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African American Vernacular English Is Not Standard English with Mistakes (1999) [pdf] (stanford.edu)
99 points by c3534l on Oct 12, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 121 comments

There is a very big aspect that people overlook in this conversation.

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.

Sure, but lots of people code switch. As a southern white guy, I also don't speak on interviews the same way I do to my friends. Even around other southerns, you want to "turn it down" in a professional setting.

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.

'Southern English' is 'Standard American English' :)

It's just an accent, not a dialect :)

Not really, there are distinct grammatical features (e.g. y'all). There's nothing wrong with that, of course. But it is certainly an accurate use of linguistic terminology to describe Southern American English (which obviously has internal variation also) as a separate dialect or group of dialects.

>I don't think there's any danger of English teachers not pushing standard American English.

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.


Overturning a silly restrictive proposition isn't anywhere close to "not gonna bother to teach people english".

I know it's fun to stand on slippery slopes, but don't.

You shouldn't have to.

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'd disagree with you that speaking with a southern twang doesn't disqualify a person. I came out of deep East Texas and I have a bit of a drawl in my voice that comes out when I'm tired or stressed but for the most part, I intentionally speak as closely to SAE as possible. Because people do disqualify me and I think you may have judged your friend too. You say you associate his accent with people considered non-intellectuals? That's exactly what LordKano is saying he tries to avoid by speaking SAE in the business realm. Because he believes someone may make the judgement call that he is unintelligent because of the way he speaks, just like you associate speaking like a redneck to unintellicence.

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.

> he believes someone may make the judgement call that he is unintelligent because of the way he speaks, just like you associate speaking like a redneck to unintelligence

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.

Perhaps the Kansan accent you’re referring to is exempt from this, but I can tell you from personal experience that a strong Southern accent will cause your intellect and ability to do anything quickly to be seriously doubted, regardless of your actual ability. While some people have been able to capitalize on their accent, that is not true for many people. I chose pretty early on to moderate my accent as much as possible, as have a lot of other people. Kathy Bates recently referenced this on Stephen Colbert.

> He speaks with an accent that I would associate with hicks, farmers, non-intellectuals.

Isn't that the point? Your stereotype was wrong but you still stereotyped him, and he had to overcome it.

The article isn't discussing accents, but rather differences in vocabulary and grammar between two dialects. There is a difference "He isn't going to do anything about it" with an accent and saying "He ain't gon' do nothin' bout it."

is there that much of a difference? how much? poster used the word "accent" but to my mind that includes regional variations in the language, not just the sonics.

One thing that jumps out in this sentence is that, grammatically, AAVE uses negative concords (double (or more) negatives), like Spanish or French, instead of the "standard" English "not any", etc. (which I forget the name of.)

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.

There aren't a lot but some really stand out.

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.

Incidentally Latin also employs a habitual verb form in the imperfect tense. For example the imperfect ambulabam (was walking): "He was walking to the store" can mean "He was in the habit of walking", perhaps more informally "he used to walk" or "he would walk".

I'm not able to locate the links, but I've read that academic studies of twitter users misclassified AAVE-speakers as "non-English speakers" with sufficient ubiquity as to nearly or completely exclude black Americans from the supposedly inclusive studies.

Not sure... the poster didn't differentiate, so I could only assume they meant speaking Standard English with an accent.

As someone with a similar background to your friend, you don't code switch for the people who already respect you, it's for those whose respect you want. I wouldn't speak in my low-class, rural dialect around prospective employers or customers or anyone else I might want to perceive me as competent. There may well be a racial component to how AAVE speakers are treated, but the class component is non-negligible.

EDIT: Judging by the downvotes, a lot of people disagree with my experience. I'd love to hear your experiences or rationale.

> 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.

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.

> He speaks with an accent that I would associate with hicks, farmers, non-intellectuals.

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.

Sometimes, you have to do the needful to get ahead at work.

"He speaks with an accent that I would associate with hicks, farmers, non-intellectuals"

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.

