Thursday, October 29, 2009

Black English

I chose as the article for this project a New York Times article from November 27, 1979, written by Robert Blair Kaiser and titled, “Wrestling With Meaning Of ‘Black English”. The article ties in closely with some of the works we’ve been studying so far as the article is about a lawsuit in Michigan regarding Black English. Eleven children in the Ann Arbor school district were classified as retarded because they spoke Black English, and a lawsuit was filed against the school district. The lawyers of the children argued that Black English was a separate language and the judge agreed with the lawyers and ruled in favor of the children.

The article itself uses the Ann Arbor case to go into whether Black English is a separate language as the judge ruled in the case, or whether Black English was a dialect as many linguists who testified in the case stated. The lawyers in the case their goal was to stop having Black kids who spoke Black English from being classified as retarded and to have the teachers sensitized to that. According to a director for the Ann Arbor public schools as a result of the trial teachers were made to undergo a 20 hour course on language variation and sociolinguistics. The article stated that 80% of Black Americans at the time spoke Black English and that most linguists agreed that Black English was just as good as any other language. The article also went in depth on some of the characteristics of Black English such as dropping the sound th from words which is explained by there is no th sound in African languages.

Black English is now mostly referred to as African American Vernacular English. This article about the treatment of the school kids in Ann Arbor, Michigan is similar to what was going on with the Puerto Rican kids in New York City being studied by Ana Celia Zentilla. The Puerto Rican kids were being stigmatized because they had not mastered standard English and were seen as deficient. Children seen as not speaking standard English were not being treated properly by the education system even though experts agreed that there was nothing wrong with the standards of the children’s speaking. In the years that have passed since this ruling AAVE is more recognized around the country but still controversial as shown in the 1997 Oakland school board ruling. Teaching kids to speak English properly should not lead to educators denigrating children for their speech or classifying them as retarded. There is no evidence that this enhances the school system or improves the lives of the students. More understanding should be made to help kids who speak English differently and stigmatization should be completely avoided.

Kaiser, R. (1979, Nov 27) Wrestling with meaning of “Black English”. The New York Times pp. C1, C4

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