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

By Geneva Smitherman | Go to book overview

6

REVIEW OF NOAM CHOMSKY’S LANGUAGE AND RESPONSIBILITY

1 [1983]

THE ENGLISH VERSION of Language and Responsibility arrived on the American scene at a propitious moment in the history of black people during our four-hundred-year travail in this land of the free. For 1979 was the year of King (also known as the “Ann Arbor Black English Case”), marking the legitimation of the language of black people in judicial annals and confirming the possibilities of linguistic theory and research in our quest for self-definition and literate vision. 2 Arousing passionate debate and reraising questions of nationalism and community development throughout black America, the legal precedent established in King directly resulted from the labor of linguists cognizant of social responsibility and the role of critical linguistics in the sine qua non quest for global understanding.

Chomsky’s book also came at a propitious moment in my personal history. Having been the dominant figure orchestrating the linguistic strategy of King for two years prior to and during the trial, I began work on Language, Politics and Ideology, for King had moved not only myself but other black linguists, scholars, intellectuals, and countless others in the national black community to confront anew DuBois’s challenging question: “Whither now and why?” ([1930] 1973). It was during this historical moment that I approached Chomsky’s work, keenly attuned to his personal history as a dues-paying linguist-intellectual who had supported student activist struggles in the 1960s, who had campaigned vigorously against the Vietnam war, who had unceasingly challenged Western imperialism on many fronts, and who had helped rip the covers off American intelligence operations against the Black Panthers and other social progressives (Chomsky, 1975).

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