Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I'm still smellin' crack in my clothes...

"Still smellin' crack in my clothes"? Come on, now! Does Jay-Z really expect me to believe he hasn't bought any new clothes since '88? Pssssh! Anyway, on with the bullshit...

- Ugh: Dad boxes with three year old son because he’s scared the kid is gay… winds up killing him. Good job, you fucking idiot.

- Prayer: A hilariously awesome study about the effects of prayer. Sounds like something out of the onion. Maybe these people just weren’t that good at praying.

- Guess Who’s Bizzack: That Queens-bridge bol with the short temper and best all-around game in the NBA is back on the court. God speed, son. By the way, Draft Express is nuts. If you’re an NBA dork, that place is for you. If you’re a streetball dork, you’re probably all about the EBC classic poppin’ off right now. The fuck is Gilbert Arenas thinking? Oh, and good ol' Larry Brown pulls the same ol' bullshit we've come to expect of the "classy" guy. Fuck him. Best coach in the NBA? Check. Hall of Famer? Check. Piece of shit? Check. Fuck that guy.

- Mashpolitik: Wayne waxes on mashes/mixes/blends. A bit long but some important stuff to think about.

- Lyrics Born: A good article about a rapper I used to really be into but now couldn’t really care less about. Written by Eric Arnold.

- Vinyl Sales Up: Via grand good, 7” record sales are up in the UK.

- Dorks are the New Jocks: So, apparently, dorks are cool. I’d just like to say I pioneered that campaign back when I was coming-up in my school days: I was dorky and got good grades, but everyone still liked me because I had a mean twenty-footer… except girls, of course.

- Ebonics: Sheesh, this only took, what, eight to ten years for people to realize the legitimacy of Ebonics? Hopefully, this will allow Ebonics-speaking kids to transition into Standard English better because, let’s be honest, you need to learn Standard English in this country if you want to be successful. To be sure, Ebonics is just as legitimately a “language” as Standard English is, but which of the following is a more feasible goal: (a) instituting educational programs that will teach our Ebonics-speaking children that, yes, Ebonics is a legitimate language, but not one that is acceptable in the American business world, or (b) convincing non-Ebonics-speaking White America that Ebonics is a legitimate language that needs to be recognized and accepted? I hope more programs like this are instituted across the country, and I hope supremely dumb motherfuckers like Bill Cosby shut the fuck up about it.

- White Lies: I bought Maurice Berger’s “White Lies: Race and the Myth of Whiteness” on a whim yesterday. It’s a memoir-esque, firt-person account of a Jewish kid growing up in the projects on the Lower East Side with a racist mom and a relatively open-minded (but schizophrenic) pops. Some interesting anecdotal insights about race/racism, random quotes of interest, and some interesting facts. It’s good. Stupidly predictable title, though. Still, it’s good.

- Interesting Thoughts about Tobacco: Here’s a really interesting take on smoking and why Corporate America approves of it in the work-place. You could probably sum it up by re-contextualizing the famous Marx quote about religion: “Smoking is the opiate of the masses.” It’s from Wikipedia's tobacco entry ...

For another take on the moral aspects of smoking, see David Krogh's book "Smoking: the Artificial Passion" (Freeman 1992). Freeman documents a strong case for tobacco's uniqueness as a "drug" and accounts for the fact that in the past, many moralists who disapproved of "recreational" drugs approved of tobacco.

Krogh shows how tobacco is not like alcohol or so-called controlled substances including marijuana a recreational drug. He shows how smokers use tobacco to normalize their feelings within the narrow band necessary for functioning within an industrial society, where energy levels have to be carefully rationed according to expectations.

Krogh's analysis is unusual because it explains why workplaces prior to about 1980 actively encouraged smoking through the provision of ashtrays and vending machines and even today, smokers in nonsmoking offices are usually allowed generous breaks far in excess of nonsmokers. Krogh shows how cigarette smoking (unlike alcohol or marijuana, but perhaps like "speed" and "crystal meth") reconciles people to dull jobs by narrowing their physical, and hence psychological responses to fit within an expected range: not so depressed as to be subpar but not overenthusiastic or so angry as to cause fear in fellow employees.

This range is naturalized as normal but in fact all industrialized societies have had to train their lower-level cadres to dampen their response and it appears, given Krogh's narrative sociology, that smoking was morally neutral before about 1980 because it fulfilled this necessary function.

The zenith of smoking's moral approval in America was the Second World War and the postwar era where vast numbers of people had to operate technical apparatus while dampening down feelings of fear and despair which were normal given the facts of the war and subsequent period of "cold" war. But to the extent that since this era, metropolitan and developed countries had (until September 11) almost complete immunity from the immediacy of wartime conditions, smoking has probably fulfilled less of a socially necessary function in metropolitan societies...while in marginalized war zones it continues to enjoy positive approval.

