Date: Fri, 03 Jan 1997 01:47:22 -0500 (EST) From: Jack Sidnell Subject: Re: Ebonics Sender: To: (SHELIA LYNN ROBERTSON) Cc: MIME-version: 1.0 Precedence: bulk

[ROBERTSON, and below, Robertson's words enclosed in quotes] "I have lurked on this list long enough to know that there is a general lacking of professionalism"

[SIDNELL] are "professional" academics the ones who remain politically uninvolved?

"on the subject of Ebonics, more correctly referred to as African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Many of you are letting personal and political biases cloud the issue. Remember, AAVE is a dialect of English, not a language in itself. It has rules, sure, but so do dialects such as the Ocracoke Brogue, Southern English, and Hispanic English. I, for one, do not endorse any efforts to favor one dialect over another."

One can hardly help but endorse "efforts to favor one dialect over another". The very act of speaking presupposes such an endorsement at some level. When the vast majority of people in power speak a dialect in court, in school and, most ironically perhaps, at the university that counts as a pretty firm endorsement - this despite our talk about the logical/expressive equality of languages etc. The point is that in a situation such as exists in some urban American (and Canadian) schools, a refusal to educate in a local, home dialect - which is stigmatized - by default endorses the language of white, middle class America even as it poses as neutral utilitarianism (or worse "modernity"). And of course the rejection of AAVE has also played a role in the construction of the "English" language.

"Food for thought--

When a child is taught a foreign language, he/she is often taught solely in that foreign language. If AAVE is a foreign (seperate) language, why not follow the same immersion technique and teach only in standard English?

Also, AAVE and standard English are not mutually unintelligible, so why does the Oakland school board need money to teach "Ebonics" to the teachers? I'm fairly confident that any teacher can understand "She be home" to mean "She is at home". Granted there are nuances such as the habitual meaning involved with AAVE "be", but these could be explained in a memo to all teachers, not costing the school board more than the cost of the paper."

[SIDNELL] If you are not a native speaker of AAVE I think you would have a pretty tough time "understanding" vernacular conversation in this dialect. If you're skeptical check out the segement in_American Tounges_ in which three teenage girls are engaged in a teasing exchange. (Of course there's lots of AAVE out there for those who are interested not just in films made by sociolinguists - part of the problem it seems is that white America/Canada has been refusing for a long time to hear it!). Linguists and teachers may be able to write rules and memos which explain what invariant "be" means in AAVE but this does not amount to understanding utterances containing this item in conversation. (The reasons for this are too many to list).

AAVE speakers have been shut out of educational institutions (along with the rest of the major sources of power) for a long time and it seems to me that any small step towards amelioration must be a good thing. Problem is that language is only a part of the problem here. As long as the educational system is structured through various forms of privillege it is likely that differential success (along race, gender and class lines) will continue to be a reality. And of course There is no guarentee that current attitudes will not resurface with a new object of stigmatization (ie. Oakland becoming a "joke" school board where they talk like - well you can guess what the right will come up with-, people in the establishment not acknowledging academic credentials from schools that recognize AAVE etc..).

"I do not propose to have all the answers, but I don't agree that making 'Ebonics' a seperate language is the answer.
Shelia L. Robertson Graduate in Linguistics NC State University Jack Sidnell