There is what is known as the "dialect of power" and in the US that is Standard American English.
It's not necessarily "wrong" to speak AAVE but in doing so, you will disqualify yourself from opportunities that could otherwise be open to you based on your education and/or experience.
If someone calls you to schedule a job interview and you don't sound the way you're expected to sound when you speak, they'll mentally cross you off of the short list before you ever cross the threshold of their place of business.
As an African American man, I'll admit that when I'm exclusively in the presence of other black people, I'll code switch and speak in a way that I never would at work or in mixed company.
I have a very Anglicized name and I speak Standard American English. As a result of that, people who haven't previously met me in person are sometimes surprised to learn that I'm not a white guy.
Being inclusive is a worthy goal but I think that education should stress the importance of speaking Standard American English because it's necessary to do so if one wants to be successful in this society.
I don't think there's any danger of English teachers not pushing standard American English. Mastering it does open doors. But I think we should also learn about other dialects, because in learning about them we learn more about language.
I also think reducing the stigma of certain dialects is a good thing.
It's just an accent, not a dialect :)
I wouldn't be surprised if things get out of hand in California and English is seen as optional in some school districts in the future.
I know it's fun to stand on slippery slopes, but don't.
I recently started a role where I work very closely with a guy from southern Kansas. He speaks with an accent that I would associate with hicks, farmers, non-intellectuals. And true to form, he was raised on a farm. But he's smart, hard working and great to work with. Every day that we work together, I'm learning things that I wouldn't have otherwise understood.
No one criticizes him for speaking with his dialect of English. He doesn't have to code switch. He speaks the way he speaks, he's understood and respected. That's what's different about AAVE. It's not just that it's not the dialect of power, it's a dialect people seem to go out of their way to not respect.
I don't think this is about dialects being associated with any sort of people group. I think it's about having a standard way of speaking in a professional environment. And deviating from that may cause some people to have a negative bias against you.
That's a really great point. The very fact that I do mentally associate my friends accent that way is part of the problem. It's a problem that I hope I am getting better at overcoming.
I'd rather by a hypocrite and say it's wrong than agree to the idea that it's okay to need to modify the way you speak to avoid being disqualified by society.
Isn't that the point? Your stereotype was wrong but you still stereotyped him, and he had to overcome it.
Interestingly, double negatives were standard in English up until about 200 years ago, when English speakers wanted their language to be more like Latin-- that is, civilized and refined. So they changed it.
An interesting part of AAVE is that is has verbs conjugated by tense and aspect: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_Vernacular_En... . Aspect is something standard English doesn't have a grammatical case of.
For example, what's known as the "habitual be".
In SAE, one would say something like "Sam is walking that route to the store and does so regularly."
In AAVE, an equivalent statement would be "Sam be walking to the store that way."
The habitual quality of the action is what would allow for the use of the habitual be. One would not say it for an activity that is only expected to happen once.
To further illustrate, in SAE you'd say "He's dying."
In AAVE, you would not say "He be dying." because it's not habitual.
There are many others but I think this is one of the easiest to explain.
That might be because you're a hint bigoted? (No offence, but why else would you think that?)
(FYI someone from Kansas speaks with an accent - it's not a dialect.)
Or perhaps you've been trained very well by decades of Hollywood/New York representation of 'anyone with a southern accent as stupid?'
Also - you do realize that like 1/3 of Americans speak like that? Have you ever even been to the South?
I'm not American, but I've lived in various American states and come from a 'small town' myself.
After years of wondering how this stereotype exists so strongly in North East/West Coast American culture (i.e. negative view of Southern accents) - I believe it's something done expressly by the creative and Ivy League class: almost always when someone with an 'southern accent' is on TV, they're portrayed in a negative way.
I think that the 'Civil War' North/South divide is in some ways, still ongoing, culturally. Northerners are bigoted towards Southerners.
Where I'm from, in Canada, the accent issue still exists, but not remotely as strongly.
A thick 'Ottawa Valley' accent might mark you as 'a country local' but not 'stupid' or 'racist' or 'redneck'.
FYI Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have soft Southern accents.
This is an anecdote, not a rule. It's good that no one is judging this guy based on his accent, but that doesn't mean no one ever has or no one ever will. I guarantee some people will hear his accent and subconsciously (usually) form an opinion based on it.
Having an accent isn't the same as speaking a dialect. For example, many Indians speak correct English, but their accent renders them near unintelligble.
As a Texan, I'm always going to have a Texas accent, unless I take pains to minimize it. But I can easily switch to standard English, y'all.