As a narrative sociology, Krogh needs to be taken with a grain of salt. It may be that prior to modern restrictions on tobacco advertising, public relations was able to create the illusion that a harmful activity was morally neutral or even a *mitzvah* (Jewish commandment).


-e

19 Comments:

At 1:48 PM, Blogger kc said...

i hate to sound like the Cos - but labeling ebonics as a foreign language sounds like a step in the wrong direction. considering that ebonic slang is used for basic words that people (including those who are using the slang) already know- i can't see how the inclusion of ebonics will do anything to help the learning process.

Back to Cosby for a second - doesn't Dyson lose points for all the time he spends pointing out how Cosby's past (entertainment) career contradicts his current socio-political arguments. Thats like someone arguing that Malcolm X's early years spent as a bacon lover contradict his preachings as a muslim.

I don't like Cosby's sanctimonious attitude either, but think about it, if people like Jay-z and Puff Daddy got on the Cosby bus, while it might seem hypocritical, don't you think we might start to see a different message being sent through black entertainment (i.e, less rims and bling, more politics and social awareness)??

 
At 4:43 PM, Anonymous drew said...

dude...i just realized i could put comments on this shit. anyway, i just wanted to tell you that i went down to the okayplayer office today and got some stuff i'll be working on. the most promising shit seems to be a dvd called "inner city streetball" which is put out by a company called "ghettonomics."

it's hard to really explain how gutter the cover graphics are, but the best part most definitely is the "quotes" from and1 players on the back. pharmacists [sic] says "inner city streetball is hot." shane the dribbling machine says "inner city streetball is crazy." finally, high octane says "add it to your mix tape collection."

so, emil, "if you're feeling sick dunks, crazy crossovers, mad tricks and fly dribbling moves with hip-hop flavor, this is the tape you absolutely must have!!!"

you can borrow this shit man.

 
At 12:39 AM, Anonymous duckhunter said...

i dunno man. i seen you hoop and i'd say your game is pretty good to solid 13 feet and in. 20 feet these balls.

 
At 6:10 AM, Blogger emynd said...

KC, the only issue I see with refering to "Ebonics" as a "foreign language" is a strictly semantic one. Anyone who has studied "Ebonics" even a little bit will readily admit to you that it is much more than just "slang" but is just as legitimately a "language" as Standard English, French, Spanish, etc (i.e. it has its own grammar that is clearly rooted in West African dialects). Calling "Ebonics" a "foreign language" becomes murky because it sort've assumes that Standard English is the "non-foreign" language and that it is our nation's "national language," which simply isn't true. We don't have a "national language" in this country the way country's like France have declared French as their "national language" (at least I think they have). Of course, the unwritten law-of-the-land is that “Standard English” is the “national language,” but that hasn’t been put in the books anywhere. Thus, calling the Black Vernacular a "foreign language" isn't doing a lot to remove the stigma, but I tend to think classifying it as a "foreign language" is simply an attempt to illustrate to Ebonics-doubters that the Black Vernacular is indeed a "language" that is "just like a foreign language" and should be treated as such. In other words, it is simply an attempt to say something like "The Black Vernacular is on par with a language like 'Spanish" and should be taught and treated so."

Again, it’s worth reiterating that all educated linguists agree that the Black Vernacular is just as legitimate a language as any other language; it just lacks the political backing necessary to have it be widely acknowledged as a "language" (or, as the old saying goes, "A 'language' is just a 'dialect' with an army"). In 1996 when the Ebonics debate blew up in Oakland, if you remember watching CNN at the time, they would have their famously short and unfair panel discussions on issues like Ebonics where they’d have legitimate linguists like Geneva Smitherman—arguing for the institution of Ebonics programs--debating against white Conservative politicians that had absolutely no linguistic background whatsoever—arguing that “Ebonics” was just slang and lower form of English. It was ignorant as fuck and just plain ol’ incorrect, but the white Conservatives spoke directly to the prejudices of our nation, convincing people that Ebonics was just bullshit.

People forget that, for hundreds of years, the not-so-distant-relatives of what we know today as "Standard English" was considered "trashy.” Ebonics (like most “languages”) is the result of hundreds of years of the complicated clash of a bunch of languages (West African dialects meets English, German, French, Spanish, etc). And, it is my understanding of these programs/classes that they help Ebonics-speaking children transition into Standard English more smoothly the same way ESL works for Spanish-speaking children or any other language that isn't English. It seems that that, to me, will very obviously help the learning process for these children who's first language is not of the Standard English variety.

