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).

 

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).

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.

Smitherman – Word From The Mother

“to speak . . . means to assume a culture . . .every dialect is a way of thinking.”

–Frantz Fanon (1967)

In Geneva Smitherman’s Word from the Mother, Smitherman speaks with maternal authority and explores the push-pull relationship that both African and White America have with African American Language. Through an overview of AAL debates past and present, Smitherman demonstrates that while White and African America are still undecided on how they feel about Black people and their culture, there is nothing ambivalent about AAL; it has roots, consistent rules and continues to have a recognizable impact on mainstream America and the language of wider communication, “standardized” American English. Smitherman also makes the case that because of this we should broaden the concept of AAL beyond the notion that it is only for and used by young Hiphoppas, but that AAL should be included in writing pedagogy at all levels, as well as, a national bi/multilingual policy for all U.S. citizens.

Smitherman asserts that AAL is rooted in the West African languages that enslaved Africans brought to the United States over 400 years ago.

“AAL comes out of the experience of the U.S. slave descendants. This shared experience has resulted in common speaking styles, systematic patterns of grammar, and common language practices in the Black community.” (3)

Smitherman points to similarities in words of West African origin and AAL to demonstrate the connection between the two languages. For example, she compares the “tote” as in tote bag and “tota” meaning to carry in Kikongo. Smitherman uses these similarities and research to disprove the notion that AAL is random and an indication of genetic inferiority. “Linguists then and now are united in our overwhelming rejection of assertions that AAL is illogical or evidence of some kind of intellectual shortcoming in Blacks.” (11)

Although many still deny AAL’s legitimacy and value as a language form, Smitherman presents undeniable evidence of the linguistic crossover of terms that were at one point exclusively Black and are now enjoyed by all. The “high five” previously known as giving and getting skin/ five has its roots in West Africa.

There are several West African language sources, including Mandingo, I golo don m bolo, meaning literally “put your skin in my hand” as an expression of agreement and solidarity. Practiced on the down low in Black America for most of the entire twentieth century, “put your skin in my hand” morphed into the “high five” around 1990 . . . one can observe its use not only among White males, but also among elite White women on the golf course as well as among elderly White females confined to nursing homes (113).

If this text had been written after the 2008 presidential campaign, I’m sure Smitherman would have also addressed the closed fist variation used by then Black Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and his wife, which later became known to White America as the popular “fist bump” only after they were assured there was no terrorist affiliation indicated by it.

The bottom line in Word from the Mother is that AAL or Negro Dialect as it was once called should not be seen as a hindrance to African American progress. In chapter 7, Smitherman debunks the argument put forward by Gordon C. Green in 1963 that Negro Dialect would be the last barrier to integration. At that time, Green argued that within the next generation all signs of segregation and overt racism would be eliminated and that Black folk needed to lose their dialect in order to reap the benefits of the societal about-face. Smitherman points out that the de-facto segregation that is still present forty years after Green’s plea has nothing to do with AAL. “Indeed, the irony of Green’s four-decades-old argument is that in the U.S., the “Negro Dialect” has been integrated, but the “Negro people” have not.” (122)

Smitherman argues against simplistic approaches to AAL and attempts to move the conversation to higher ground by discussing possible uses in education. She explores language awareness programs in elementary and secondary school that serve to develop and reaffirm positive attitudes toward AAL. “Education about language diversity has to start early on – with all children” (138). She also cites Gwendolyn Pough’s use of Hip-hop pedagogy in her college courses as “a vehicle for critical thinking and social change” (141).

However, the broader issue, Smitherman concludes, is what kind of stance we will take as a nation concerning acquisition of language. Smitherman suggests a bi/multilingual national policy where AAL would be one of several languages that students could select. Students would also study the respective cultures of the languages offered and therefore be prepared to enter the adult world as bi/multilinguals with global perspectives (141). Smitherman argues that this is a better strategic position than the current monolingual policy and practice encouraged by No Child Left Behind. “While the twenty-first-century world is moving in a common direction of multilingualism, the U.S. remains stagnated in a backward monolingualism” (144).

Regardless of the continued linguistic push-pull relationship White and African America have with African American Language it has stood the test of time for over 400 years and it is here to stay.