Linguistics "Understanding African-American English"

Spang

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[...]

Janice Jackson, another team member who is also working on a Ph.D. in communication disorders, conducted an experiment using pictures of Sesame Street characters to test children's comprehension of the "habitual be" construction. She showed the kids a picture in which Cookie Monster is sick in bed with no cookies while Elmo stands nearby eating cookies. When she asked, "Who be eating cookies?" white kids tended to point to Elmo while black kids chose Cookie Monster. "But," Jackson relates, "when I asked, 'Who is eating cookies?' the black kids understood that it was Elmo and that it was not the same. That was an important piece of information." Because those children had grown up with a language whose verb forms differentiate habitual action from currently occuring action (Gaelic also features such a distinction, in addition to a number of West African languages), they were able even at the age of five or six to distinguish between the two.

[...]

Janice Jackson is especially annoyed and frustrated by commentators who disrespect African-American English by equating it with "street slang or the jargon of the day" instead of recognizing it as a dialect defined by its own coherent grammar and pronunciation rules. "They think it's the hip-hop talk," she says. "Yo baby! Tha's def! Wha' sup? Hip-hop has about as much to do with African-American English as surfer dude or Valley girl jargon has to do with standard American English. If somebody said, 'We're going to teach your kid to speak standard English,' nobody would say, 'Oh my God, they're going to teach him how to say tubular.' But when they said African-American English. . . ."

[...]

Only by moving beyond the deeply ingrained negative attitudes of the past, the speech researchers agree, it is possible to appreciate the multi-faceted subtleties of all human language. "Language is not just a matter of words and sounds and syntax," says Seymour. "It's an identity issue, it's a social issue. It's very complicated."

Read it all here.
 

Indian Summer

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It makes sense to categorize it as a dialect, I think. Especially because I don't understand what is said half the time. It's the same with the language spoken in the US South. I went to the cinema to watch No country for old men without subtitles. That was one of the most frustrating movie experiences in my life! It's just not the kind of English we were taught in school.
 

jeneticallymodified

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it is very complicated. i love the sounds of dialects, as well as pidgin and creole languages- but they sometimes make me a smidgen uncomfortable, because not speaking standard english fluently, really closes a lot of doors to people. :(
 

das_nut

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it is very complicated. i love the sounds of dialects, as well as pidgin and creole languages- but they sometimes make me a smidgen uncomfortable, because not speaking standard english fluently, really closes a lot of doors to people. :(

Aye.

Then again, "standard" English has enough variation that both the written and spoken word will have differences depending on the standard being used.

Here's some examples of differences between British English and American English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_American_and_British_English

Of course, even the age of the speaker or the source also affects what is considered proper.
 

nigel1

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It makes sense to categorize it as a dialect, I think. Especially because I don't understand what is said half the time. It's the same with the language spoken in the US South. I went to the cinema to watch No country for old men without subtitles. That was one of the most frustrating movie experiences in my life! It's just not the kind of English we were taught in school.

So-called Ebonics have been argued to have rules that would make a distinct dialect. I haven't seen much in terms of a similar argument on US southern accents. Texas isn't the South, BTW. It's Texas.
 
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cornsail

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Thank you for posting that. Yes, African American and Southern American dialects have slightly different rules, which are used just as consistently by speakers as "standard English" speakers use their grammatical rules.

It annoys me when people describe other the use of other dialects as "uneducated", "ignorant", "stupid", "incorrect", etc. They are just different. As jeneticallymodified pointed out, though, it is a disadvantage to grow up with a "non-standard" dialect.
 

nigel1

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Thank you for posting that. Yes, African American and Southern American dialects have slightly different rules, which are used just as consistently by speakers as "standard English" speakers use their grammatical rules.

It annoys me when people describe other the use of other dialects as "uneducated", "ignorant", "stupid", "incorrect", etc. They are just different. As jeneticallymodified pointed out, though, it is a disadvantage to grow up with a "non-standard" dialect.

Do you see "Southern" as a dialect? I haven't seen much of an argument for that and am curious. I've always seen it as more of just a a collection of somewhat distinct accents.
 

cornsail

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Do you see "Southern" as a dialect? I haven't seen much of an argument for that and am curious. I've always seen it as more of just a a collection of somewhat distinct accents.

The distinction of "you" (singular), "y'all" (plural) and "all y'all" (all-inclusive plural) is an example. I don't know that much about southern dialects, but it's on wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_American_English
 

jeneticallymodified

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Aye.

Then again, "standard" English has enough variation that both the written and spoken word will have differences depending on the standard being used.

Here's some examples of differences between British English and American English: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_American_and_British_English

Of course, even the age of the speaker or the source also affects what is considered proper.

i deal with this on a daily basis- as a brit, trying to make myself understood in canada. :p

Do you see "Southern" as a dialect? I haven't seen much of an argument for that and am curious. I've always seen it as more of just a a collection of somewhat distinct accents.


it's a whole quagmire of somewhat distinct accents. y'all. :p :yes:
 

jeneticallymodified

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It annoys me when people describe other the use of other dialects as "uneducated", "ignorant", "stupid", "incorrect", etc. They are just different. As jeneticallymodified pointed out, though, it is a disadvantage to grow up with a "non-standard" dialect.