Regarding Cosby: it’s not his “sanctimony” that bothers me or Dyson and I don't necessarily think Dyson loses points for bringing up Cosby's past because Cosby isn't being too self-incriminating with his critique of Black culture--i.e. he doesn't even acknowledge that he used (and still uses) Ebonics tropes in his earlier comedic routines when he criticizes the "trashy" language Blacks use today. In other words, Dyson is using Cosby's past against him because Cosby doesn't seem aware that his past so thoroughly parallels the people that he's criticizing. But, truth be told, not only is Cosby absolute blind in his criticism of the Black Community because he can’t see that it is such a huge part of who he was; the things he is criticizing are, to a large extent, part of who he still is. Take Cosby’s criticism of Ebonics for example: he criticizes those who use the Black Vernacular, but if you listen to a speech of his, there are clearly Black Vernacular tropes in Cosby’s own oration. It’s a simple case of the pot calling the kettle black. Jesse Jackson did the same shit in 1996 when the Ebonics debate first came up, making speech after speech against Ebonics, all while using Ebonics tropes in his speech.

But, even if we ignore Cosby’s past and his hypocritical ignorance, there are certain things that Dyson brings up in the book that can't really be disputed (like the fact that harmful buying habits of African Americans—i.e. buying $500 Jordans—is greatly and unfairly over-estimated). I don’t give a fuck about Cosby’s sanctimony—it’s his ignorance and down-right stupidity that’s appalling.

-e

 
At 6:14 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Duckhunter,

I have no idea who you are, but your analysis of my game is completely inaccurate. The truth of the matter is, I have virtually no mid-range game (I'm the type of dude that'll have an open 17 footer but will take two dribbles back and loft up a 3). My whole offensive game is based on jacking up a three, penetrating and popping a floater up from between 10-5 feet, or hollering at a lay-up. My defensive game is based on getting beat off the dribble repeatedly and having horrible timing on blocks and rebounds. But, nobody cares about defense anyway.

Back in Highschool (albeit in Germany), I averaged 5 three's a game and somewhere around 22-25 points. I was the dude.

Then I got old.

-e

 
At 12:58 PM, Blogger Pearsall Helms said...

Emynd, do you know of any references to peer-reviewed papers that show any conclusive improvement in academic performance through putting black kids through ESL type programs? This article doesn't mention any genuine research, just Mary Texeira's assertions.

How exactly is African American Vernacular English (aka Ebonics) a foreign language as opposed to a dialect of English? Is Ebonics comprehensible to the average English-speaker? Sure, it is. It's an English dialect, a branch off of the main English tree, like the dialects of Glasgow, northeastern England, Jamaica, Australia, SAE (Standard American English), and so on. Other languages in the Germanic language family like German, Dutch, Frisian, and so on, are not comprehensible to English speakers without specialized study.

Ebonics is a dialect, not a foreign language.

 
At 1:28 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Emynd, do you know of any references to peer-reviewed papers that show any conclusive improvement in academic performance through putting black kids through ESL type programs? This article doesn't mention any genuine research, just Mary Texeira's assertions.

No, I’m not up on any “peer-reviewed papers that show any conclusive improvement in academic performance.” In fact, I believe that most of the studies that have been done have been rather inconclusive (this is one of the main reasons John McWhorter feels black people are subscribing to that “Cult of Victomology” BS). However, just because these studies were inconclusive doesn’t prove all that much because there really haven’t been that many attempts at teaching Ebonics in an ESL setting.

How exactly is African American Vernacular English (aka Ebonics) a foreign language as opposed to a dialect of English? Is Ebonics comprehensible to the average English-speaker? Sure, it is. It's an English dialect, a branch off of the main English tree, like the dialects of Glasgow, northeastern England, Jamaica, Australia, SAE (Standard American English), and so on. Other languages in the Germanic language family like German, Dutch, Frisian, and so on, are not comprehensible to English speakers without specialized study.

First of all, I don’t mean to be an asshole, but it’s pretty obvious that you haven’t read much about AAVE. The first thing I have to say about this is, do you really think that Ebonics is comprehensible to the average English-speaker? Do you really think the average Standard English speaker can accurately articulate the difference between “She goin’ to the store,” “She be goin’ to the store”? In AAVE, these sentences mean two completely different things, but I bet most Standard English speakers would not be able to articulate what the difference is. In fact, in graduate school, I taught an Ebonics grammar lesson to a group of graduate students. I handed out a sheet of 5 sentences written in Ebonics and asked the 30 graduate students to translate the sentences into English. 95% of them couldn’t do it. Thus, your point that “Ebonics is comprehensible to the average English-speaker” simply isn’t true.