The downvoters are accidentally proving your point. I'm from the north, and it isn't really the north that looks down on the south (no pun intended), but the American left (arguably only the far left, depending on where "far" begins) looks down on the south. Conservative and moderate northerners are generally congenial towards the south. But the left dominates the academy and media and education and fine/popular arts and technology, so they are more visible in many ways, and they largely get to craft your exposure to American culture and its various subcultures.

I'll echo some of the other commentors here on accents. I grew up in the East Bay of SF and we have SAE, an Okie accent from our dustbowl migrant forefathers, and a valley-girl/surfer twang too. I speak SAE in mixed company, the Okie with older relatives, the 'surfer' accent with close friends and family of my generation, and SAE when nieces, nephews and other children are around during holidays. We would prefer the next generation either develop their own accents or forget ours. I would not dare use anything but SAE with co-workers, bosses, or customers around. As many transplants to the Bay are on HN, it may surprise you that the people that grew up around you, even in SF Bay, have accents they do not share with you around. What is more interesting is the lexigraphic and accented differences between places like SF, the south Bay, Napa, and even Sacramento. It's not easy, but within a few minutes, I think I can still place the speaker from one of those location, though with the younger generation I may just be BSing.

I largely agree. It's worth noting that there are lots of dialects (not sure if this is the proper term) in the U.S. besides AAVE that are perceived as uneducated, including my own native low-class rural dialect. At least in the case of my dialect, I would guess that whether or not you can speak SAE is a pretty good indicator of educational background, for better or worse. I wonder if this has been studied?

As a Canadian with a thick Newfoundland accent (which is not exactly considered an intellectual way of talking), I feel that I can relate to talking differently when with people from Newfoundland.

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.

I think it makes perfect sense.

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.

FWIW, I grew up in an Irish/Italian working-class fishing town in New England. I definitely speak differently at home vs. at work the biotech industry, and I don't mean profanity-wise, I mean accent-wise and grammatically as well. I would certainly sound "lower class" to certain people if I spoke this way at work or at a job interview. I suspect many of my colleagues who come from a similar class background would do the same.

Relevant and interesting (when talking about the dialect of power): https://www.thsppl.com/thsppl-articles/2017/4/20/its-not-abo...

I'm going to top-post this, but this argument is _precisely_ the one made by david foster wallace in "authority and american usage", and it is bang-on correct.

David Foster Wallace wrote about the relationship between Standard Written English and social power structures in America. See "Authority and American Usage" or its reprint in Harper's, "Tense Present".

Norwegians spend the late 1800s and early 1900s quarreling amongst themselves what should be the standard for written Norwegian. Should they take the heavily Danish-influenced written language common in cities, or should they use something closer to the dialects spoken in the rural areas?

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.




These are writing systems, not languages. As I understand it all Norwegian speakers _speak_ the same language, they just represent that language differently when writing it down.

Interesting but not that similar.

> As I understand it all Norwegian speakers _speak_ the same language

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.


On a side note: for whatever reason I think I can read about 1 in 3 words in Norwegian (standard and book) with no prior training.

Makes me wonder if an ancestor ate some lutefisk or something.

I mean it is a Germanic language along with English. There are plenty of cognates.

This is a very revealing quote:

> 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.

Am I understanding correctly that this paper is making the argument that because AAVE follows an identifiable set of grammatical rules, it is a dialect rather than an aberration?

I don't have any opinion on that, I just wanted to make sure I understood the basic premise.

Sure, and many rules of AAVE are more consistent.

For instance take the following words in standard English:

    * yourself
    * myself
    * ourselves
    * himself
    * itself

One of these things is not like the other! All of these take the form of possive + "self," except "himself." And sure enough, in AAVE we have "hisself" instead. A more logical, consistent replacement.

So when some people think of AAVE speakers as incorrect, it is because they don't use the right wrong way to talk. Linguistics is a weird field.

You omitted 2 of the reflexive pronouns. Only the 1st and 2nd person forms use the possessive:

  * myself, ourselves, yourself.
All of the 3rd person forms use the personal pronoun:

  * themselves, himself, herself, itself
Does AAVE also use "theirselves" ?

