Bailey – Toward a New Perspective in Negro English Dialectology

Bailey, B. L. “Toward a New Perspective in Negro English Dialectology.” American Speech 40.3 (1965): 171-7. Print.

In this article, Beryl Bailey offered a critique of the linguistic theories that portrayed Negro/ Black English as deficient and substandard in comparison to “standard” English.  She asserted that if linguists followed Krapp’s (1924) suggestions for researching the historical backgrounds of the various dialects, the “Negro” dialect would be described in terms of itself and not in comparison to a so-called norm (171). She claimed that only prejudice could explain the oversight: “I therefore maintain that only blind ethnocentrism has prevented them from looking further for the real facts underlying the grammatical structure of this dialect” (172).

Instead of using “standard” English as a measuring stick, Bailey drew on research on pidgin and creole languages for more comparable  grammatical structures to “Negro” English. Bailey argued that southern Negro “dialect” was different than other southern speech because the grammatical structure was different despite the shared English lexicon. Therefore, any apparent “confusions” or inconsistencies in the dialect could only be resolved by looking to the actual dialect. Bailey compared grammatical rules of Jamaican Creole and “Negro dialect” as taken from a literary text to analyze the distinct and consistent rule-based systems of the speech. Bailey admitted that she was not a native southern Negro dialect speaker and that part of the drawback to her study was the reliance on language in a literary text and her limited ability to understand the dialect in ways that native speakers might. Nevertheless, Bailey makes the compelling point that “Negro” English has a structural system of its own apart from the “standard” American English.

Hence, regardless of the surface resemblances to other dialects of English-and this must be expected, since the lexicon is English and the speakers are necessarily bi-dialectal-we must look into the system itself for an explanation of seeming confusion of persons and tenses. (172)

Marckwardt – American English

Marckwardt, Albert. American English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1958. Print.

In his book American English, Albert Marckwardt attempted to map out a middle-ground approach to understanding the English language in America. Marckwardt situated American English as rooted in British English, but existing as its own variety due to the socio-cultural influences that are distinctly American. In its formative stages, Marckwardt asserted, American English was shaped by the languages of the Indigenous people that were living on the land that later became  the United States as well as the French, Dutch, Spanish, and others. At the same time, the  “frontier spirit” led to more separation and independence from European influences. As a result, Marckwardt described features of American English that are distinctly connected to American culture and would not be understood by foreigners,  such as “compound” (88). Examples of compounds include “baseball,” and “soap operas.”

Marckwardt acknowledged regional variations, and cited Kurath, but he did not consider all variations equal. He described the “language of the uncultivated” ass distinguished by inflectional characteristics (146). He too, like Krapp (1924) viewed “substandard” American English as a mere holdover of outdated forms of standard English (147). While Marckwardt is clear that this “standard” American English is more socially desirable, he also admitted that it was illusive even for the “well-educated”:

“Unquestionably the easy transition from one social class to another in the United States has resulted in a very hazy line of demarcation between what is acceptable and what is considered illiterate. According to the most rigorous schoolbook standard, some of the language employed in American legislative councils and in business life would not pass muster. The awareness of this, combined with an unrealistic treatment of language in our schools, has resulted at times in a defiance of these questionable standards.” (150)

Many of these questions and the accompanying defiance still persist today.

Marckwardt concluded that despite the different variations of the English language spoken within the U.S. and abroad, it is still highly unified and a single language (170). At the same time, Marckwardt argued that American English had outgrown the use for restrictive grammar standards and taboos which reflect an overall “negative approach to language” (184). For Marckwardt, the positive future and development of the English language were dependent upon adopting a “faith in intuition” regarding language and “giving attention to the broader aspects of structure and evolving tendencies of the language” (184).

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)

Green – Negro Dialect: The Last Barrier to Integration

Green, G. C. “Negro Dialect: the Last Barrier to Integration.” The Journal of Negro Education 32.1 (1963): 81-3. Print.

In this article, Gordon C. Green discussed what he viewed as the last reminder of African Americans’ past of oppression and therefore obstacle to integration – the “Negro” dialect. During the 1960s when great advances toward integration were being made, Green argued that the tell-tale sign of Blacks’ inferiority were their “substandard” ways of speaking. Similarly to Krapp (1924), Green explained that this illiterate and sub-par way of speaking was developed in no fault of the “Negro,” but merely a matter of nurture because enslaved Africans were not exposed to the “standard” way of speaking English in the fields while they labored, or later while enduring racial segregation. Green listed 13 commonly mis-pronunciations of English words by Black college students at Dillard University where he was formerly employed. Evidence, such as pronouncing “poem” as “perm” is used by Green to support his claim that Negro dialect was the last thing marking and keeping Blacks in a lower social status. He said:

“In this country there is much that the white citizenry can do to help the American Negro gain status as a fellow citizen with equal rights and responsibilities, but there is even more that the colored man can do for himself. Besides seeing to it that his civil rights are respected, that his vote is not wasted, and that he has an equal opportunity in obtaining the best possible education, he should take special pains to see that he and his children destroy this last  chain that binds him to the past, the Negro dialect” (83).

Green clearly views Black language from a deficit standpoint and does not recognize or value any African retentions in the language. He basically advocated for complete linguistic assimilation. As Geneva Smitherman (2006) later pointed African American Vernacular English itself is integrated into American English and other languages worldwide, but the “Negro” still is not.

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).

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).