Ebonics is a dialect, not a foreign language.

And, to reiterate the quote I mentioned before: “A ‘language’ is a ‘dialect’ with an army.” To an extent, all “languages” can be said to be a “dialect” of some other language(s). And what about the difference between Portuguese and Spanish? Both are widely accepted as “languages” but, according to your definition, Portuguese is nothing more than a “dialect of Spanish.”

The difference between “dialects” and “languages” is murky at the very best. Virtually all linguists will agree on that and that, truth be told, the great distinguisher between a “dialect” and a “language” is politics and power.

Like I said in a post above, I’m not convinced that calling AAVE a “foreign language” is going to remove the stigmatization, but I can understand it as an effort to explain to the rest of America [b]why[/b] Ebonics is being taught. If we don’t classify it as a “foreign language,” the implication is that people [b]can[/b] understand it without some sort of education. And, Standard English speakers almost never understand it as well as they presume they would.

By the way, sometimes a bit more research than Wikipedia is needed.

-e

 
At 2:25 PM, Blogger Pearsall Helms said...

First of all, I don’t mean to be an asshole, but it’s pretty obvious that you haven’t read much about AAVE. The first thing I have to say about this is, do you really think that Ebonics is comprehensible to the average English-speaker?

Well, yeah. For the most part, most of what an Ebonics-speaker will say is comprehensible to an SAE speaker. There are grammatical and vocabulary differences, but it's within the overall family of English. If I'm listening to two guys speaking Ebonics on the subway, I can understand what they are saying in a way that I can't understand two people speaking in Spanish. Maybe the odd word or phrase I don't get, but for the most part I understand it.

Do you really think the average Standard English speaker can accurately articulate the difference between “She goin’ to the store,” “She be goin’ to the store”? In AAVE, these sentences mean two completely different things, but I bet most Standard English speakers would not be able to articulate what the difference is.

How is this different from other varieties of English? There are huge dialectical varieties within English, as I said before.

In fact, in graduate school, I taught an Ebonics grammar lesson to a group of graduate students. I handed out a sheet of 5 sentences written in Ebonics and asked the 30 graduate students to translate the sentences into English. 95% of them couldn’t do it. Thus, your point that “Ebonics is comprehensible to the average English-speaker” simply isn’t true.

Couldn't you do the same thing with Irvine Welsh's novels? Aren't they in English (just not the standard form, although it's not like any Americans are speaking Standard English anyways)?

If you don't mind me asking, how did you choose your 5 sentences? Just at random or did you pick 5 that you knew were totally outside SAE?

Do you really think that SAE speakers can't understand Ebonics at all? Really? Not every word or phrase is comprehensible, sure, but do you really think that people are totally in the dark?

The difference between “dialects” and “languages” is murky at the very best. Virtually all linguists will agree on that and that, truth be told, the great distinguisher between a “dialect” and a “language” is politics and power.

Really, if it's 'power' (and an army!) that means a language is considered a language, why are the huge number of tongues spoken on Papua New Guinea (often by groups of only a few hundred isolated people) considered languages and not dialects?

Like I said in a post above, I’m not convinced that calling AAVE a “foreign language” is going to remove the stigmatization, but I can understand it as an effort to explain to the rest of America [b]why[/b] Ebonics is being taught. If we don’t classify it as a “foreign language,” the implication is that people [b]can[/b] understand it without some sort of education. And, Standard English speakers almost never understand it as well as they presume they would.

Sure, I agree that there shouldn't be any stigma against it, but as for your second point, isn't that just a function of time and effort? I lived in Scotland for four years (which has a notoriously strong dialect) and when I arrived I often had a hard time understanding people, but pretty quickly I got it, because after all they were speaking English, only with a heavy accent and a lot of unique vocabulary and grammatical flourishes. If I wanted to learn Dutch, which is probably the language closest to English, it would take years of study.

Isn't the fact that a lot of white SAE speakers don't understand Ebonics as well as they assume just a function of the fact that they have little interaction with black people, rather than the fact that it is an entirely separate language?

- Pearsall (it's hot and I love a good debate)

 
At 9:24 PM, Blogger lirelou said...

Jees, talk about counting angels on a pinhead. Teaching Ebonics as a language is a great idea, if the end goal is to keep the majority of African-Americans marginalized. And I hate to break the news, but the United States does have an official language, and it is American English. No, there's on statute that I know of that dictates such, rather it is established by precedent and usage. And as long as I'm casting stones against false paradigms, I might as well point out that America is not about race. Rather it is about class. And carrying ghetto speech with you is not the way up and out.

