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.
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Sledd – Bi-Dialectalism: The Linguistics of White Supremacy

Sledd, J. “Bi-Dialectalism: The Linguistics of White Supremacy.” The English Journal 58.9 (1969): 1307-29. Print.

As evidenced by the title of his article, James Sledd does not hold any punches. Straight out the gate he defined bi-dialectalism as a method of reinforcing linguistic white supremacy. He historicized the move toward bi-dialectalism as a move of white linguists, educators, and administrators to appease and get funding from government and business entities content to maintain the status quo. He argued bi-dialectalism, teaching “standard” English in schools as a second dialect to those who are non-native speakers (read: predominantly Black and Brown children), was/ is a scheme with a faulty foundation:

“The basic assumption of bi-dialectalism is that the prejudices of mid- dle-class whites cannot be changed but must be accepted and indeed enforced on lesser breeds. Upward mobility, it is assumed, is the end of education, but white power will deny upward mobility to speakers of black English, who must therefore be made to talk white English in their contacts with the white world.” (1309)

He used the words of well known linguists and scholars to support his argument that bi-dialectalism is racist and oppressive at its core, and that even with adequate funding and teacher training it is destined to fail. Sledd included names, such as: NCTE, William Stewart, McDavid, Rogey Shuy, and William Labov, who he implied profited off of their research and push toward bi-dialectalism. According to Sledd, this “smoke screen” (1310) found favor with the government because it did not name or resist white supremacy:

“The bi-dialectalists, of course, would not be so popularwith government and the foundationsif they spoke openly of the supremacy of white prejudice; but they make it perfectly clear that what they are dealingwith deserves no better name. No dialect, they keep repeating, is better than  any other–yet poor and ignorant children must change theirs unless they want to stay poor and ignorant.”   (1310)

Sledd asserted that the level of success students subjected to compulsory bi-dialectalism would be minimally higher than if they were not. This raises questions regarding the sincerity of the efforts made toward helping “disadvantaged” students succeed. Sledd also demonstrated how these efforts were also undermined in the classroom. Despite teachers being directed to consider all dialects equal, the practice of privileging “standard” English over other variations sends a much different message. Sledd quoted the report Language Programs for the Disadvantaged (NCTE, 1965): “[Teachers] must still use all the adult authority of the school to “teach standard informal English as a second dialect” (p. 137), because the youngster who cannot speak standard informal English “will not be able to get certain kinds of jobs” (p. 228).

For Sledd, it is not the language of “minorities: that needs to be addressed, but the conditions that lead to the social and racial stratification in the first place. Social justice is the larger issue: “Nothing the schools can do about black English or white English either will do much for racial peace and social justice as long as the black and white worlds are separate and hostile.”

Placing an emphasis on the larger issue of social justice would change the focus on language education and perhaps do more good that bi-dialectalism:

“Bi-dialectalism would never have been invented if our society were not divided into the dominant white majority and the exploited minori- ties. Children should be taught that. They should be taught the relations be- tween group differences and speech dif- ferences, and the good and bad uses of speech differences by groups and by individuals. The teaching would require a more serious study of grammar, lexicography, dialectology, and linguistic history than our educational system now provides-require it at least of prospective English teachers.”

For his opponents that might claim the classroom shouldn’t be politicized, Sledd argued it already was; teaching bi-dialectalism maintains white supremacy.