This article http://acrwebsite.org/volumes/7610/volumes/v21/NA-21 claims that AAVE uses "theirselves".

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".

To more heavily emphasize the point here consider the feminine possive as well, her/hers:

    * herself

"her" is both the possessive and the accusative, so it's consistent with either myself or himself. Itself too, since you can consider it a contraction of either "it-self" or "its-self".

I recall that immigrant populations that don't integrate into the main population for long periods of time have a tendency to learn simplified versions of the original language. If I recall correctly, Old English lost a lot of its ornament when the Norse settled in Britain.

EDIT: I'm puzzled by the downvotes. Am I mistaken? If so, I'm happy to be corrected.

You are probably thinking of Pidgins and Creoles[0], two very well studied linguistic categories that come about when two or more groups with no shared language come together (Pidgin) and then their children learn the Pidgin as a first language (morphing it into a Creole). AAVE is grammatically and functionally distinct from either a Pidgin or a Creole.


Right. The point is that the differences are following rules, they're not "mistakes".

Seems like arguing semantics--what is a "mistake" if not a departure from the established convention? What is the difference between a "rule" and a "mistake"? That the "mistake" is repeated a certain amount of times and/or by some critical mass of people? How often / how many people must repeat the mistake before it becomes a rule? If it becomes a new rule, does it cease to become a mistake? The classification quickly begins to feel arbitrary.

> What is the difference between a "rule" and a "mistake"?

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.

A mistake is made from ignorance or carelessness. It is individual and won't be shared, at least not widely. A rule is applied intentionally and consistently, and it can get wide support. Importantly, making up new rules does not indicate a mental or moral deficiency like making lots of mistakes might.

Yeh which makes sense because grammatical rules are by the nature of how a people would develop a language intuitive to humans. We put names to those grammatical rules, but they are typically more so a function of how human beings as a species communicate.

If you want to read more about dialects, I know Victor Mair (from Language Log) wrote a lot about such things in the context of Chinese (e.g., http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=10303; http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?cat=124). That's not anything specifically to do with AAVE, but more the general concept of what does and doesn't let you call something a dialect.

Social trends in America are never framed in terms of class. Instead, we have to reach for other dimensions, in this case race.

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.

Occam's razor can be a useful tool, but to conflate class with race ignores that in many ways, there is no economic status that can make black people as accepted and welcome as white people. Race is an important factor that can have more impact than class.

It's pretty hard to initially digest, but when you think about it, right and wrong with language is almost entirely just convention. The difference between what we consider 'bad' English and dialects of English is dubious at best.

Can you make a further argument for that? You're basically dismissing the article, but you're not offering anything to justify that.

Natural languages are not designed. Pun intended. Afaik languages are more or less cannonised after people have already started speaking the language. If there is a large enough group talking in a certain way who's to say it's wrong. Every word has at one time been made up. If for example enough people decide they don't care about "their" or "they're" then "their" it is (or "there")

By what logic could any convention of spoken language be objectively correct?

I did not major in linguistics but I had some very engaging linguistics professors at Rice. Linguists consider themselves to be descriptive and typical language teachers in grade school to be prescriptive. In other words, linguists take pride in describing what native speakers actually do in practice rather than what they are instructed to do. So if they catch a native speaker doing something the "wrong" way they'll classify it as an error only if native speakers will agree that the example in question was a mistake because it doesn't make sense in the dialect. If native speakers agree that whatever the speaker did actually does make sense to them, e.g. they're fine with the usage of "ain't" or split infinitives or whatever in everyday speech, then linguists will consider that to be a genuine example of the dialect. But linguists are quick to point out that what is correct changes all the time because words and phrases used by native speakers naturally erode and morph and new ones are adopted, and trying to nail down what is correct is futile.

Basically I look at it this way: in reality, the coordination of 'correct' language is a practical consideration, and it is an error to consider it a matter of prestige, as if it's decidedly unintelligent to deviate from the established norms.

