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.