Lloyd – An English Composition Course Built Around Linguistics

Lloyd, Donald J. “An English Composition Course Built Around Linguistics.” College Composition and Communication 4.2 (1953): 40-3. Print. 

In this article, Donald Lloyd argued for a linguistic approach to the Composition course; one in which both the English language and the students themselves were central. He pointed out that linguistics while respected as a science and put to use in language pedagogy, it was typically used to teach English to non-native speakers and teaching and understanding foreign languages. Lloyd also discussed the disconnect between linguists and English teachers; linguists, he described as, not knowing the concerns of English teachers and not speaking in terms they could understand. At the same time, Lloyd explicated the benefits of English teachers drawing on linguistics in their pedagogy. For example, according to Lloyd, linguistics could help teachers examine their own practices. Teachers could learn to see students as “walking funds of knowledge” from whom they could learn as they teach. He continued:

“Taking (the student) as possessing a matured set of habits-a system of habits-we approach him on the basis of what is now known about habit formation-especially the formation of language habits among people who form a community and meet face to face. If we find anything we have to change in the language of the student-and we do-we know that we are touching something that goes deep into his past and spreads wide in his personal life. We will seek not to dislodge one habit in favor of another but to provide alternative choices for freer social mobility” (42).

Lloyds end goal, similar to Green’s (1963) was to increase the social mobility of a greater number of students. However, contrary to Green’s (1963) approach Lloyd advocated for English teachers to “enrich” and not “correct” their students language habits (42). Lloyd asserted that linguistics would prompt English teachers to be more engaged and proactive – unable “to hide behind other men’s workbooks” (42). His approach also set the precedent for the need for teachers to learn who students are outside of the classroom; working “with”  students, not “on” them (42).

Green – Negro Dialect: The Last Barrier to Integration

Green, G. C. “Negro Dialect: the Last Barrier to Integration.” The Journal of Negro Education 32.1 (1963): 81-3. Print.

In this article, Gordon C. Green discussed what he viewed as the last reminder of African Americans’ past of oppression and therefore obstacle to integration – the “Negro” dialect. During the 1960s when great advances toward integration were being made, Green argued that the tell-tale sign of Blacks’ inferiority were their “substandard” ways of speaking. Similarly to Krapp (1924), Green explained that this illiterate and sub-par way of speaking was developed in no fault of the “Negro,” but merely a matter of nurture because enslaved Africans were not exposed to the “standard” way of speaking English in the fields while they labored, or later while enduring racial segregation. Green listed 13 commonly mis-pronunciations of English words by Black college students at Dillard University where he was formerly employed. Evidence, such as pronouncing “poem” as “perm” is used by Green to support his claim that Negro dialect was the last thing marking and keeping Blacks in a lower social status. He said:

“In this country there is much that the white citizenry can do to help the American Negro gain status as a fellow citizen with equal rights and responsibilities, but there is even more that the colored man can do for himself. Besides seeing to it that his civil rights are respected, that his vote is not wasted, and that he has an equal opportunity in obtaining the best possible education, he should take special pains to see that he and his children destroy this last  chain that binds him to the past, the Negro dialect” (83).

Green clearly views Black language from a deficit standpoint and does not recognize or value any African retentions in the language. He basically advocated for complete linguistic assimilation. As Geneva Smitherman (2006) later pointed African American Vernacular English itself is integrated into American English and other languages worldwide, but the “Negro” still is not.

Hall – (Book Review) The African Substratum in Negro English

Hall, R. A. “The African Substratum in Negro English.” American Speech 25.1 (1950): 51-4. Print.

It must seem a bit odd to write a summary of a book review, but in my defense I am trying to survey a particular time period (1924-1972) to better understand the linguistic arguments taken up by Composition Studies to make the case for Students’ Rights to Their Own Language (SRTOL). In doing so, I’m trying to map the shifts in ideas concerning “Negro English”  and later African American Language (AAL), and African American Vernacular English, primarily through journal articles during the time period aforementioned. I’ll go back and read L.D. Turner’s seminal text – I promise – but for now, I’ll note the main ideas discussed in the text via Robert Hall’s review.

As reported by Hall, in Turner’s (1949) Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect, Turner refuted G.P. Krapp’s (1924) argument that there were no traces of African language in “Negro English.” Turner’s Anthropological and linguistic research in the Gullah region of the U.S.’s Southeast showed retentions of West African language. From his collection of texts (phonetic transcription and phonograph records), Turned compiled lists of names and other commonly used words and makes connections between these words and corresponding West African languages (mong the chief languages were Efik, Fon, Twi, Wolof, and Yoruba).

Hall concluded that Turner’s findings regarding the correlation between Gullah and West African language were decisive and superseded prior arguments made by Krapp and others that denied retention of African language in American Black English (53). In his review, Hall captured the shift in tide that Turner’s text created in terms reconsidering pidgin and creolized languages.