I'm not sure I'm really disagreeing with the article so much as making an observation that falls in line with the conclusion.

Just finished the Audible version of The Great Courses' audiobook on linguistics, and they spent a chapter on this subject. A lot of the same elements in this paper are pointed out in the lecture, which may indicate the arguments in this paper were part of the foundational elements of that particular lecture.

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.

If you found that interesting, you’d probably also like “Black Rednecks and White Liberals” by Thomas Sowell.

A major theme is how major elements of ‘ghetto’ culture actually derive from the North-Britons and Scot’s these people lived near.

Xidnaf has a good video introducing AAVE from a linguistics perspective.


Languages change, evolve, and split into new languages. This has gone on forever- why would it stop now?

Right. I mean, is American English just British English with mistakes? Or is British English just Anglo-Frisian with mistakes?

Also, this is rather old news. Perhaps it was insightful, in its day.

Given the political and national context, I'd say this "old news" is quite up to date, and furthermore something that most people obviously don't believe in.

Yes, fair enough. I guess that it's just old news to me. Being old, and having read it 18 years ago ;)

It causes segregation based on race; Black people speak this language, white people speak this one. We're trying to bring these groups together, diving their language won't help at all.

I'm from rural Arkansas, and from my perspective, the dialect that is spoken there shares more in common with AAVE than standard English.

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.

I don't understand the "expect" part, but are you trying to describe code-switching?


Yeah, this. It's called "code switching" and we all do it. The way you talk to your boss is not the way you talk to your friends is not the way you talk to your Grandpa is not the way you talk on Facebook etc.

I don't know about the perception among your peers, but most AAVE speakers I know make an effort not to use it in professional settings.

It causes segregation based on race

Post hoc ergo propter hoc. Why isn't it a result of segregation?

Yes, this is more likely. I suspect that there was also a desire for private communication using code words, especially before slavery was abolished.

The causation probably goes both directions here.

Indeed. It's a bit ridiculous to assume that how someone speaks doesn't influence the perceptions of others.

It's also caused by segregation based on race. Fully integrated communities don't develop racially-linked dialects.

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.

As it relates to the article, the school board basically sanctioned speaking this dialect. My thought was that, this action is increasing the obstacles to overcome: textbooks are written in "white" english and the teachers speak that way, but they're promoting that it's ok to not read, write, or understand the dialect, furthering the divide between the communities.

That seems like a very inflammatory statement. I doubt what most african americans want out of desegregation is their culture wiped out and replace with american white culture. The more apt solution would be to stop being prejudice towards other american subcultures.

It’s not just a racial things. Rural whites have their own way of speaking that’s stigmatized in professional settings too.

It would take a lot of confidence and charisma even for me to pull off my local white, urban dialect in the workplace. I really don't think it's asking too much to adopt a standard depending on context and audience.

Agreed it's a cultural one. African Americans aren't a race they are an ethnic group with their own culture including dialect. This dialect isn't shared among african americans and lets say Nigerians.

Recognizing a difference where there is one does not cause segregation based on race.

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.

I'd be interested in reading evidence that supports a causal link between AAVE usage and segregation. To the best of my knowledge, no research has shown this to be the case, but I might be missing something. Did you have a particular study in mind?

jbob2000 rarely participates in the inflammatory threads he sparks, so the smart money here is probably in avoiding anything with a question mark.

No, I just usually hit the "You're posting too fast" mark and give up for the day.

I do too, but I come back to reply to previous threads later.

The primary purpose of language is understanding. Forking a language to convey some sort of cultural distinction has the unfortunate side effect of making this more difficult.

The other primary purpose of language is communicating group membership. For example, it's reasonable to guess that you belong to the "uses version control" group by your use of the word "forking" in a non-VC context above.

