December 22, 2004

You Be's Onyx

I sent Amritas a note about Dean Esmay's post on education and Ebonics because I figured that as a linguist he would have interesting things to say about it (and also, I admit, in hopes of linkery). I got even more than I expected; credit for inspiring wordplay, a scholarly discussion of dialects and pidgins, and best of all, support for Dean's position on the compare-and-contrast approach to teaching standard English.

Growing up where I did, and living where I do (we "stay by" 27th and Vliet in Milwaukee), I'm familiar with English as it be's spoken in da 'hood. I'm also familiar with one of the most serious problems facing American society right now, the white supremicist memes spread among black school children. Bluntly telling students that the way they speak is simply wrong, rather than providing them with the alternative for comparison, reinforces the notion that their identity is embodied in the negative stereotypes of the inner city. Teaching them the method and value of, as Richard Pryor put it early in his career, putting on their white voice allows them to cling to their sense of self while still giving them the opportunity to advance in a larger society which, altho it is moving toward judging people by the content of their character, includes speech patterns in that judgement.


I made reference above to the use of "stay by" for "live at" and now note that there is an ongoing discussion of this substitution at the Language Log.

Posted by triticale at December 22, 2004 09:48 PM
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