The past decade has seen a revival of interest in pidgin and creolized languages, and Turner’s book is a noteworthy contribution to this field… The theory of linguistic substratum, at one time was wholly discredited by the excesses of it’s proponents, is now being reinterpreted and, one might say, rehabilitated in the light of the more realistic picture of linguistic transfer afforded by pidgin and creolized languages” (54).

Hall encouraged more scholars to take advantage of the shift and availability of more descriptive techniques to “record, analyze, and interpret as many of the despised pidgins and creoles as possible” (54). Hall foreshadowed the day that more study would be focused on cross-cultural analysis of Pan African languages, such as comparison of Turner’s finding to creole languages in the West Indies. Yes, Drs. Hall and Turner, we’re working on it!

Kurath – The Origin of Dialectical Differences in Spoken American English

Kurath, H. “The Origin of the Dialectal Differences in Spoken American English.” Modern Philology 25.4 (1928): 385-95. Print. 

In this article, Hans Kurath disputed the idea that all American English was derived from Standard Southern English and  charted the patterns of American English pronunciation in different regions and traces their origins to specific regions in England. He notes the language surveys conducted between the 1890s and 1925 and the need for more thorough inquiry in order to understand American pronunciation and consider an American standard pronunciation.

Through study of  the pronunciations of various regions in the U.S. and mapping their pronunciations onto particular regions in England, Kurath challenged assumptions made by Krapp (1925), including the existence of a generalized American speech pattern. Kurath’s more nuanced approach highlights the dialectical differences in pronunciation that exist within “American Speech” (390).

This type of challenge to overgeneralized assertions about American language seem to create space for even more nuanced inquiries regarding language. Kurath’s challenge to the notion of a single origin of American English, the Southern English Standard, by showing the influence of Irish and Scottish immigrants, for example, also allows for the consideration of other influences on language. If European immigrants language variations are responsible for regional dialects in America, then his argument lends credence to the claim that enslaved Africans brought to the Americas also influence language features, such as phonetics and lexicons.

“All of the three types of spoken American English are conservative as compared with the pronunciation of the Southern English Standard in the Southeast and the southern Midlands of England. But what they conserve is not the various stages of that Standard, as seems to have been so generally assumed, but certain features-phonetic as well as lexical–of the several basic British regional varieties of Standard English” (395).

Krapp – The English of the Negro

Krapp, G. P. “The English of the Negro.” American Mercury 2.5 (1924): 190-5. Print.

In his 1924 “The English of the Negro,” George Philip Krapp claimed that the “Negro,” while s/he may have been denied certian aspects of citizenship, had been fully assimilated in terms of speech and spoke the same English as the early settlers. He went as far to say that no vestiges of African language had been retained in Black speech (190). He attributed this phenomenon to the combination of the two languages  (English and native African “dialect”) and the one with the higher cultural value, English, trumping the latter. He therefore reasoned that the language with higher cultural value, English, borrowed little to nothing from the latter, African “dialect” (190).

Krapp depicted the “Negro”  as a backward cultural being whose speech merely reflected the linguistic leftovers of older forms of English. While he acknowledged the danger in such generalizations, he argued: “it is reasonably safe to say that not a single detail of Negro pronunciation or Negro syntax can be proved to have any other than an English origin.” Krapp looked to the example of the Gullah language as an example of what he considered to be an infantile form of English, and one that he speculated Africans brought to America as slaves were forced to learn in order to speak to one another and their masters. He denied that even Gullah language has outside influences. He boasted that “as a literary achievement the Negro is exclusively an American invention” (193). He based this in part on claims that British literature did not have any Black characters.

According to Krapp, Negro English was not a peculiar species of English, it was merely the English spoken by “Negroes.” The emphasis on the dissimilarities is due to the preconceived notions and expectations whites had when encountering a Black person speaking. Because Blacks were/ are perceived as inherently different, Krapp claims that the differences in speech are exaggerated and a more scientific literal translation is applied when transcribing as opposed to illiterate or literate whites. This notion still rings true today in media portrayals of African Americans and other people of color. The most recent and notable example of this can be found in the movie and book (2009), The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. However, it seems that his discussion of “Negro” characters and “Negro English” (194) in early American dramas contradicted his notion that there is not real distinction other than the bodies the speech was coming from.

Krapp’s analysis of American and British literature written by whites to trace the evolution of “Negro English” is also problematic. It reminds me of Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark and her cautions of white authors and their literary imagination of Black people. Krapp did not take up this issue, but preferred to look to the hope of more genial relations between Blacks and whites. The hope for the future of race relations, according to Krapp is the “Negro’s” adaptation of the English language.