Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teaching African American English Forms to Standard American English-Speaking Teachers: Effects on Acquisition, Attitudes, and Responses to Student Use

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Teaching African American English Forms to Standard American English-Speaking Teachers: Effects on Acquisition, Attitudes, and Responses to Student Use

Article excerpt

Several dialectic variations of English exist across the United States. These variations typically reflect cultural, regional, and/or ethnic differences. One such variation is African American English (AAE), a unique historical, cultural, linguistic system spoken by many African Americans.

AAE linguistic system. AAE differs from Standard American English (SE) on a variety of phonological, lexical, syntactic, stylistic, and usage dimensions. Linguistic researchers long ago established that AAE represents a highly developed and structurally valid linguistic system that differs in many ways from SE but is in no way deficient to it (e.g., Burling, 1973; Fasold, 1969; Fryburg, 1974; Labov, 1970, 1972; Stewart, 1969). This was reaffirmed by the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) in its January 1997 resolution on Ebonics (LSA, 1997). AAE is governed by rules just as SE is. For example, the plural morpheme is absent from the AAE form five cent because plurality has already been marked by five. Some features of AAE are in fact more syntactically complex than those of SE, for example, the AAE use of the verb be. The AAE sentence "Jessica be tired" informs us that Jessica is typically and habitually tired, whereas the AAE sentence "Jessica tired" conveys that the duration of the activity is more temporary in nature. In contrast, there is only one SE form, "Jessica is tired," providing no differential information.

The presence of greater semantic specification in AAE is noteworthy given the stigmatizing effect that use of the AAE form be may have on those who speak only SE. The terminology characterizing African American speech has changed over the years, and includes Black English, Black English Vernacular, African American Vernacular English, Ebonics, and Africanized English (Baugh, 2000; Smitherman, 2000; Wassink & Curzan, 2004). One issue has been whether AAE represents a dialect, a vernacular, a language, or several related languages. In response, the LSA resolution on Ebonics stated that the distinction is more social/political than purely linguistic in nature and that "what is important from a linguistic and educational point of view is not whether AAE is called a 'language' or a 'dialect' but rather that its systematicity be recognized" (LSA, 1997; Seymour, Abdulkarim, & Johnson, 1999).

Dissention has existed as well over the use of the label Standard English primarily because it implies that SE is superior to other varieties of English and that SE is the standard by which all other varieties should be judged. More neutral but less common alternatives have been proposed. However, in agreement with Wassink and Curzan's (2004) call for commonality, the present study will use African American English and Standard American English terminologies, which are the current norm in the research literature.

Educational research on AAE. Since James Harrison's 1884 description of "Negro English" in the journal Anglia (Smitherman, 1997), research on AAE has been extensive. Rickford, Sweetland, and Rickford (2004) cited close to 700 references in 18 different topic areas. Interest in the educational and instructional implications of AAE grew following the Oakland School Board resolution on Ebonics in 1996 (Craig, Thompson, Washington, & Potter, 2004; Craig & Washington, 2000; Flowers, 2000; Fogel & Ehri, 2000; Hollie, 2001; Hoover, 1998; Labov, 2001; M. Blake & Van Sickle, 2001; Pandey, 2000; Perry & Delpit, 1998; Rickford, 1999).

An issue of central concern has involved linguistic difference as a factor mediating the low achievement of culturally diverse populations (e.g., Feldman, Stone, & Renderer, 1990; Laosa, 1982; Shatz, 1991). One view is that dialect-speaking students experience greater difficulty in school because the linguistic features of English they learn at home differ in many ways from those used in school. This is particularly true for AAE-speaking students because AAE is more similar to SE than it is different. …

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