 
At 1:33 AM, Blogger john b said...

Lirelou: you win the special prize for reading comprehension. The aim of the programs people are discussing here is to teach Ebonics-speaking kids Standard American English as a foreign language, in the same way that it's taught to Spanish-speaking kids. Or, the opposite of what you think it is.

Emynd: what is the difference between "she goin' to the store" and "she be goin' to the store", just out of curiosity?

 
At 12:35 PM, Blogger emynd said...

Just so y'all know, I'm not dodging questions, I'm just not stuck behind a computer today. Will be back tomorrow (Friday) to finish up these debates.

-e

 
At 12:40 PM, Blogger emynd said...

But, if you're super impatient, go here where icarus is arguing things I'm fixing to argue tomorrow.

-e

 
At 5:07 PM, Blogger lirelou said...

I didn't miss the point at all. My experience with Spanish "bilingual" education, which was back in the '80s, was that it failed in its stated purpose. I also found much more support for the program among the academic community than I did among the hispanic community, and at that time I was the only Spanish speaking attorney in a small city that was half hispanic. Again, I side with the "Cos" on this one.

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Re: Pearsall Helms

For the most part, most of what an Ebonics-speaker will say is comprehensible to an SAE speaker. There are grammatical and vocabulary differences, but it's within the overall family of English. If I'm listening to two guys speaking Ebonics on the subway, I can understand what they are saying in a way that I can't understand two people speaking in Spanish. Maybe the odd word or phrase I don't get, but for the most part I understand it.

I’m going to quote my homeboy icarus (who posts with me at somanyshrimp) who posted this on the link I referenced yesterday:

“You know, as they say, a language is a dialect with an army. The differences between Swedish and Norwegian are slight compared to the difference between the Chinese ‘dialects’ of Mandarin and Cantonese. It's not sheer numbers, though. We live in a society where white dialects are often affirmed, they mark regional flair, oddities perhaps but they aren't generally thought to signify stupidity in and of themselves.

I live in Kentucky and I bussed to elementary school in the south end of Louisville, which is mostly inhabited by poor whites who, unlike most Louisvillians, speak with heavy southern accents and with a dialect that is much closer to BVE than to standard English. The kids talked freely to one another in these dialects, ‘bad’ grammar and all. But, in candid moments, the teachers spoke those dialects as well. The students were taught how their common dialect differed from standard English but they weren't taught that their way of speaking was wrong or stupid, which is a lot of (black and white) people's take on BVE.

Most blacks who are successful in white life (I'll include myself here) learn, like the speakers of a foreign language, to switch dialects altogether when talking among whites or talking among blacks. Many whites around here don't give a rats ass. Even though they were taught the differences between their dialect and standard workplace English, they still hardly ever use standard English in the workplace. But they can take for granted that nobody will call them stupid for speaking that way.”

And that’s the point here. The point of whether or not Standard English speakers can or cannot understand BVE fluently is irrelevant because of the simple fact that we are dealing with an institution that treats BVE as something substandard and deficient in some way.

Another point that I have been trying to make repeatedly doesn’t seem to be registering: there is absolutely no linguistic difference between a “dialect” and a “language.” Linguistically speaking, they are exactly the same thing. But, what makes a “language” different than a “dialect” is that some group or person in power said “This is a language.” Any linguist will tell you that.

The insistence that BVE is a “dialect” of a the English “language” further marginalizes it by suggesting that it’s deficient or substandard in someway. But it simply isn't.

There is ABSOLUTELY NO LINGUSITIC DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A “DIALECT” AND A “LANGUAGE.”

If you don't mind me asking, how did you choose your 5 sentences? Just at random or did you pick 5 that you knew were totally outside SAE?

They weren’t at random. They were to display typical BVE rules (i.e. the zero copula, etc). 2 of the 5 sentences were along the lines of the “She goin’ to the store” and “She be goin’ to the store” variety. Someone asked about the actual difference between the two and “She goin’ to the store” can be translated as “She is currently going to the store” while “She be goin’ to the store” can be translated as “She is always going to the store.” The use of the “be” verb to stress repetition is something that isn’t possible in SE. We can add adjectives like “always” or “frequently,” but there is no verb that obviates the repetition like the use of “be” does there… which isn’t a good or a bad thing. It’s simply a unique trait of BVE (but not wholly unique because I’m almost positive you can trace that usage back to West African dialects).

I honestly don't remember the rest.

Really, if it's 'power' (and an army!) that means a language is considered a language, why are the huge number of tongues spoken on Papua New Guinea (often by groups of only a few hundred isolated people) considered languages and not dialects?

