Mitchell-Kernan – Signifying, Loud-Talking and Marking

Mitchell-Kernan, C. “Signifying, Loud-Talking and Marking (1972).” Signifyin (g), sanctifyin’, and slam dunking (1999): 309. Print.

In this text, Claudia Mitchell-Kernan highlights three features and practices of Black English and discourse: signifying, loud-talking, and marking. As a linguist and speaker of Black English, Mitchell Kernan was able to offer a more thorough and accurate account of Black English practices, and do so in a way that focused on the unique characteristics and strengths of the language. Most importantly, Mitchell-Kernan examined Black English as a language system in its own right, and not in constant comparison or in the shadow of the “standard” English.

Through analysis of her interactions with speakers of Black English, she derived her own explanations of Black language usage that were oftentimes similar to result that William Labov found in his research, but Mitchell-Kernan’s explication had a more nuanced and richer quality. This is evident in her description of the use of the word “nigger” in Black discourse based on  primary research she provided in the text:

“The use of the “nigger” in these examples is of interest. It is coupled with the use of code features which are farthest removed from standard English. That is, the code utilizes many linguistic markers that differentiate black speech from standard English or white speech. More such markers than might ordinarily appear in the language of the speaker are frequently used. Interestingly, the use of “nigger” with black English markers has the effect of “smiling when you say that.” The use of standard English with “nigger” in the words of an informant, is “the wrong tone of voice” and may be taken as abusive.” (322)

Mitchell-Kernan’s main focus seems to be giving a thorough treatment of Black English for the sake of understanding Black English, not for the purpose of using it to manipulating Black students into speaking in a socially sanctioned “standard” English like linguists, such as: Labov, Fasold, and Wolfram. This type of scholar, one with linguistic training and intimate knowledge and experience with Black English, is who Labov (1971) said was needed, but did not exist.

Morgan – “No Woman No Cry: Claiming African American Women’s Place

Morgan, Marcyliena. “No Woman No Cry: Claiming African American Women’s Place.” Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse. Eds. Mary Bucholtz, A. C. Lang, and Laurel A. Sutton. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. 27-45. Print.

In this chapter Marcyliena Morgan analyzes thress different cites of African American female discourse use: 1) children’s play, 2) adolescent girls’ verbal activities, and 3) adult interaction. She contests the notion that Black vernacular is male constructed and dominated, and that is only in reaction to racial oppression.

Through a cross-generational analysis of Black female discourse practices Morgan concludes that her illustrations of how African American girls, young women, and women grow and function as core social actors shows that they are a part of the vernacular culture, not at the periphery. She also theorizes that their identity is tied to the construction of what she calls a cool social face (41).

Cool Social Face

Social face is an impression formed of a person based on her or his self-presentation (Goffman 1967). The African American cultural concept that both critiques and symbolizes social face is the notion of being cool – “current and trendsetting, calm, detached, yet in control (cf. Major 1994; Smitherman 1994) (31). Morgan defines a “cool face” as “the ability to enact subtle symbolic cultural practices with eloquence, skill, wit, patience, and precise timing” (31).

Morgan asserts that Black women and girls protect and maintain this face though language games such as he-said-she-said games, instigating, and conversational signifying (41). Morgan urges scholars and analysts to reanalyze the research that has defined sociolinguistics and conduct new research that includes women as social actors.

Foster – “Are You With Me?”: Power and Solidarity in the Discourse of African American Women

Foster, Michéle. “”Are You with Me?”: Power and Solidarity in the Discourse of African American Women.” Gender Articulated: Language and the Socially Constructed Self. Eds. Kira Hall and Mary Bucholtz. New York: Routeledge, 1995. 329-350. Print.

In this chapter Michéle Foster attempts to expand the conversation on African American English and discourse beyond the study of Black, male discourse patterns to include those of middle-class African American women. She contests the notion that middle-class African American speech patterns align more closely with Standard English than those of working-class African Americans (Labov 1969).

Her data comes from observations of and interviews with African American female teachers. By using the framework of performance theory and discourse analysis, Foster concludes that the African American women in her study intentionally and systematically used features of African American discourse style, such as codeswitching in order to express their identity. Such expressions are also influenced by the social relationships between the participants – mainly familiarity.

… this chapter makes clear not only that African American women of the middle class and in the teaching profession retain their ability to communicate in the African American vernacular but that through their use of African American discourse they index a social identity and communicate a particular stance or point of view that cannot be expressed in Standard English. African American English enables these women to communicate cognitive, affective content not available in the standard form of the language, to create and maintain social relationships and express solidarity with listeners (347).

Richardson – ‘She was workin like foreal’: critical literacy and discourse practices of African American females in the age of hip hop

In a semi-structured group interview with three middle-class African-American young women (one East Coast, 2 Midwestern), Elaine Richardson uses critical discourse analysis to explore ways that the young women negotiate stereotypical and hegemonic representations of black men and women. Richardson presents an analysis of her conversation with the young women about the video for Midwestern rapper Nelly and the St. Lunatics’ song “Tip Drill.” The controversial song and video portrays the commodified images of hypersexualized women of color and hypermasculine black men: ” The song could be considered a strip club anthem replete with signs of carnality and status, attractive young black women wielding their power signs – their beautiful shapely bodies…; virile men flashing their black men’s power signs – cash money…” (791)

Richardson’s primary question is: “How do young African American females negotiate stereotypical representations of African American culture, gender, labor, and sexual values in rap music videos?” (791) Through her conversation and critical discourse analysis, Richardson shows the “special knowledge” that the young women have about themselves, other black women and men, and their position in the racist, global, capitalistic system of the United States.

Richardson finds that the young women use Black and Hip-hop discourses, “smart talk” (Van Dijk 1997), and African American female literacies to understand and articulate their positions which are at times complicated and conflicted. One notable example of this is when one of the participants “represents” for the men in the video and their lived experience. “Representin'” as a part of Hip-hop discourse is a concept and practice that is “a part of the larger black discourse practice that emerged in the slavery experience and is akin to fictive kinship, wherein enslaved African devised a way of surviving, achieving prestige and creating a black human identity apart from dehumanized slave,” (797) Participants “BE” gives rapper Nelly the benefit of the doubt arguing that he would not talk to a woman of “class” the way he speaks to “Tip Drills,” women who are strippers, or opportunistic women that do not have class. This notion that implies that there is a category of black women unworthy of respect.

Richardson concludes that young people, like those in her study, are aware of the dominating forces that perpetuate stereotypes about African Americans, but they do not possess all of the necessary critical tools to “escape internal victim blaming for their predicament.” (806) She advocates for critical pedagogies that go beyond challenging to changing systems that allow for inequality, sexism, and racism. Of course, we can add a host of other “isms” based on social divisions.