my local accent from back home (somerset) marks me as being a drunken yokel farmer, by people from other regions. the usual response when i say where i'm from is the other party saying "i can't read and i can't write, but i can drive a tractor" very enthusiastically. :p my dad's regional accent (same as ozzy ozzbourne's) is perceived by the majority of brits as making the speaker sound like a complete wazzock... as he was ex-forces and had his accent drilled out of him, i was constantly told to 'speak properly' as a child... and i'm relatively appreciative of it these days- if i lapse into speaking like the kids i grew up with (which i do sometimes, when i'm on the phone with them) nobody here has a clue what i'm saying. :D

regional dialects and accents are dying in the UK. we'll miss them when they're gone. :(
 

das_nut

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i deal with this on a daily basis- as a brit, trying to make myself understood in canada. :p

Speaking of BritEng, I always pictured lorries as some sort of large weird creature. Furry, probably yellowish colored, and possibly capable of flight. They seem to be capable of carrying things, after all. They may swoop down on roads and frighten drivers of small cars. ;)

Oh, and I was reading a book by a British author that took place (partially) in the US. One of the characters was driving around and it mentioned looking for "for sale"/"to let" signs. Not something you'd ever see in this neck of the woods, but I don't know about Canadian English.
 

das_nut

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my dad's regional accent (same as ozzy ozzbourne's) is perceived by the majority of brits as making the speaker sound like a complete wazzock...

Wait, for Ozzy, that's an accent? I always figured it was speech impairment due to years of heavy drinking and drug abuse.
 

jeneticallymodified

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Speaking of BritEng, I always pictured lorries as some sort of large weird creature. Furry, probably yellowish colored, and possibly capable of flight. They seem to be capable of carrying things, after all. They may swoop down on roads and frighten drivers of small cars. ;)

Oh, and I was reading a book by a British author that took place (partially) in the US. One of the characters was driving around and it mentioned looking for "for sale"/"to let" signs. Not something you'd ever see in this neck of the woods, but I don't know about Canadian English.

my bf is quite insistent that 'lorry is a girls name' ('laurie'- shortened form of laura?).

'to let' is 'for rent'. :D you let people live there. they pay you. :D mature people draw a letter 'i' in the middle of those signs. :D

Wait, for Ozzy, that's an accent? I always figured it was speech impairment due to years of heavy drinking and drug abuse.

he does seem to have a degree of alcoholic brain damage, and a stutter, but yes- he has a very thick brummie/black country accent. they say things beautifully... 'a cup of tea' is said 'a kipper tie', for example. :D

if you want to try and speak like a brummie yourself (and/or understand what the hell they're saying :D), this'll help:

http://www.h2g2.com/approved_entry/A496352
 

das_nut

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So does Canadian English default to "to let" or "for rent"? I'm curious now.

And I don't need help to speak like a brummie. Just get me some ice, gin and tonic water. I'll do the rest. :p
 

beancounter

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By telling people that using this "dialects" is OK, you are causing them more harm than good. By encouraging them to continue using it instead of making an effort to learn standard English, may give you the warm and fuzzies, and may make the minority feel good about himself, but it is equivelant to giving a kid a trophy when he didn't win.

If you want to help minorities break the cycle of poverty, and allow them to grow to their potential, validating this dialect will not accomplish that goal. As a matter of fact, by doing so, you are contributing to the cycle of poverty.

Reality Check:
If an employer has the choice between two candidates, and one uses standard English, and the other uses the "Ebonics" dialect, which one do you suppose the employer is more likely to choose?
 
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It may not be an advantage in most workplaces like American Sign Language. But also like ASL African-American English is a language.
 

cornsail

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By telling people that using this "dialects" is OK, you are causing them more harm than good. By encouraging them to continue using it instead of making an effort to learn standard English, may give you the warm and fuzzies, and may make the minority feel good about himself, but it is equivelant to giving a kid a trophy when he didn't win.

If you want to help minorities break the cycle of poverty, and allow them to grow to their potential, validating this dialect will not accomplish that goal. As a matter of fact, by doing so, you are contributing to the cycle of poverty.

The existence of other languages and dialects is simply a fact. It remains so whether or not we choose to "validate" them or declare them "ok".

Reality Check:
If an employer has the choice between two candidates, and one uses standard English, and the other uses the "Ebonics" dialect, which one do you suppose the employer is more likely to choose?

Studies have shown that if employers have the choice between a candidate with a "standard" English name such as "John" and an minority-sounding name such as "Jamal" they will be more like to choose the person with the "standard" name. I get that for pragmatic reasons, pleasing employers is important, even when it relates to prejudices that aren't entirely rational, but I think that's different than outright calling such disadvantageous cultural differences "not okay" or "invalid". Although I'd encourage everyone to learn to speak and write "standard" English for personal advancement if necessary, I'd also like to see more employers realize that alternative speech patterns do not necessarily have anything to do with stupidity or slang.
 

beancounter

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The existence of other languages and dialects is simply a fact. It remains so whether or not we choose to "validate" them or declare them "ok".

Of course it's a fact, but by saying it's Ok to use it, you are essentially telling them that they don't have to improve, validating their station in life as acceptable.

Giving the loser a trophy when he didn't win may make him feel good about himself, but it doesn't do anything to help him do better the next time he plays the game. He will continue to lose because he's been convinced by the coddlers that his game is good enough.

And at the end of the day, pragmatism is all that matters when you want to put food on the table.
 
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Spang

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Of course it's a fact, but by saying it's Ok to use it, you are essentially telling them that they don't have to improve, validating their station in life as acceptable.

Giving the loser a trophy when he didn't win may make him feel good about himself, but it doesn't do anything to help him do better the next time he plays the game. He will continue to lose because he's been convinced by the coddlers that his game is good enough.

And at the end of the day, pragmatism is all that matters when you want to put food on the table.
Are you suggesting that people who speak with an English dialect are losers?