GrammarBlog

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Racist grammar Vs new dialects

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While perusing SPOGG I found a very interesting post discussing whether or not received pronunciation and standardised grammar are racist.

Apparently "Ebonics", and the more PC term, "African American Vernacular English" (AAVE) are terms to describe the way some groups of black Americans speak the English language. It appears that the Oakland school board, in a desperate attempt to prove how right-on they are, drew up a resolution to officially recognize it as a language in December of 1996. This idea was quite rightly kiboshed by the powers that be.

Now it appears Ebonics (that term really grates with me, I'll use AAVE from here on in) is back on the agenda. Faye Gage, director of the Connecticut Writing Project, addressed the issue at a recent convention. Here she gives an example of AAVE and why she thinks we need to formally recognise it:
When students use non-standard subject-verb formations - "The books be on the table," for instance - they're not speaking bad or corrupted English. They're correctly applying the rules of grammar they've learned at home.

My initial thoughts on this were as follows - Balderdash, tish and indeed, fipsy.

I mean come on, what would happen if that warped logic was applied to other aspects of life? E.G. juvenile court.
I do apologise for the confusion, your honor, when little Trevor TWOCked that car, he wasn't actually breaking the law. No no, you see he's applying the law as he learnt it at home. His father is professional car thief, you see, so there really is no problem. We'll just be on our way.
Now, before everyone gets all in a tangle about race, I will state this: this argument should have nothing to do with race. In addition I am not opposed to spoken vernacular or dialects that don't conform to standard English. On the contrary I love them. Here in the UK we're spoilt for choice; Geordie, Cockney, Brummie, Scouse (actually I am against Scousers) Weedgie, Cornish, Manc and more- all with their own vocabulary, their own peculiar ways of forming sentences but all speaking English. That's the point really isn't it? AAVE isn't a language, it's a new dialect (new compared to say, Geordie, which exists because of the Vikings).

As soon as we fail to correct colloquialisms in written English and formal speech we can kiss goodbye to our language. We're also not doing the kids favours by failing to correct them, they need to know how to form decent prose, they need to know what's expected of them in the real world. None of this is new of course, the stuffy US establishment that Gage is attempting to reform probably spent their teen years saying "far out" and "groovy, man - don't be a square" and other such perversions of our sacred tongue.

The full article draws similar conclusions (I think).

If any of you are wondering why I embrace dialects, take a look at the below video of John Smeaton. If you understand more than 50% I'll be impressed, unless you're a Weedgie yersel ken?

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11 Comments:
Blogger Dan said...

Interesting stuff.

Quick points from your Scottish correspondent:

(1) 'Smeaton' not 'Smeeton'

(2) 'Yersel' not 'yersell'

(3) Weedgies do not generally use 'ken', it being an east coast term. My favourite example of this came when fans of Glasgow Celtic visited Edinburgh and at Hibernian's Easter Road ground were heard to chant "who the fuck, who the fuck, who the fucking hell is Ken? Who the fucking hell is Ken?" (if you don't go to football you won't be able to imagine the tune but I don't really care).

1 August 2007 at 11:03  
Blogger Gez said...

As the man in the orthopaedic shoe said to his wife, "I stand corrected".

1 August 2007 at 11:20  
Blogger Gez said...

And for those of you not familiar with English and Scottish football chants, the "who the f*ck" song is sung to the tune of "bread of heaven". This is originally a welsh hymn entitled Cwm Rhondda

(Dan if you insist on writing the word "fuck" can you at least use an asterisk in place of the "u". We're not on the terraces now, are we?)

1 August 2007 at 11:37  
Blogger Dan said...

We haven't had a ruling on swearing yet, so I went with the Grauniad's controversial rule of printing words like 'fuck', just to seem like I'm edgy.

Talking of that paper, it's interesting to note they carry a gobbet article on Scots dialect today. It actually works and enriches the language in written form, which is something of an anomaly:

http://www.guardian.co.uk
/g2/story/0,,2138873,00.html

I'm sure Gez will make that into a proper link, he's good like that.

1 August 2007 at 12:05  
Blogger Gez said...

Actually, I can't edit comments, I can only delete them. I do think you should include references when you use terms such as Grauniad

Just because I like you:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/g2/story/0,,2138873,00.html

1 August 2007 at 14:32  
Blogger Marty said...

"Dan if you insist on writing the word "fuck" can you at least use an asterisk in place of the "u"."

