Talkin That Talk: Language, Culture, and Education in African America

By Geneva Smitherman | Go to book overview

3

WHITE ENGLISH IN BLACKFACE OR, WHO DO I BE? [1973]

AIN NOTHIN IN a long time lit up the English-teaching profession like the current hassle over Black English. One finds beaucoup sociolinguistic research studies and language projects for the “disadvantaged” on the scene in nearly every sizable black community in the country. 1 And educators from K-Grad. School bees debating whether: (1) blacks should learn and use only standard white English (hereafter referred to as WE); (2) blacks should command both dialects, i.e., be bi-dialectal (hereafter BD); (3) blacks should be allowed (??????) to use standard Black English (hereafter BE or BI). The appropriate choice having everything to do with American political reality, which is usually ignored, and nothing to do with the educational process, which is usually claimed. I say without qualification that we can not talk about the Black Idiom apart from Black Culture and the Black Experience. Nor can we specify educational goals for blacks apart from considerations about the structure of (white) American society.

And we black folks is not gon take all that weight, for no one has empirically demonstrated that linguistic/stylistic features of BE impede educational progress in communication skills, or any other area of cognitive learning. Take reading. It’s don been charged, but not actually verified, that BE interferes with mastery of reading skills. 2 Yet beyond pointing out the gap between the young brother/sistuh’s phonological and syntactical patterns and those of the usually-middle-class-WE-speaking-teacher, this claim has not been validated. The distance between the two systems is, after all, short and is illuminated only by the fact that reading is taught orally. (Also get to the fact that preceding generations of BE-speaking folks learned to read, despite the many classrooms in which the teacher spoke a dialect different from that of her students. )

-57-

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