: • “Everyone speaks a dialect.” • “Speakers of all languages employ a range of styles and a set of subdialects or jargons.” • “[Dialects] are intimately related to the … individuals who use them.”

  3. Factors that affect dialect Geography Social status/class Occupation Age Ethnicity Gender    

  4. Language variation • Factors that affect dialect differences • Nature of dialect differences • Attitudes about different dialects • Uses of different dialects Daniels “Value judgments about different dialects are matters of taste”

  5. Standard vs. Non-standard • ‘Standard’ • Typically used by political leaders, upper classes, in the media; taught in schools • Considered the dominant or ‘prestige’ dialect ≠ ‘correct’, ‘proper’, ‘better’ • ‘Non-standard’ (Vernacular) • any dialect not perceived as ‘standard’ ≠ ‘substandard’, ‘incorrect’, ‘improper’

  6. Standard vs. Non-standard • Some standard dialects of English • Received Pronunciation (RP) (in UK) • characterized by phonological features • Standard American English (SAE) • characterized by grammatical (morphological & syntactic) features (Ch. 14 William Labov)

  7. Overt vs. Covert prestige • Overt prestige: • Attached to some dialect by the community that defines how people should speak to gain status in that community • Covert prestige: • Exists among nonstandard speakers and defines how people should speak to be considered members of that particular group

  8. Hypercorrection • Speakers overcorrect for ‘incorrect’ speech in wrong place, often to imitate standard dialect • Phonological: e.g., r-insertion ‘Cuba(r)’, ‘idea(r)’ • Lexical: ‘It is beyond my apprehension.’ ‘You misunderestimate me.’ – George W. Bush • Grammatical: ‘Let’s keep this between you and I’ ‘Whom is calling?’

  9. Language and ethnicity • African American English (AAE) • African American Vernacular English (AAVE) • African American Language • Black English • Black Vernacular English • Ebonics • Inner City English

  10. Language and ethnicity • African American English (AAE) A continuum of language varieties that is spoken primarily by and among African-Americans But… • Not all African-Americans speak AAE • Not only African-Americans speak AAE

  11. Misconceptions about AAE • It is ‘black slang’ • It is a product of ‘lazy’ speech • It is an inferior, simple form of English • It is grammatically incorrect, illogical and has no rules

  12. AAE • 1965: William Labov made first grammatical study of AAE, showing it to be regular, rule-governed

  13. AAE Phonology • Deletion of /r/, /l/ mo(re), gua(r)d, a(ll), he(l)p, Pa(r)is • Simplification of consonant clusters han(d), las(t), chil(d)

  14. Rule-governed • Delete /r/, /l/ less often if … • followed by vowel in next word (four o’clock, all or nothin’) • Delete final consonant less often if … • it carries meaning (e.g., plural: I got cats.) • it differs in voicing from preceding consonant (e.g., pant, belt, false, part)

  15. AAE Syntax • Has structures common to many other languages/dialects (just not SAE)

  16. AAE Multiple negation • AAE: “He don’ know nothin’.” • Russian: Oн ничегоне знает. (He nothingnot know) Spanish: Él no sabe nada. • Middle English: “He never yet no villainy not said In all his life to no kind of creature.”(Chaucer, 1400)

  17. AAE Deletion of ‘to be’ • AAE: He __ my brother. • Russian: Oн мойбрать. (He my brother)

  18. AAE Habitual ‘be’ • ‘be’ is required when referring to habitual, repeated action The coffee be cold (every day). The coffee cold (right now). They be slow (all the time). They slow (today).

