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.

Labov – The Notion of ‘System’ in Creole Studies

Labov, W. “The Notion of ’system’ in Creole Studies.” Pidginization and creolization of languages (1971): 447-72. Print.

This paper by WIlliam Labov is a response to numerous papers on different aspects of pidgin and creole language studies. Here, Labov described his own process of attempting to use Creole Studies to better understand and situate “Negro” English. He described  “nonstandard Negro English” as more closely related to  “standard English” than Creoles, such as Jamaican, Haitian, or Trinidadian. However, Labov admitted that Black variations of English were still distinctly different than Southern white English variations. This, for Labov, necessitated the re-evaluation of Creole Studies in understanding American Black speech varieties as well as for further developing a fuller understanding of the linguistic notion of “system,” and how to treat system variations.

Labov noted methodological challenges of non-Creole linguists trying to attain accurate examples of Creole talk as data, such as Creole speakers matching the systems of the researcher, or Creole speakers trying to accommodate the researchers and presenting “hypercreolization” – an exaggerated/ stereotyped version of the language (450). Labov noted the benefit of having Creole speaking linguists, such as Beryl Bailey, but remarked that there were no “Negro” dialect speaking linguists in the U.S.

Labov distinguished “systems” from “structures” by stating that while structures deal with elements or categories, systems relate to the relationship between the elements and categories (451). Labov also took up Noam Chomsky’s work (cited by another scholar’s paper) and argued that his linguistic theory is incompatible with sociolinguistics because of the limitations in places on language communities and how language is acquired.

Labov concluded that the “problem” of Creole languages has historic roots, and have likely manifested gradually over long periods of times. In this respect, he compared the linguistic landscape to a geographic landscape that has morphed over time:

In a given region, there are periods when one or the other type of change prevailed, but these earlier movements are not viewed as different in kind from those taking place today. This seems to be a reasonable approach to the historical problems of Creole languages: close studies of variation and change in present day Creole communities will no doubt give us a good indication of what has happened in the past.” (470)