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.

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Stewart – Sociolinguistic Factors in the History of American Negro Dialects

Stewart, W. A. “Sociolinguistic Factors in the History of American Negro Dialects.” Florida FL Rep (1967) Print.

In this text, William Stewart gave context for the pedagogical tensions related to “Negro” dialect in the English classroom. He framed the concerns and research efforts regarding Black language variations as base din a national commitment to improving the lives and potential for social and economic advancement of underprivileged and  “disadvantaged” groups. To this end, Stewart claimed that a host of professionals were seeking answers to the numerous language problems of the “Negro.” Stewart described an educational landscape where underprivileged children were seen an defective and less capable than their white counterparts. Stewart argued that   schools needed to be both capable and willing to deal with such “dialect-based problems” (417).
Stewart stressed the importance of giving the nonstandard English speaking students the benefit of an education in  “standard” English: “To insure their social mobility on modern American society, these nonstandard speakers must undoubtedly be given a command of standard English” (425).
In order to properly deal with these dialect-based “problems” Stewart advised applied linguists and teachers alike to recognize the validity and long standing history of Black variations of English:
“Once educators are concerned with the language problems of the disadvantaged come to realize that non-standard Negro dialects represent historical tradition of this type, it is to be hoped that they will become less embarrassed by evidence that these dialects are very much alike throughout the country while different in many ways from non-standard dialect of whites, less frustrated by failure to turn non-standard Negro dialect speakers into standard English speakers overnight, less impatient with the stubborn survival of Negro dialect features in speech of even educated persons, and less zealous in proclaiming what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong'” (426).
Once this is achieved and linguists and educators can communicate with eac other, Stewart claimed “the problem will then be well on its way toward a solution” (426). The assumption under-girding this entire text despite all of the “legitimacy” Stewart tried to bestow upon Black English, was that the language and the people that speak in are different and unequal in terms of value and social capital; they were a problem, a threat and needed to be mitigated.

Sledd – On Not Teaching English Usage

Sledd, J. “On Not Teaching English Usage.” The English Journal 54.8 (1965): 698-703. Print.

In this article, James Sledd is precise in his distinctions between grammar, style, and usage and how this relates to students’ use of language. For Sledd, grammar referred to rules, while style referred to the writer’s choices. Usage, then, is about more limited choices. Sledd described it as:

“the study of socially graded synonyms, then tautologically such choices are determined by status only, and only one question is relevant to our choosing: Which form is used, and which form is approved, by those whose status we would like to share?” 698

In other words, usage is the “study of the social climber’s style.” The challenge in this, other than the oppression associated with the hierarchies in American society, Sledd suggested is that social structures and orders had changed.

To adjust to the change in the socio-cultural and political climates and how they were reflected in changing student bodies, Sledd said  that teachers tried to make students change their language by speaking and writing in very specific ways. Sledd argued that effective pedagogy required teachers to raise above the level of being linguistic bully: “We cannot teach them to choose by making their choices for them” (700).

He continued:

“Those among us who pretend we are good enough to set the crooked straight will have to try something much more difficult. We will have to teach the responsible choice of language for purposes broader and better than social
climbing. Social climbing never made much sense, and it makes still less when nobody knows which end is up.” (501)

In order to be responsible teachers Sledd contended that teachers needed to abandon some of the standards they were accustomed to and examine what ends are the standards serving. Sledd suggested that one of stakeholders being served is “Big Brother” where standardized language is supposedly necessary for an industrial society.

He basically called the upward mobility justification for teaching standard English “BS” and against the interests of the teachers themselves. Teachers who Sledd said were no longer “in the race” themselves were helping to sell the “upward mobility” ambition to the so-called “poor and ignorant” (701). According to Sledd, English teachers were no longer serving the students, but the wealth: “English teachers, who are out of the race themselves, must still help the gross national product to get grosser” (701).

Sledd prioritized student’s freedom and agency as human beings over institutional goal of social mobility, and to this end he offered one way English teachers could help students achieve the former: “When more people are shouting about freedom than understand it, we might set one frail example by not shouting but by speaking freely” (701).

 

 

McDavid – Historical, Regional, and Social Variation

McDavid, R. I. “Historical, Regional, and Social Variation.” Journal of English Linguistics 1.1 (1967): 25. Print.

In this article, R. McDavid categorized the different scales of measurement for grammar usage. McDavid highlighted historical, regional, and social scales as the three factors that affect language use in which people could not choose, but instead had to try and negotiate: “No man can change the generation or place of his birth; his attempts to change the social variety of his speech will be determined by the kind of people he associates with, and opportunities to make a drastic change are not as common as we would like” (27).

Concerning “Negro” dialect, McDavid acknowledged the research done by Lorenzo Turner to expand the understanding of Black language in the U.S., but still contended that “for the most part, Negro usages that differ from middle-class white practices are largely the result of this kind of selective cultural differentiation,” such as migration patterns within the U.S>

Lin – An English Program for students Handicapped by a Local Dialect

Lin, San‐su C. “An English Program for Students Handicapped by a Local Dialect,”.” College Language Association Journal (1963) Print.

In this article, San-su Lin, described her experience as a professor at Claflin University, a historically Black university, teaching college English to students with “local dialects.”  From the beginning, Lin described the Black students’ dialect  as a “handicap” and impediment to them having group membership in the larger society and achieving upward social mobility. Even though Lin is clear that the lowered status of Black dialects are socially constructed in the United States because of the lowered social status of Blacks in the U.S., she nonetheless advocated for Blacks to adopt the language of wider communication in order to be successful, similarly to the way Green (1963) does. The difference between Lin and Green’s (1963) stance on local dialects is that while Lin described that the dialect is a social barrier, she recognized that the dialect itself is not deficient, but another form of usage:

“In a democratic society like ours… linguistic scientists who have done distinguished work in linguistic history and geography should have convinced us that the only sensible viewpoint we could adopt is a liberal viewpoint, allowing for a variability and flexibility in the matter of English usage. According to this viewpoint, the many so-called incorrect usages condemned by the purists are colloquially acceptable, and the usages that are definitely substandard are actually fewer than we once thought” (145).

