Date: Mon, 30 Dec 1996 15:00:40 -0800 From: (Susan Ervin-Tripp) Subject: Re: What Can We Do? Sender: To: MIME-version: 1.0 Precedence: bulk

Our creolist colleague John McWhorter from UC Linguistics and African-American Studies wants this forwarded: ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ Date: Mon, 30 Dec 1996 14:55:04 -0800

Over the past two weeks, I have interviewed with just about every media outlet in the country on Ebonics. Often, I am selectively quoted as if to say that the whole issue is absurd because Black English isn't separate enough from standard English to justify concern.

This is not what I have been trying to say. My feeling, in a nutshell, is simply that the Oakland school board misidentifies the reason for black students' failure in attributing it, in any significant way, to the difference between the dialects. Black children fail because:

1. Inner city backgrounds do not prepare many children to be receptive to education in school;

2. The schools are underfunded and often awful;

3. Reading is not taught properly in many schools period, compounding the ill effects of the above.

These are the problems which must be addressed with money and study.

I have no problem with taking Black English into account in schools. But when this goes as far as translation exercises or textbooks in Black English, I am opposed. This is because:

1. Because translation between these close dialects is not the problem, doing this would be like trying to put out a house fire with an eyedropper. Sure, it might do some tiny, insignificant good here and there but WHILE IT WAS DOING THIS ---

2. It would make black kids look stupid, as if they were incapable of making the two-inch jump between such close dialects while kids in Brooklyn, Appalachia and white Mississippi do it without comment (or -- if they fail in school, dialect is not thought to be the reason).

And contrary to the "spin" the board has tried to put on things, the official documents hint clearly at translation and schoolbooks, not just awareness training, and if there hadn't been such an outcry (hideously misinformed though it has been), they would unhesitantly be espousing such.

Which brings me to a question I am tossing out. All of this has made me think that someone, maybe me, needs to write a book for the general public outlining what a dialect is, how the concept differs from "slang", and how this relates to good old Black English. It has shocked me how ignorant the public is on this despite us teaching the concepts year after year at universities.

But then it occurred to me -- there already ARE books on Black English, at least, long readily available in paperback (Dillard 1972, Smitherman 1973) and written accessibly. Clearly they have had no impact on public perception.

But it is our responsibility to enlighten the public, especially the public who don't come to Berkeley, especially the public who don't read books. The public who don't use computers much and don't do the Internet.

How can we get to the public? What can we do? We have to do something.
John McWhorter