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August 17, 2004

The Last Word

I've heard a lot of discussion about Ebonics and BSV and whatever slanguage blackfolks are accused of speaking, but I've not heard anything so potent and clear as Avery Tooley's piece. Love it.

He's got the verbiage for all the explaining that needs to be done, plus the right attitude, and in this I make the distinction between proper and right. Language is that which flows from the self. It is the most personal of creations. It is your voice. What can it be besides a version of boastful scientific animism when some pretentious fop tells you that you're not. The most honest criticism that might be made is that one is not speaking the King's English. Fine. See Monty Python.

I've always seen language as power, and I've been a shape shifter. It was always clear to me that one speaks appropriate to the situation. Most of my teen years, there were three venues each with its own propriety when it came to speech. Home, School, Neighborhood. In my neighborhood, everyone sounded exactly like Ice Cube. At school everyone sounded like a character out of 'Donnie Darko' which shouldn't be a surprise since they filmed it there at LiHi. At home it was a mix of Cosby Show and Roc. Plus having learned conversational Swahili as a child and having Fracophones in the family, not to mention the Mom's lapses into Creole, flexibility and fluidity was always the order of the the day.

But I leave it to Tooley.

Posted by mbowen at August 17, 2004 09:25 AM

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My daughter and I have been listening to Wuthering Heights on CD...and this post + the Yorkshire dialect + listening to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (E Ala E)...wondering why Hawai'ians can be proud of pidgin...

At any rate, in England one's accent is still a ceiling or floor on one's ambitions. I think a lot of the Mandarins who so chillingly speak of "King's English" have that at their back.

I stand with you, that mastering various dialects or code, and the ability to code switch, is something that needs to be brought forward and taught explicitly.

The question is, how to get that job done? How to get to the child who doesn't know or hasn't heard a person who has mastered more than one dialect speak? Whose school teachers are white ladies who might look down in their ignorance on a child whose dialect differs? A teacher who is herself unaware of the layered nature of English? (Anglophone, Saxon additions, Greek and Latin...) A teacher who...whoops. Deep breath, stop now.

Posted by: liz at August 17, 2004 07:42 PM

Days go like this, I don't know why. I am reading X, who is writing about a particular subject and then I go to read Y who is usually ruminating on a completely unrelated subject, but...is discussing X's subject. So today: scholarly thoughts on African American Vernacular English from Language Log:


Bryan McLucas, who says: "What's wrong with AAVE? Absolutely nothing. The biggest problem that AAVE speakers face is prejudice. Most people believe that AAVE is sub-standard to SE (Standard English) for some reason. AAVE is just as legitimate as American English. Because of this prejudice there is a big push in the African American community to be bidialectal -- fluent in both Standard English and AAVE."

Links, definitions, linguistics 101 in a hurry, what is not to like?

Posted by: liz at August 17, 2004 11:24 PM

Agreed. That piece Avery wrote is like digesting an entire Thanksgiving Dinner in one sitting.

Posted by: Ambra Nykol at August 19, 2004 11:03 AM