Date: Thu, 02 Jan 1997 11:26:11 -0700 (MST) Date-warning: Date header was inserted by NAUVAX.UCC.NAU.EDU From: Jim.Wilce@NAU.EDU (Jim Wilce) Subject: Re: What Can We Do? Sender: To: Linguistic Anthropology MIME-version: 1.0 Precedence: bulk

My social context is undeniable different from that being talked about in the "Ebonics" debate. I wouldn't like to interfere with my comments, or to appear that I have something to say that deserves taking space and perhaps some readers' time in this debate. But since the general question "What Can We Do?" has been raised, and since I understand this "We" to be inclusive of people concerned about the representation of language issues in popular culture and in politics, then I'd like to add my two-Euro piece ( :-) for those who don't know, the "Euro" is the future Bundesbank-European currency in the New Europe to come).

I tend to be reductive in the interpretation of the sociolinguistic problems affecting underprivileged groups in the educational system. Here in Galiza a (decreasing) number of Galizan-speaking children face an educational system predominantly in Spanish. In school children are taught standard Spanish and also "standard Galizan", a unified variety of Galizan-Portuguese that, as we say, is neither meat nor fish -- the social underpinnings of this separatist treatment of Galizan vis a vis Portuguese would take me to one of my favorite but boring topics, so I'll leave it to the reader's imagination. Returning to the schoolchildren, problem is, for some peri-urban populations, what they are taught to read and write (both Spanish and "Galizan") is neither what they speak at home as "Galizan" nor with friends as "Spanish". In fact, in listening (not even very carefully) to what many of these groups speak, one doesn't even know *what* "language" it is -- it's scary for linguists!

And this is *the* universal problem, I believe. The social confrontation for the definition and technical appropriation of the object "language" reaches educated elites and concerned groups at all levels. On the one hand, a school board may feel legitimized to encapsulate sociolinguistic variation within the label "Ebonics", simultaneously empowering a social group and obliterating rich socially meaningful variation within "Ebonics". On the other hand, language experts may feel their expertise threatened by a local administrative body and by the moguls of popular press. For, if even the power to define "our" object is taken away from us, what is it left for us but the monotonous recitation of morpheme types in undergraduate courses? When will the world realize that, if a newly found form of speech needs to be classified, we are the ones to be called and respectfully listened to? Where is our Linnaeus?

In the meantime, there is very little debate about the structural problem of the role of the educational system in reproducing hierarchical order under the guise of democratic education and universal access to the standard language. No matter what we students of language say about a given sociolinguistic issue, our opinion is tainted by our structural position, be it as members of a hegemonic intellectual group ("round-worlders") or as members of an emerging group competing for intellectual hegemony (for example, "spheroid-worlders", who believe in Geometrical Precision above Impressionistic Concision).

The western educational system is inherently designed to force reality to obey theories, models, and categories, thus fragmenting reality into a number of well-delimited units. I really don't know what "we" as linguists can do to prevent Lies to be imposed upon Truth, but I wouldn't like it that we contributed to perpetuating the dominant model of language, one which subsumes all sorts of linguistic behaviors and cognitive abilities into technical labels which are *external* both to consciousness and to human action. One piece of reality is that, probably, children who "speak Ebonics" have an additionally harder time in school than those who just have to worry about going through metal detectors and singing national anthems every morning. Another, important piece of reality is that those children who "speak Ebonics" are *black*. What is, indexically, more salient for social surveillance?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Celso Alvarez-Caccamo Tel. 34-81-130457, ext. 1888 Depto. de Linguistica Geral FAX 34-81-132459 e Teoria da Literatura e-mail: Universidade da Corunha 15007 A Corunha, Galiza (Espanha) ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~