  19. Bidialectalism • Many African-Americans code-switch between AAE and SAE since AAE often is subject to much prejudicial stigma and ignorance (Watch clip, Ch. 23 “Linguistic Profiling”)

  20. Linguistic Profiling • John Baugh (Stanford U) • Discrimination or prejudice based on the sound of someone’s voice/dialect

  21. Oakland, CA Ebonics controversy

  22. Background • 1996: Blacks make up 53% of student population in Oakland schools, but… • …80% of the suspensions • …64% of the students held back each year • …71% of students classified as having special needs (for ‘language deficiency’) • Average grade was a D+

  23. Precedent • 1979: M.L. King, Jr. Elem. School v. Ann Arbor School Board (Ch. 25) • Verdict: teachers failed “to take into account [the children's] home community dialect…” • Court ordered Board to… • …help teachers identify “Black English” • …use knowledge of Black English in teaching students how to read SAE

  24. Dec. 18, 1996: Oakland School Board passes Ebonics resolution • Goals of resolution: • to recognize Ebonics as ‘home language’ of many black children • to help teachers understand Ebonics so as to change attitudes about it • to help teachers use Ebonics as means of teaching black students to read, write

  25. Media reaction: AAE as ‘illegitimate’ • Mary McGrory (Boston Globe): Oakland Board is “legitimizing gibberish.” • Gary Wills (Chicago Sun-Times): “Ebonics is just bad English” • U.S. Educ. Sec. Richard Riley called AAE a “mere dialect” • NY Times: referred to AAE as “black slang”

  26. Media reaction: AAE as ‘joke’ • Daily News, editorial: “Ebonics is a cruel joke…At best, Ebonics is street slang.” • CA Gov. Pete Wilson called Ebonics a “ridiculous theory.” • A Newsweek black columnist criticized the School Board for its “stale, silly rhetoric.” • Time called the resolution “goofy.”

  27. Media reaction: AAE as ‘disease’ • The Economist: “The Ebonics Virus” • Frank Rich ("The Ebonic Plague," NY Times): "There isn't a public personage of stature in the land, white or black, left or right, Democrat or Republican, who doesn't say that the Oakland, CA, school board was wrong.”

  28. African-American reaction Jesse Jackson: “In Oakland some madness has erupted over making slang talk a second language. You don't have to go to school to learn to talk garbage.” • Maya Angelou called resolution “very threatening” and was “incensed” by it • Patricia Smith (Boston Globe): “What they're saying in Oakland is that those kids are too dumb to learn the way we did, and that's insulting.” • Eldridge Cleaver (Black Panther official), compared official acknowledgement of AAE with condoning cannibalism

  29. Support • The Linguistics Society of America voted unanimously to support the Oakland resolution.

  30. Discussion • What are some reasons for such negative reaction? From the media? From African Americans? • Misconceptions about AAE • Implies African-Am. can’t learn SAE • Stems from misinterpretation of wording of resolution

  31. Wording of Oakland resolution • ‘genetically based’ • ‘primary language’ / ‘not a dialect’ • ‘instruction in’ • ‘bilingual’

  32. The Genetic Issue: “African Language Systems [Ebonics] are genetically based.” • Popular Interpretation: Blacks (of any nation) are biologically predisposed to speak Ebonics. • Linguistic Understanding: "Genetic" refers to linguistic origins (or ‘genesis’), not biological predisposition.

  33. The Separate Language Issue: “[Ebonics] is not a dialect of English.” • Popular Interpretation: Ebonics is a separate language. • Linguistic Understanding: Assumes the popular (and inaccurate) conception of ‘dialect’ as inferior/substandard form of a language. Also, suggests it is comprised of components from different (African) languages besides English.

  34. The Teaching Issue: “…a program featuring African Language Systems principles in instructing African-American children both in their primary language and in English.” • Popular Interpretation: Teachers will teach students how to speak Ebonics. • Linguistic Understanding: Ebonics will be used selectively as aid in teaching SAE.

  35. Use of Ebonics in the classroom

  36. Empirical studies • “Correction” of nonstandard in school does not lead to increased standard use • Use of nonstandard in teaching speeds, improves learning of standard in reading/writing • African-Am. college students instructed on diffs. btw. AAE and SAE improved SAE writing skills

  37. The Bilingual Issue: "the English language acquisition of African-American students is as fundamental as is application of bilingual education principles for others whose primary languages are other than English." • Popular Interpretation: Speakers of Ebonics should qualify for federally funded bilingual education programs. • Linguistic Understanding: Ebonics speakers should have access to programs that help them learn SAE.