Because somebody in power has christened these “dialects” as “languages.” As Icarus mentioned above, the differences between Norwegian and Swedish (or Austrian or German for that matter) are minimal, but they are still classified as different “languages” and not “dialects.” Why? Because of power and politics. That’s really not up for date. It’s simple fact.

Isn't the fact that a lot of white SAE speakers don't understand Ebonics as well as they assume just a function of the fact that they have little interaction with black people, rather than the fact that it is an entirely separate language?

I really don't understand why you're so deadset on NOT considering BVE a "language." It's a bit disconcerting and, quite frankly, suggests some underlying prejudices.

But, look, what we’re talking about is the institution of education right now and I think it is absolutely necessary for us to change how we treat BVE speakers because it’s quite clear that we aren’t educating them properly. If we're going to teach ESL to some students, we should teach it to all students that don't speak Standard English. If we are going to expect our students to communicate in Standard English, it is our responsibility to educate them properly. It seems like you’re suggesting we should just wait for white people to eventually come around instead of attempting to suture the education gap by instituting programs like this. But, these programs strike me as ones that will be extremely helpful in allowing BVE speakers to transition into SE without thinking that their native tongue is substandard.

If you think BVE is somehow "substandard" and is simply a "dialect" of SE but you have no problem with the fact that Norwegian
and Swedish are "languages," you need to really examine why you think so. As I've said time and time and time again, absolutely any linguist will affirm that BVE is just as legitimately a language as any other "language" or "dialect" because, in the end, "languages" are just "dialects" that have been granted the privilege of being a "language."

-e

 
At 11:27 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Re: Lirelou,

It appears your beef has more to do with ESL programs in general than it does with BVE programs in particular.

As for the "carrying ghetto speech with you is not the way out line"? That's precisely the point of the programs! To teach these kids how to speak Standard English (albeit while also teaching them that their mother tongue is not somehow inferior... just not appropriate in the professinal/scholastic world).

Whether or not these programs will be effective has yet to be seen (and your experience in the '80's--a long time ago, I might add--suggests that it won't) but, at the very least, I think it is worth the effort to at least TRY to make some institutional changes in the way we are currently educating our children--specifically disenfranchised, poor minority students who already have so much stacked against them.

Your claim that America is much more about class than it is about race has some merit, but the oft-quoted fact that black people make up something around 12-14% of the citizen population but around 50% of the prison population suggests otherwise, doesn't it?

-e

 
At 11:33 AM, Blogger Pearsall Helms said...

I live in Kentucky and I bussed to elementary school in the south end of Louisville, which is mostly inhabited by poor whites who, unlike most Louisvillians, speak with heavy southern accents and with a dialect that is much closer to BVE than to standard English. The kids talked freely to one another in these dialects, ‘bad’ grammar and all. But, in candid moments, the teachers spoke those dialects as well. The students were taught how their common dialect differed from standard English but they weren't taught that their way of speaking was wrong or stupid, which is a lot of (black and white) people's take on BVE.

This I agree with. It's common sense, but it happens in the context of regular English classes, no? Teach the kids the difference between their dialect and SAE, and make the point that there is nothing wrong with how they speak at home, that it isn't 'stupid' or 'inferior'.

Another point that I have been trying to make repeatedly doesn’t seem to be registering: there is absolutely no linguistic difference between a “dialect” and a “language.” Linguistically speaking, they are exactly the same thing. But, what makes a “language” different than a “dialect” is that some group or person in power said “This is a language.” Any linguist will tell you that.

The definitions I am using to define the difference are:

Language:
1. Communication of thoughts and feelings through a system of arbitrary signals, such as voice sounds, gestures, or written symbols.
2. Such a system including its rules for combining its components, such as words.
3. Such a system as used by a nation, people, or other distinct community; often contrasted with dialect.

Dialect:
1. A regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary, especially a variety of speech differing from the standard literary language or speech pattern of the culture in which it exists: Cockney is a dialect of English.

The 'army' line is a cute phrase, but it's ultimately not particularly illuminating. There are, indeed, quite a few examples of 'languages' that exist only because of political situations (Norway's independence from Sweden, the post-Yugoslavian civil wars, etc.), or of 'dialects' that should really be considered distinct languages (ie Cantonese), but I think it's easiest to see dialects as subdivisions of languages.

What can I say, I enjoy arguing about semantics.

The insistence that BVE is a “dialect” of a the English “language” further marginalizes it by suggesting that it’s deficient or substandard in someway. But it simply isn't.

I'm not sure why you keep saying this in reference to my comments; perhaps you could show me where I have said that BVE is inferior? I speak a dialect of English in everyday life that I don't use when I write or when I'm working; most English-speakers speak a dialect of one variety or another.

