Fasold and Wolfram – Some Linguistic Features of Negro Dialect

Fasold, R. W., and W. Wolfram. “Some Linguistic Features of Negro Dialect.” Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools 3.4 (1972): 16. Print.

Ralph Fasold and Walt Wolfram’s goal in this chapter was to provide comprehensive information on “Negro dialect” or “Black English” as they also called it, in language that nonlinguists, particularly teachers, could understand and use with their students. They made distinctions between “Negro dialect” and others English variations based on pronunciation, vocal quality and grammatical features. Despite its differences, the two clarified that Black English stood as its own system in its own right, not just an imitation of “standard” English.

They identified speakers of the dialect as primarily “Negroes” in lower socioeconomic classes. They also provided a brief explanation of the possible origins of “Negro” dialect, such as retentions from West African languages and/ or racial segregation during slavery.

Fasold and Wolfram derived their “grammar rules” and “pronunciation rules” by observing actual usage and conclude that all speech is governed by systems and rules. They encouraged teachers of “inner city” youth to “uphold real spoken standard English” as a model as opposed to “artificial precise language based on an arbitrary prescriptive norm of what is ‘correct'” (47). However, this is problematic if in fact as scholars such as Krapp, Kurath, and McDavid argued that there isn’t a naturally occurring monolithic white American English due to regional variations.

Fasold and Wolfram presented a solution for the teachers. They said:

“A good rule of thumb for a teacher to follows is to carefully and honestly reflect on his own usage in casual conversation and not to insist on any usage on the part of his pupils which he does not find in his own casual speech.” (47)

This statement confirms James Sledd’s argument that the bi-dialectalism being propogated is tantamount to white supremacy because the only criteria for the “standard” is that it be an acceptable form of speech used by white teachers. Any white variation is therefore suitable if it is coming from someone in a position of social favor higher than the child/ student of color. It is in fact as Sledd argued: linguists and teachers were playing God by attempting to create students in their own linguistic image.

Fasold and Wolfram went to great lengths to explain what they knew about Black English – that it was rule-based and equal to any other form of speech – only to tell teachers to use that knowledge to teach Black students to use an arbitrary “standard” that belonged to someone else and reflected who they were. The Black English term for this is – “fragga-naggle-bull!”

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