EDIT: Judging by the downvotes, a lot of people disagree with my experience. I'd love to hear your experiences or rationale.
My friends and family all speak deferently at home. Just off the top of my head: Greek, Norwegian, Vietnam, China, Punjabi, Native American, Iran, Ireland, Latino, British... A coworker is from
South Carolina, his kids tease him about his accent whenever he talks to family (“talking country”). Seems perfectly normal.
Heck, I probably have my own dialect (Heinz 57) and don’t even know it. No, scratch that, I can generally tell when I’m talking to another local.
I have had to learn how to limit my accent. Growing up in public Canadian schools we took language classes to minimize this accent. While these courses are no longer ran, I am thankful that I was able to take them.
Eventually, their parliament ruled that Norway shall have two official written languages and all government documents will be published in both.
For example here are their parliament websites in both Nynorsk ("New Norwegian") and Bokmål ("Book tongue")
Estimates vary, but maybe about 12% of Norwegians use Nynorsk as their primary language, and 88% are Bokmål users.
Interesting but not that similar.
I am not Norwegian so I might not get this entirely correct. The British have "BBC English" or "Oxford English" and the Americans have "Hollywood English", but Norway doesn't have such a unifying standard for the spoken language. People speak their own dialects, and the different dialects can vary quite a lot.
There is no standard dialect for the Norwegian language as a whole, and all dialects are by now mutually intelligible. Hence, widely different dialects are used frequently and alongside each other, in almost every aspect of society. Criticism of a dialect may be considered criticism of someone's personal identity and place of upbringing, and is considered impolite. Not using one's proper dialect would be bordering on awkward in many situations, as it may signal a wish to take on an identity or a background which one does not have.
Makes me wonder if an ancestor ate some lutefisk or something.
I don't have any opinion on that, I just wanted to make sure I understood the basic premise.
For instance take the following words in standard English:
* myself, ourselves, yourself.
* themselves, himself, herself, itself
A quick search on Twitter suggests that "theirselves" is indeed used by people who use "hisself", but perhaps half an order of magnitude less than "themselves".
EDIT: I'm puzzled by the downvotes. Am I mistaken? If so, I'm happy to be corrected.
Your question is answered directly in Pullum's article, at length. He even gives a separate explicit example of the who-whom distinction and explains how it works and how to think about it. There is a clear reason for why this is not arbitrary.
> No dialects in southern Britain (or America, which was settled from there) have a g after a velar nasal at the end of any word anymore. So it is true that in the speech of Queen Elizabeth II, the g sound that used to end sing has been lost. But no one calls the queen sloppy or mistaken in her speech. Why? Because there is a double standard here. When Standard Southern British English introduces a simplifying change in the rules of punctuation (like "do not pronounce the g sound after a velar nasal except in the middle of a word"), it is respected as the standard way to speak, but when AAVE introduces such a change (like "do not pronounce a stop at the end of a word after another consonant with the same voicing"), it is unfairly regarded as sloppiness.
I found this article as a whole to expand my appreciation for this dialect; there is a lot more logic to it than I had assumed. In particular, the negative concord (which had often bothered me) turns out to be the same as what I already use in French.
We could say it’s plain racism that keeps AAVE down. But it’s such an easy theory to falsify: it predicts that white non-standard English would be accepted at job interviews and in press rooms.
It isn’t. So it looks like race is one explainer, but not the whole story. It could be a combination of things, except Ockham sneers at those, especially when the elephant in the room—class—gets us so much further than race.
One of the things I found fascinating was that several of these grammatical elements are similar to peripheral English accents of Ireland, Cornwall, or York. The lecture noted that many of the indentured servants from Britain would be quartered alongside slaves, and that the strongest language reinforcement comes from people you live and work alongside.
A major theme is how major elements of ‘ghetto’ culture actually derive from the North-Britons and Scot’s these people lived near.
Also, this is rather old news. Perhaps it was insightful, in its day.
The difference that I see is that I was expected to learn and speak standard English in a professional environment while the perception among my peers seems to be that those who natively speak AAVE expect their dialect to be accepted in all settings.
Note that I was careful to say that this is my perception of the expectations of others. My experience shows that native AAVE speakers adapt their language in professional circumstances in exactly the same way I adapt my own.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Why isn't it a result of segregation?
In any case, talking about whether or not it helps seems to be pointless. The dialect exists whether it's helpful or not. If it's an obstacle to bringing people together, then we need to figure out ways to overcome that obstacle, not wish it away.