I'd argue that this is only a secondary purpose at most -- and in this case not intended at all. Also, there are other uses of the word forking outside of VC. For instance, I have heard it in the context of threads first... O:)

It doesn't have to be intended. It's just that every time you write or speak you communicate group membership. For example, there are further implications about group membership when you correct my interpretation of forking. Another example: unless it's a typo, your grammar ("I have heard") indicates that English is not your first language.

This is a flawed analogy. Software projects usually have a "central" repository which serves as the ground truth, and copies are made bit-perfect. Any difference is a result of someone's conscious choice.

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.

not sure that's the primary purpose. It can also be a very strong way to reinforce / test the boundaries of a group. Do you talk like us or not? Are you one of us? There are a multitude of ways to convey understanding; the how is sometimes more important than the content.

It can also be used for the inverse purpose; if you're an oppressed minority, a dialect may be helpful in obfuscating your communications from the powers-that-be. An example that fits this and your purpose would be Polari: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polari

Conveying meaning is necessarily more primary than forming group identity simply because "do you talk like us" depends on "us talking to each other" in the first place. It's hard to imagine an evolution where intra-group communication happened as a result of extra-group communication.

Right, but here we're talking about understanding in a broader group - specifically, between groups - since that was what dukoid's post was about.

Dukoid said the primary purpose of language is not communication (conveying meaning), but intergroup identification. I don't see how this could be possible.

The primary purpose of language is communication which does not imply understanding.

Understanding is a subtle insult if you think about it.

> Forking a language

This is why I like hackernews.

It is "wrong" because it is not the vernacular of the dominant culture. Just like baggy pants are 'wrong" just because they're not the clothing style of the dominant culture.

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.

Alt-account for privacy. I'm one of the Ebonics kids (Titans where you at?!).

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.


I find it easy to pick up dialects, but most people I know (especially people who've learned English as a second language) have trouble understanding various Southern, various Northern New England, various UK, various New Zealander, various South African, and various Australian accents.

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.

IME the cot-caught merge is widespread enough that "split" can't be considered a requirement for standard. (Wikipedia says 40% merge, 60% don't.)

This is eerily reminscent of "Authority and American Usage", a 2001 essay by david foster wallace. The samizdat copy is here: http://wilson.med.harvard.edu/nb204/AuthorityAndAmericanUsag...

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.


> It evolved out of necessity in the absence of education.

Citation needed.

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 [1].

[1]: https://www.bl.uk/shakespeare/articles/macbeth-and-shakespea...

"grammatically incorrect" is an arbitrary value judgment, no matter how much you might assert or concern-troll otherwise.

No, it's not. It's just erroneous here; AAVE has an internally consistent grammar just as any other language does. I know quite a few people who code-shift between AAVE and standard American English, just as I do between that and the (admittedly somewhat less different) dialect of my youth.

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.

Yes, clearly. I just meant "… in a vacuum" or "… with the implicit understanding there is some _true_ grammar". In one sense, yes, utterances/productions can be grammatically incorrect with regard to a particular grammar under discussion, but if those utterances/productions can be said to be a part of that grammar, eventually the grammar needs to change to accurately describe the state of the world.

(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?)

It is a result of the educational oppression and lack of English language and grammar education for African Americans.

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.

>Also, keep in mind that the point of language is to communicate. So long as that goal is being achieved, what's the problem?

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.

Not to mention that this "dialect" obscures the intelligence level of the speaker.

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.

When groups of people separate (for whatever reason, including social oppression reasons) language drift can happen. It doesn't have to be lack of education that causes language drift.

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.

Applying the same logic of "if X is found in population Z, therefore culture of population Z" for say some objectively negative status such as health effects, mortality, etc, should be "disrespectful" as you say I would hope. "More diabetes? That's their culture" comes off a bit harsh right? Your comment makes me think about the origins of the phrase "blaming the victim" surrounding the Moyniham report.

You didn't read a word of the paper, did you?

The assumption in your first clause is what this article article is refuting.

The paper talks about that, calling it a distinct language is what the Oakland school board did, and this spurred a semantical debate that devolved into exactly what you mentioned, while being a red herring in and of itself.

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.

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