Addressing Black English Vernacular in an English Writing Classroom
Balhorn, Mark. “Representations of the Non-Standard Voice.” Visible Language 32.1 (1998): 56-74.
Balhorn uses renderings of 19th and early 20th century texts by white writers in dialect, and compares them to contemporary writers. He shows that linguistic accuracy cannot and will not be the main goal of effective writing. He claims that today’s writers are not necessarily more accurate than those of the past, but this does not make either more accurate. The author is making an argument that both Level 2 and Level 3 writing has changed as language has evolved. The importance of what is written is how effective the writing is, and I would suggest that Black Vernacular English has the potential to be more powerful in many situations. The question of accuracy and effectiveness of the texts in this article does not necessarily speak to the stereotypes that specifically surround Black Vernacular English. I have seen many texts that do not use the same conventions as we use today, but audience in the present is still very important to acceptability in the present.
Baugh, John. “Linguistics, Education, and the Law: Educational Reform for African- American Language Minority Students.” African-American English: Structure, History, and Use. Ed. Salikoko S. Mufwene, John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey, and John Baugh. New York: Routledge, 1998. 282-301.
Baugh discusses the different systems that exist to help students with language deficiencies, including Title I for poverty students and Title VII for ESL and bilingual students. He argues that most native English speaking blacks, though BEV speakers, do not qualify for government assistance in order to help them to learn Standard American English. He also feels that these students fall through the educational cracks, since they are rarely placed in special language aiding programs. He suggests three categories in order to place students in language classes: native speakers of Standard English, native speakers of non-Standard English, and traditional LEP students who are non-native speakers. I’m not sure if Baugh’s idea of tracking by English proficiency is the entire answer, though it is similar to the tracking I encountered in high school. We had only a few blacks in our PAT classes, while only a few whites were in the regular ed. classes. This sort of tracking would seem to segregate the schools even more, since we would have had very few whites who would have fallen into Baugh’s second category.
Chennault, Steve. Relize Whut Ahm Talkin Bout: African American Tales in Black English : Capturing the Essence of the Black Experience . New York: Caroline House, 1980.
This book allows students and teachers to see Black Vernacular English in use and in print, demonstrating the legitimacy of the dialect. Chennault presents a collection of short stories, or tall tales, that try to capture the language in print. Students are able to see what they sound like, and the class could discuss verb usage and sentence structure. Teachers can use resources like this book in order to familiarize themselves with the dialect. The use of the word “nigguh” within this collection of stories might turn some teachers away, but the word is in fact used quite readily in Black Vernacular English. This is the sort of book that could also be used in a mostly or all white classroom in order to present one of many different dialects to the students, all of which should be seen as legitimate. Black students can take pride in their spoken language, while they can also identify where it diverges from normal Level 3 writing, and make decisions about their own writing.
Fox, Steven. “The controversy over Ebonics. (Black English Language): An article from: Phi Delta Kappan ” Phi Delta Kappan 79 (1997): 237-40.
Fox argues that the problems and stereotypes surrounding dialects persists in every culture around the world, as well as in America. He provides examples of what constitutes Black Vernacular English, as well as other dialects. He also provides a lesson that he presented to his African-American students in Cleveland, which did not work at all to help them identify the “problem.” He discusses the images of race and economic status that Black English creates, which cause the vernacular to be seen as inferior. Fox promotes an idea of generational change in which parents would encourage the use of Standard American English in the home, even if they don’t speak it themselves. He admits that SAE is the “money language,” and blacks should strive to learn it, but he seems to leave most of the enforcement in the hands of the parents and community. He talks about parents providing models for their kids, whether in books or on television. I would agree that parents need to play a vital role in encouraging black students to acquire mastery of SAE, and I would certainly discuss such a method with my students. I know that students need to know SAE now, but even if we have trouble finding ways to teach the more powerful dialect, we should encourage our students to make sure that the next generation gets closer to the goal of being able to communicate in the “money language.”
Graves, Earl G. “The Ebonic Plague.” Black Enterprise 27 (1997): 11.
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