If we have to choose a causal direction, I'm pretty sure it goes the other way. Otherwise we'd say things like "The government are trying to take my job away." (what British English speakers would say) to suggest someone is stupid, but no one does. That sentence, from my American-English perspective, sounds just as "different" as "The government be trying to take my job away.", which is grammatical in Black English.
Languages are learned individually by each child, depending on the environment that includes family, friends, and the whole town. No two kids can have exactly the same upbringing.
So, having multiple dialects is pretty much the natural state of any living, thriving language. To artificially unify them is a conscious choice that needs to be justified.
Understanding is a subtle insult if you think about it.
This is why I like hackernews.
Differences arise as a result of segregation, and are then used to justify continuing that segregation. Perhaps "deliberate" is the wrong word here, but certainly expected.
I'd like to add in some context. This all happened during the dot com boom in the late 90s, and things weren't unlike they are now -- massive economic expansion, uneven distribution of benefits, rapidly rising cost of living. Teachers were getting priced out and demanded a raise. The district couldn't afford it, so they asked the fed for ESL funds.
Long story short: funds were denied, teachers went on strike, many of the better ones left the district at the end of the year, and the quality of education received by myself and my peers suffered for it.
Do keep in mind that this is all from the recollections and understanding of my teenage self.
As a matter of efficiency, I figure everyone in North America should master Standard American English (hard r, cot-caught split, pin-pen split) in both speaking and listening, regardless of their home dialect.
Quoting from a section discussing Standard Written English vs. Standard Black English (footnotes omitted):
I'm not trying to suggest here that an effective SWE pedagogy would require teachers to wear sunglasses and call students Dude. What I am suggesting is that the rhetorical situation of a US English class---a class composed wholly of young people whose Group identity is rooted in defiance of Adult Establishment values, plus also composed partly of minorities whose primary dialects are different from SWE---requires the teacher to come up with overt, honest, and compelling arguments for why SWE is a dialect worth learning.
These arguments are hard to make. Hard not intellectually but emotionally, politically. Because they are baldly elitist.[^60] The real truth, of course, is that SWE is the dialect of the American elite. That it was invented, codified, and promulgated by Privileged WASP Males and is perpetuated as "Standard" by same. That it is the shibboleth of the Establishment, and that it is an instrument of political power and class division and racial discrimination and all manner of social inequity. These are shall we say rather delicate subjects to bring up in an English class, especially in the service of a pro-SWE argument, and extra-especially if you yourself are both a Privileged WASP Male and the teacher and thus pretty much a walking symbol of the Adult Establishment. This reviewer's opinion, though, is that both students and SWE are way better served if the teacher makes his premises explicit and his argument overt---plus it obviously helps his rhetorical credibility if the teacher presents himself as an advocate of SWE's utility rather than as some sort of prophet of its innate superiority.
Because the argument for SWE is both most delicate and (I believe) most important with respect to students of color, here is a condensed version of the spiel I've given in private conferences[^61] with certain black students who were (a) bright and inquisitive as hell and (b) deficient in what US higher education considers written English facility:
"I don't know whether anybody's told you this or not, but when you're in a college English class you're basically studying a foreign dialect. This dialect is called Standard Written English. [Brief overview of major US dialects a la page 98.] From talking with you and reading your first couple essays, I've concluded that your own primary dialect is [one of three variants of SBE common to our region]. Now, let me spell something out in my official teacher-voice: the SBE you're fluent in is different from SWE in all kinds of important ways. Some of these differences are grammatical- for example, double negatives are OK in Standard Black English but not in SWE, and SBE and SWE conjugate certain verbs in totally different ways. Other differences have more to do with style---for instance, Standard Written English tends to use a lot more subordinate clauses in the early parts of sentences, and it sets off most of these early subordinates with commas, and under SWE rules, writing that doesn't do this tends to look "choppy." There are tons of differences like that. How much of this stuff do you already know? [STANDARD RESPONSE = some variation on "I know from the grades and comments on my papers that the English profs here don't think I'm a good writer."] Well, I've got good news and bad news. There are some otherwise smart English profs who aren't very aware that there are real dialects of English other than SWE, so when they're marking up your papers they'll put, like, "Incorrect conjugation" or "Comma needed" instead of "SWE conjugates this verb differently" or "SWE calls for a comma here."That's the good news---it's not that you're a bad writer, it's that you haven't learned the special rules of the dialect they want you to write in. Maybe that's not such good news, that they've been grading you down for mistakes in a foreign language you didn't even