Despite this acknowledgement, societal and institutional goals prevail. Lin described a program instituted by Claflin University with support from Teachers’ College faculty and the U.S. Department of Education called the “Pattern Practice in the Teaching of Standard English to Students with a Nonstandard Dialect” (142).  The program started in 1961 and sought to identify the extent to which pattern practice could help “nonstandard” English speakers learn “standard” English as well as develop materials to implement pattern practice with students.

The program included mandatory classes and language labs, but Lin found that American speakers of local dialect had a more difficult time picking up “standard” English because they did not have the same motivations to assimilate as foreign students. To this end, Lin said one of the programs most important goals was to show the students in the Claflin program the extend to their “language problem” which was mainly social (144). Secondly, the program  sought to teach the students the best ways to overcome their “handicap” (146). In addition to in class lessons, students were provided mastertape recordings for more practice.

At the time that the article was written, Claflin was in their third academic year of the program and the final assessment had note been conducted. However, Lin suspected that the success of the program would be seen on a more personal level for the students with increases in confidence and  improvements in attitudes toward English language use. Lin concluded that although she presumed this program to be successful, that “special” English classes for “minority” students with local dialects should not mean remedial English classes. Instead, Lin argued that English programs and teacher training should be re-evaluated and answers to the following questions should be pursued:

“How can we adequately prepare our English majors to teach English as a language as well as literature? How can we alert prospective English teachers not only to the dynamic nature of language but also to the psychological needs of the students? How can we encourage our English majors, even if they do not intend to teach, to cultivate a humanistic interest in our language as an integral part of the humanities, and not merely as a set of mechanical rules and abstract definitions? How can we infuse in our students a sense of urgency in learning, or teaching English which has a great impact not only on a child’s sense of security but on national security as well?” (147)

Ives – Grammatical Assumptions

Ives, S. “Grammatical Assumptions.” College Composition and Communication 5.4 (1954): 149-55. Print. 

In this article, Sumner Ives attempted to clear up the assumptions concerning grammar in English education. Ives began by making the distinction between the what he outlined as two major types of meaning in language 1) grammatical meaning and 2) lexical meaning. Grammatical meaning, according to Ives, refers to structural meanings expressed through words like “the” and “did,” and by tone, pause, pitch, and stress. This, Ives said, falls into the realm of the linguist. As the study and description of devices that convey structural meaning, Ives argued that there are different grammar rules for different languages (152).

Ives also worked to clarify the distinctions between grammar and rhetoric. While he stated grammar  is based on “public observance of certain conventions,” rhetoric on the other hand, is based on “private activity within the limits set by these conventions” (152). Ives asserted that the two influence each other reciprocally and are both necessary for English pedagogy for native English speakers.

One area that is of particular interest to me is Ives explication of this then new understanding of linguistic grammar as opposed to “traditional” grammar. He referred to traditional grammar as being the “retention of earlier methods of authority and reason” and as “rationalistic” (152). Linguistics, however, he described as “the application of modern methods of science and logic” (152). Traditional grammar, Ives pointed out, erroneously relied on one standard of grammar based in Latin. This type of assumption impeded “our” progress in understanding language (153). This seemed very promising in terms of a pedagogy that allowed for multiple understandings of language and communication, especially when Ives explained his view of usage.

Usage refers to the fact that not all people use the same structural or grammatical forms in making equivalent statements. Ives acknowledged that there can be differences of dialects within the same language and asserted it was pointless to discount different usages within English as not being English (154). However, he recognized that different dialects were associated with different social status, such as education level. Ives challenged the oversimplification of usage by education or class level in light of the notion of “universe of discourses” where (154). For example, speech and writing are different universes of discourse. Different usage can be considered correct, accepted, appropriate and characteristic only in terms of the universe of discourse (154).

Ives concluded that in terms of pedagogy “the student should be taught the usages proper to universes of discourse which he is not likely to learn about outside the school” (154). This sounds similar to helping students respond to particular rhetorical situations. Another rhetorical factor Ives alluded to is ethos: “If a new doctor or minister says “you was,” [instead of “you were”] confidence in him is lowered. Educated people should talk like educated people, no matter who is listening or what the occasion may be” (154). Inherent in these statements is a particular understanding of what it means to be educated, as well as a particular understanding of what “proper” grammar is, which by Ives’ own definition of grammar and usage is problematic. For example, if my response to this logic was “who the fuck says?” in stead of “we need to interrogate who gets to determine these rules?” would that be an indication that I was less intelligent? Or, is this just another example of the biases that our society has against dialects that do not come from white people of privileged social status, and the people that use them?

In the end, Ives advocated for a link between linguistics and literature stating that grammar is the foundation for rhetoric. Although he speaks about mastering “native language” it is clear that here he is referring to a standard form of English. Even so, his theories could also be applied to language policies, such as Students’ Rights to Their Own Language.

“Reading enables people to extend their experience, to see the world through other eyes and know it in terms of other concepts and attitudes, for these are implicit in language. In fact, one can argue convincingly that a man has not fully mastered his native language until he has read widely in it, particularly those writings which we call imaginative or creative. It follows, too, that increase in experience, in breadth and depth of experience, results in knowledge of more words and greater facility in the use of language. I regret, as you see, the tendency to regard linguistics and literature as separate fields with little to say to each other and in the position of rivals as teachers of composition” (154).

 

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).