They weren’t at random. They were to display typical BVE rules (i.e. the zero copula, etc). 2 of the 5 sentences were along the lines of the “She goin’ to the store” and “She be goin’ to the store” variety. Someone asked about the actual difference between the two and “She goin’ to the store” can be translated as “She is currently going to the store” while “She be goin’ to the store” can be translated as “She is always going to the store.” The use of the “be” verb to stress repetition is something that isn’t possible in SE. We can add adjectives like “always” or “frequently,” but there is no verb that obviates the repetition like the use of “be” does there… which isn’t a good or a bad thing. It’s simply a unique trait of BVE (but not wholly unique because I’m almost positive you can trace that usage back to West African dialects).

Fair enough, that's what I thought. You could do the same thing quite easily with a lot of British regional dialects.

Because somebody in power has christened these “dialects” as “languages.” As Icarus mentioned above, the differences between Norwegian and Swedish (or Austrian or German for that matter) are minimal, but they are still classified as different “languages” and not “dialects.” Why? Because of power and politics. That’s really not up for date. It’s simple fact.

There is no Austrian language, they speak a dialect of German in Austria. And Norwegian's development as a 'language' has been subject to nationalist pressures; if Norwegian and Swedish are separate languages for political reasons, I still don't follow why that's a good model in regards to BVE.

I really don't understand why you're so deadset on NOT considering BVE a "language." It's a bit disconcerting and, quite frankly, suggests some underlying prejudices.

Oo-err. This made me giggle. What can I say, I read the article, thought "that's silly" and proceeded to argue in my usual robust style. I find it amusing that you are so outraged that I disagree with you that you call me a racist (especially because you keep claiming that I think BVE is 'inferior' when I've said no such thing).

But, look, what we’re talking about is the institution of education right now and I think it is absolutely necessary for us to change how we treat BVE speakers because it’s quite clear that we aren’t educating them properly. If we're going to teach ESL to some students, we should teach it to all students that don't speak Standard English. If we are going to expect our students to communicate in Standard English, it is our responsibility to educate them properly.

Look, I agree with you that the current modes of education don't work, but I think that recognizing any dialect of English as a separate language sounds like a massive boondoggle in waiting (translators, linguistic coordinators, who the hell knows). Hell, they should try it (there's plenty of inner-city schools that can't get much worse in terms of results), I'm just not sure why the first suggestion, that the teachers explain to the kids the differences between their spoken dialect and SAE in the context of normal English classes, isn't enough and we have to go the whole hog into claiming that it's a separate language.

What can I say, I like arguing over semantics.

If you think BVE is somehow "substandard" and is simply a "dialect" of SE but you have no problem with the fact that Norwegian
and Swedish are "languages," you need to really examine why you think so.


This is just bizarre. You keep coming back to this idea that I think BVE is 'inferior', when I've said no such thing. I don't really know enough about Swedish and Norwegian to comment, but it seems obvious from what I've read that their status as different languages stems from politics, and again I'm not sure how or why this is helpful to our particular situation in America.

 
At 3:11 PM, Blogger Phil said...

Quoting 'icarus':

You know, as they say, a language is a dialect with an army. The differences between Swedish and Norwegian are slight compared to the difference between the Chinese ‘dialects’ of Mandarin and Cantonese.

Two straw men in a row. Norwegian is a very, very unusual example; it was effectively created as a distinct language from Swedish by an act of political will (cf. 'Serbian' and 'Croatian'). On the other hand, the idea that Mandarin and Cantonese are 'dialects' of Chinese is silly. They're two different languages which share a written script (and no, I don't know how that works).

We live in a society where white dialects are often affirmed, they mark regional flair, oddities perhaps but they aren't generally thought to signify stupidity in and of themselves.

Firstly, this is imprecise. If the word 'dialect' means anything, what the newsreaders speak is itself a dialect. Secondly, I don't believe that AAVE is held to signify stupidity to a greater extent than any predominantly-white dialect. (You've seen Deliverance, I take it?) Thirdly, if some dialects are respected more than others - which they clearly are - surely what matters is to get AAVE treated with respect; whether it's treated as a dialect or a language is a side-issue.

 
At 7:15 AM, Blogger emynd said...

Pearsall:

It appears that we’re agreeing more than I allowed myself to realize.

Teach the kids the difference between their dialect and SAE, and make the point that there is nothing wrong with how they speak at home, that it isn't 'stupid' or 'inferior'.

Word. Agreed. I suppose my point is: I don’t know if classifying BVE a “foreign language” is necessary, but I can certainly understand the motivation.

