LINGUIST List 2.856

Thu 12 Dec 1991

Disc: African American English, Response

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  1. , "African American English" and grammaticality judgments
  2. "Randy J. LaPolla", Re: 2.831 Names

Message 1: "African American English" and grammaticality judgments

Date: Tue, 10 Dec 91 23:59:36 EST
From: <elc9jprime.acc.Virginia.EDU>
Subject: "African American English" and grammaticality judgments
 For some reason Ellen Prince's query looking for speakers of
"African American English", who happen to also be subscribers to
LINGUIST, to supply grammaticality judgments for her, made me
mad. For one thing, despite the politically correct label, the
query suggests a naive reification of a number of geographically
and socially various speech forms into a single "entity". Which
of these varieties is Prince interested in? Apparently not that
of lower class Philadelphians who dropped out of school. There
must be plenty such speakers just down the street from her
computer console. Then is it the speech of elite, college-plus
subscribers to LINGUIST who happen to be African Americans that
is being sought? Presumably not, because grammatical differences
between their speech and that of similarly educated Euro-
Americans are probably minimal. If the goal is to investigate a
non-standard vernacular, such speakers are those least likely to
have the degree of nativelike control over a vernacular that is
required for "grammaticality judgments", whatever those are.
 Which brings me to the second point. For decades
sociolinguists have been pointing out the pitfalls of
interpreting grammaticality judgments about decontextualized,
invented sentences as an accurate reflection of a native
speaker's knowledge of what can and can't be said-- as opposed to
a measurement of the speaker's imaginativeness, desire to
cooperate with the investigator, etc. (see for example Labov,
"The study of language in its social context", Studium Generale
23, 1970). Such problems are compounded when one is dealing with
a stigmatized, non-standard variety that exists side by side with
a socially approved, standardized variety. As is well known, the
latter are universally acknowledged (by both standard and non-
standard speakers, with the possible exception of linguists) to
be the ONLY forms of which it makes sense to speak of
"grammaticality" (in its popular, prescriptive sense) or
"correctness". There is no non-standard speaker who is unaware
of these social judgments, who does not have at least passive
control over standard English, or who does not employ a range of
speaking styles, depending on the formality of the context. And
of course questions about grammaticality, correctness, and the
like, being statements that draw attention to language itself,
are likely to evoke the most formal end of this spectrum. They
are also far more likely to evoke prescriptive norms, however
poorly controlled, than natural vernacular norms. As Labov puts
it, "whenever a subordinate dialect is in contact with a
superordinate dialect, answers given in any formal test situation
will shift from the subordinate towards the superordinate in an
irregular and unsystematic manner" (1970:50). Furthermore,
"speakers who have had extensive contact with the superordinate
form no longer have clear intuitions about their vernacular
available for inspection" (1970:51).
 In sum, the prospects of getting useful native intuitions
about a non-standard variety of English from a highly educated,
elite population through the medium of e-mail are bleak. But
maybe one could write an interesting paper about the effects of
e-mail as a social context on the judgments of self-described
speakers of "African American English" about invented sentences.
And then again, maybe one couldn't.
-Ellen Contini-Morava
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Message 2: Re: 2.831 Names

Date: Fri, 6 Dec 91 11:48 U
From: "Randy J. LaPolla" <HSLAPOLLATWNAS886.bitnet>
Subject: Re: 2.831 Names
William Robboy <> states that "None of the lesbian
relationships I'm acquainted with can be said illuminatingly to have anybody in
them who is more or less the "male," whatever that means" and suggests that
anyone thinking there might be such role differenciation is indulging an
"ignorant stereotype". Having lived in several places with large gay and
lesbian populations, and knowing dozens of gay and lesbian couples, I would say
that there is often (though not necessarily always) a division of roles such
that one member of the couple acts in a more typical masculine way and does the
traditionally defined types of 'man's work', while the other acts more feminine
and does the more traditional types of "woman's work". This seems to always
be an outgrowth of the personalities of the individuals involved, and not
something done consciously.
[Moderator's Note: This topic is now closed. If you wish to pursue it,
 please do so privately]
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