Admittedly nicked from the Graun's style guide:

...as Charlotte Brontë elegantly put it:
"The practice of hinting by single letters those expletives with which profane and violent people are wont to garnish their discourse, strikes me as a proceeding which, however well meant, is weak and futile. I cannot tell what good it does - what feeling it spares - what horror it conceals."

1 August 2007 at 16:22  
Blogger Gez said...

Excellent, Marty and thus the ruling on swearwords in GrammarBlog - if it's good enough for Bronte and the Guardian, it's good enough for us.

Incidentally that style guide is a mine of information on which to base future posts.

1 August 2007 at 17:00  
Blogger Elisabeth said...

John: I was having a fag. I heard a commotion and people screaming, so I run around the corner, look quickly around the corner. Look to my left, and seen, the Jeep, in the front of the terminal. They rear ended, the vehicle's on flames. I've seen a man come out of the passenger's side of the vehicle. A policeman's running over, across, to assist. The man then attacks the policeman. I see this happening, see, well I go around and give the policeman a hand. So I round down other members of the public as well. And we try to subdue the guy, but he's big boy and he's not for being subdued. He's throwing punches left, right, and center.

Reporter: Can you give me any clues about his accent or his...

J: He's (I missed this) he was speaking Arabic and he was shouting something, "Allah" something, "Allah." Every time he threw a punch, he was saying "Allah." And the only thing he was interested was the policeman, wasn't interested in anybody else. He was only interested in getting the policeman. Eh...as this happened, remember the public has also been (missed, hop or here) em, so we try to drag him out, we tried, me and a ma'am, a female member of security, we try to drag him away. And we told him we've seen that guy lying beside the Jeep, covered, face down, lying covered head to toe, and him…

R: In flames?

J: In flames. Him...

R: Now you must have been worried about your own safety, at least at this point.

J: No, I really was more worried about the guy who's lying on the ground, you know. I was worried, because he couldn't do anything for himself. He's lying there, so me and the female member of security, just made sure that he was going to be okay, as all this was happening. So that was the only thing we were doing, making sure he's okay. When you have a policeman on scene, the police appeared, they have their own scene. They will deal with it. Deal with a guy. But the guy who's in flames. Once he was hosed off, a member of the public, a taxi driver hosed him down, he got up and then tried to attack the, the policeman. You know, even though he was covered head to toe in flames, but, I see him batting them off him and everything.

R: Really a very determined individual.

J: Oh, very, very determined.

R: Describe for me what the vehicle was like at this stage.


J: The vehicle at this stage, the back end was in flames, the windows were broken, there was flames, flowing right out of it. And as we were looking after the man there was some small explosions in the back of it, in the back of the vehicle. More flames and like what looked (…) like a blowtorch, all I could see was a blow torch. I thought a blowtorch flame, there's not enough air in it. You know, it's just a big yellow flame. But it's not coming out like you'd expect. And it's just venting. You know, it’s like venting out, like gas.

R: Once this individual had been restrained, what then happened?

J: What then happened was that the fire brigade turned up, the police turned up, members of security. And just made sure every…they're carting the whole place off. Got all the passengers out, out of the way. And that's all that really happened, and we just waited with the man until the paramedics arrived.

R: Now Glasgow Airport of course, the country's busiest airport, here in Scotland...

J: Yeah…

R: And we've seen incidents, yesterday in London...

J: Yeah

R: Were you all in a heightened state of alert here at Glasgow Airport?

J: Eh, eh, yeah we're always in a heightened...we're always on alert. We're always looking about; is that person right, does she look right, is she acting the same way, you know? And it's just they are totally…honest, it's not the thing you expect to happen at Glasgow Airport. You know, you don't want to feel that you been out all, all done maybe. You know, you know, you don’t want the people to feel the way people, um, the way some people feel. You know, to ask people, we know you’ll be getting on board, I can understand that, you know. It never was an issue to me before.

2 August 2007 at 05:13  
Blogger Gez said...

This one is even better:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-41qdoVMY-g

2 August 2007 at 17:55  
Blogger Gez said...

Not bad at all, Elisabeth. There were a few errors that I could see at first glance, e.g.
"So I round down other members of the public as well"

Should have read, "so I ran down".
But on the whole, B+.

2 August 2007 at 17:56  
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22 February 2010 at 09:11  

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