The 'army' line is a cute phrase, but it's ultimately not particularly illuminating. There are, indeed, quite a few examples of 'languages' that exist only because of political situations (Norway's independence from Sweden, the post-Yugoslavian civil wars, etc.), or of 'dialects' that should really be considered distinct languages (ie Cantonese), but I think it's easiest to see dialects as subdivisions of languages. What can I say, I enjoy arguing about semantics.

I can empathize with your enjoyment of arguing semantics, but I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on these definitions here. To me, to differentiate between a “language” and a “dialect” the way you choose to is linguistically imprecise and unfair. The reason I inferred that you considered BVE “deficient” or “substandard” is because—to most people—the difference between a “dialect” and a “language” is a hierarchized (is that a word?) one. In other words, people very infrequently use words like “dialect” or “language” without value judgments attached. It might’ve been somewhat unfair for me to assume that you were passing any judgment, but when people differentiate between “dialects” and “languages” they do so in a manner that implies that “languages” are somehow “more proper” and “the right way of speaking.” There is almost always a sentiment of “correctness” and/or superiority attached to that differentiation. I still don’t think it was particularly unreasonable for me to assume that your “dialect”/”language” differentiation harbored these same prejudices, but I have no problem apologizing for my misreading. So, sorry.

I find it amusing that you are so outraged that I disagree with you that you call me a racist (especially because you keep claiming that I think BVE is 'inferior' when I've said no such thing).

Amusing? Probably. But, was it a stretch? I don’t think so. It is clear to me now that I didn’t give your argument enough credit, but, to be honest, your argument is simply a slightly more nuanced version of the typical “oh that’s just ghetto slang” argument less-informed people make without knowing what the hell they’re talking about. I still disagree with your basic differentiation between “dialect” and “language,” but as long as you proclaim there is no real value judgment going on when you make that differentiation, I’m willing to apologize for the “racist” accusations. To be fair to myself though, I didn’t go as far as calling you “racist” nor did I think you hate black people or anything—I simply suspected that your argument was informed largely by prejudices and anecdotal experience with Ebonics as opposed to any real linguistic examination of the validity and politics of what was going on. Again, I apologize for underestimating your argument, but I have no problem reiterating that I still disagree with it.

I'm just not sure why the first suggestion, that the teachers explain to the kids the differences between their spoken dialect and SAE in the context of normal English classes, isn't enough and we have to go the whole hog into claiming that it's a separate language.

I think it’s strictly a practicality thing. I don’t think that teachers simply explaining to kids that BVE isn’t substandard is enough in their teaching. I think an ESL type of program would be much more beneficial, and I’d imagine that the only way the school district can get away with teaching BVE like an ESL course is to classify it as a “foreign language.”

Lastly, I’m not posting this to insult your intelligence as I think it’s clear that you understand my “dialects”=”language” argument and simply disagree with it, but for those that are interested here’s a short piece that explains the “dialect”/”language” (non)debate it in simpler terms than I’m capable of.

As for Phil:

Surely what matters is to get AAVE treated with respect; whether it's treated as a dialect or a language is a side-issue.

Of course, this is true, but the problem is that the “side-issue” is intertwined with the primary issue: people don’t differentiate between “dialects” and “languages” as innocently as Pearsall and you might. There is a value judgment associated with that differentiation for most people. So, unfortunately, I think it’s a complicated question as to how “to get AAVE treated with respect” without speaking in terms of “dialects” and “languages.”

Anyway, I hope I didn’t insult anyone’s intelligence. I didn’t mean to. I just get worked up over this shit.

-e

 
At 1:37 AM, Blogger lirelou said...

emynd said, regarding race versus class: "but the oft-quoted fact that black people make up something around 12-14% of the citizen population but around 50% of the prison population suggests otherwise, doesn't it?"
I agree that it "suggests otherwise" and raises an issue deserving of serious study. But it certainly doesn't, per se, prove the point. To go back to my very limited law experience, Puerto Ricans were two thirds of the Hispanic population of the city I practiced in, but virtually all of the Hispanic slice of those charged with crimes. If we go by pure percentages, the number of Dominicans, Ecuadorians, Cubans, Peruvians, and Colombians charged should have equalled their percentage of the population as a whole. It did not. And the only local police who could tell the difference between any of the Latin groups were the few Hispanic police officers. Back to class, the Puertorricans were also largely on welfare, again in contrast to the other Latin groups. Most of the Latin "bodegas" and restaurants were owned by Dominicans, while the Cubans tended to own small service and manufacturing operations. Within the Latin community there were definite economic class distinctions which I believe (as I did not undertake any serious statistical study at the time) was reflected in the crime rate.

 

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