know was a foreign language. That they won't let you write in SBE. Maybe it seems unfair. If it does, you're probably not going to like this other news: I'm not going to let you write in SBE either. In my class, you have to learn and write in SWE. If you want to study your own primary dialect and its rules and history and how it's different from SWE, fine---there are some great books by scholars of Black English, and I'll help you find some and talk about them with you if you want. But that will be outside class. In class---in my English class---you will have to master and write in Standard Written English, which we might just as well call "Standard White English" because it was developed by white people and is used by white people, especially educated, powerful white people. [RESPONSES at this point vary too widely to standardize.] I'm respecting you enough here to give you what I believe is the straight truth. In this country, SWE is perceived as the dialect of education and intelligence and power and prestige, and anybody of any race, ethnicity, religion, or gender who wants to succeed in American culture has got to be able to use SWE. This is just How It Is. You can be glad about it or sad about it or deeply pissed off. You can believe it's racist and unfair and decide right here and now to spend every waking minute of your adult life arguing against it, and maybe you should, but I'll tell you something---if you ever want those arguments to get listened to and taken seriously, you're going to have to communicate them in SWE, because SWE is the dialect our nation uses to talk to itself. African-Americans who've become successful and important in US culture know this; that's why King's and X's and Jackson's speeches are in SWE, and why Morrison's and Angelou's and Baldwin's and Wideman's and Gates's and West's books are full of totally ass-kicking SWE, and why black judges and politicians and journalists and doctors and teachers communicate professionally in SWE. Some of these people grew up in homes and communities where SWE was the native dialect, and these black people had it much easier in school, but the ones who didn't grow up with SWE realized at some point that they had to learn it and become able to write fluently in it, and so they did. And [STUDENT'S NAME], you're going to learn to use it, too, because I am going to make you."
I should note here that a couple of the students I've said this stuff to were offended---one lodged an Official Complaint---and that I have had more than one colleague profess to find my spiel "racially insensitive." Perhaps you do, too. This reviewer's own humble opinion is that some of the cultural and political realities of American life are themselves racially insensitive and elitist and offensive and unfair, and that pussyfooting around these realities with euphemistic doublespeak is not only hypocritical but toxic to the project of ever really changing them.
My main exposure to black American English is through popular music (hip hop / rap), so take what I'm saying with a grain of salt, but there has been so much change in the vocabulary just in the 20 years that I have been exposed to it that, IMO, there's no way that it can be due to anything other than deliberate linguistic experimentation/innovation. You might be familiar with somebody who experimented and innovated with English in the same way: Shakespeare .
The remainder of Overtonwindow's comment flows from that error and one other, which is to assume that AAVE is a "degraded" form of standard American English. It is not; it has old and many-branched roots of its own, only some of which lie within American English.
But who knows? Perhaps Overtonwindow is a more accomplished historical linguist than those on whose statements I here rely.
(Ultimately I have to think some of this comes down to "misperformance" where the speaker _knows_ their production is invalid. If enough speakers "misperform" but begin to hold the idea that these speech acts are not actually invalid, is that what tips the scales in favor of changing a grammar?)
Assuming for a moment that this is a true or even defensible statement, trying to "fix" it would be an even greater injustice. You can't rightly rip someone's culture away, regardless of how it got there in the first place. Expect any such attempts to go over poorly.
Also, keep in mind that the point of language is to communicate. So long as that goal is being achieved, what's the problem? I find this sort of linguistic prescriptivism (thou shalt use these words these ways) to be counterproductive and rather silly.
Because it's a language that pretty much means that they're illiterate and can't actually be understood by normal people. With the other party having to employ mental gymnastics to understand. Let's not beat around the bush here.
Not to mention that this "dialect" obscures the intelligence level of the speaker. This will definitely have a negative effect on their opportunities in life.
This is actually a fault of a kind of racism, though. If we accept that AAVE is a dialect of English, with its own rules (and the article appears to make that case soundly), then people not being able to look past that is a symptom of their own ignorance.
I think you are throwing the baby out with the bath water. You don't have to invalidate the language used by millions of people TODAY (e.g. by calling it a "so-called" language) in order to question why this language emerged. In fact I think that your comment perpetuates a harmful idea that the language that a certain oppressed group uses is not legitimate and broken.
This paper lends credence to it being a valid dialect.
Yes, your thoughts could be said of an absence of education in Appalachia too. That doesn't lessen the distinctiveness and perpetuity and acknowledgement of the dialect.