LINGUIST List 8.119

Tue Jan 28 1997

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. 00hfstahlke, Re: 8.86, Disc: Ebonics
  2. Jacques-Philippe SAINT-GERAND, Ebonics
  3. Michael Newman, Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics
  4. Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber, Re: Ebonics

Message 1: Re: 8.86, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 11:16:11 -0500 (EST)
From: 00hfstahlke <>
Subject: Re: 8.86, Disc: Ebonics

>I will maintain for further discussion that in the US the relationship
>between African Americans and the "standard" society is SPECIAL, and also
>that discussion of this point is relevant to the linguistic issues

Benji has hit on an important point, and one that is not accepted by a
lot of those who oppose the OUSD resolution. I've found, with
students, with colleagues in other disciplines, and with some friends
who are not academic, that there is an ignorance, sometimes extending
to aversion, of the proposition "that in the US the relationship
between African Americans and the "standard" society is SPECIAL." 
I've heard responses ranging from "I didn't realize that" to "Those
Blacks (sometimes a less polite term [HS]) always want special
treatment." From a linguistic perspective, perhaps AAVE isn't
intrinsically more interesting or important than other dialects--that
depends on one's interests, but from a perspective of social and
political history it certainly is. However, I suspect that one's
willingness to accept that proposition would correlate closely with
one's attitude towards the intent of the OUSD board. With those
dispute Benji's claim, I haven't found a whole lot of room for
discussion. The subject reduces to attacks on pampered special
interests, liberal social agendas, and academic fads.

Part of the relevance of the point to the linguistic issues is broad: 
it is the much lamented failure of our profession to adequately inform
the public, especially educators, politicians, and journalists, on
what language is and isn't. What we've allowed to happen is the
equivalent of building medical policy on the basis of folk medicine
and chiropractic.

Herb Stahlke 
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Message 2: Ebonics

Date: Thu, 23 Jan 1997 11:57:48 GMT
From: Jacques-Philippe SAINT-GERAND <>
Subject: Ebonics

Regarding the Ebonics discussion, which , from this very useful anf
generally interesting list , has now reached such far territories as
the pages of french newspapers [Le Monde] and TV magazines [Telerama],
I would like to express my personal full agreement with Tom Sawallis.
His analysis is an excellent summary of what can be said from a strict
linguistic point of view sustained by the exact observation of what is
made at school. The same can apply to every language; in this
respect, the quotation of French , my own field outside general
linguistics , looks to me most important. Actually, we teach mainly
french language at any level at school , from the primary to the
higher education , through "literature" [of any kind] and written
documentation [advertisements, newspapers, etc.]. In the University,
the study of french linguistics , which as a matter of principle
should extend to oral , is never integrated in the classes of French
Departments : they lay aside all which is related to grammar and
language; and the Linguistics Departments are very often involved in a
lot of other problems related to general linguistics per se. I am
even doubtful that "French as foreign language" [FLE], which stands
either in French Departments or Linguistics Departments, or private
commercial officine, copes very well with the problem of oral in so
far as it also has the necessity of the regulation and standardization
of the french language usages in everyday life. I were not surprised
if this discussion was to lead to certain drastic reevaluation of what
we do, how we do and why we do so; either from politic and social
perspectives or , more important and crucial , from the point of view
of defining the role and the aims of "linguistics as an ideology and a
science" applied to the real problems that a society, and social
groups, encounter when they want to reflect upon the way they deal
with the rules and habits of codification and standardization.
Incidentally, this might lead , at least in France , to reconsider
the position of linguistics in higher education, between classical
humanities and human sciences. To follow... 

J.-Ph. S.-G.
 Jacques-Philippe SAINT-GERAND
 Vice-President delegue aux Relations Internationales
 Universite Blaise Pascal - Clermont-Ferrand II
 BP 185
34, avenue Carnot
 F. 63006 CLERMONT-FERRAND [France]
 Tel. 33. [0]4.
 Fax. 33 [0]4.
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Message 3: Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Sun, 26 Jan 1997 23:12:00 -0500
From: Michael Newman <>
Subject: Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics

Ron Anderson's proposal to look at the lack of linguistic preparedness
of many Oakland and by extension other inner city students brings to
me a touch of deja vu. The reason is that similar proposals appeared
in the sixties in the language deficit model of two educational
psychologists, Bereiter and Engelmann (now apparently abandoned by the
authors). That model also explained the educational failure of many
inner city children to a lack of preschool exposure to language. This
conclusion appeared to be the result of overreliance on inapproprite
psychometric methods, and was attacked by various linguists, including
most famously Labov in "language in the inner city." It is well known
by those familiar with this controversy that these ideas can be traced
with some distortion to the work of the sociologist Basil Bernstein in
England. Bernstein argued that people use Elaborated and Resticted
Codes depending on situation, where elaborated refered to a degree of
explicitness and restricted to heavy dependence on context. He
claimed that working class children were less used to the elaborated
code, a dependence which caused difficulties in school. Less well
known is that this sort of explanations can also be found in the work
of much earlier nonlinguists who also looked to find linguistic
explanations for differences in rates of educational success. In the
early part of this century any number of British educational reformers
bemoaned the linguistic poverty of the working classes using quite
similar hypotheses as their British and American successors. Anyone
interested can look in Tony Crowley's 1991 book on Standard English
which appears under two titles both of which escape me at the moment.
It's interesting how these ideas just keep repeating themselves in
spite of the fact that, when looked at in a historical perspective,
they seem quite bizarre. It's also interesting that they seem to
always come from nonlinguists.

Michael Newman
Department of Teaching and Learning / Robert F. Wagner Jr. Institute for
New York University / the Arts and Technology
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Message 4: Re: Ebonics

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 1997 16:43:55 -0500
From: Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber <>
Subject: Re: Ebonics

People interested in the "Ebonics" thing may want to check out (as an
example of current teacher knowledge-levels & attitudes) a
letter-to-the-editor from a California schoolteacher (who states that
he is black) which appears in the on-line and paper editions of
today's (27-January-1997) LOS ANGELES TIMES -- I found it by chance
when searching for something else.

To find this letter, go to -
if you have not been to the L. A. TIMES site before, you will have to
"register", which is free, brief, & painless.

Since you can presumably get there, I am not going to put a copy of
the letter on-line (it is rather long), but will simply note that the
letter-writer's (anti-Ebonics" stand is justified (by him) by some
*very* questionable statements/beliefs of which the following (near
the end of the letter) are typical:

- -- 

/1/ The letter-writer states that a major problem with American
education is that the schoolchildren are not given lessons in how to
speak in the present, past, and future tenses.

/2/ The letter-writer states that American school and society are
unique in this omission.

/3/ The letter-writer states that grammatical tense is an essential
part of every single language in the world. 

- --

Comments? IMHO, at the *very* least, this needs SOME sort of reply!
(the newspaper's on-line site allows one to send e-mail to the
 I would reply to the newspaper, save that I do not happen to *know*
any of the no-tense languages. (Perhaps there is someone on this
listserv who *does*, who can challenge the writer's other assertions,
and who would care to read the letter, copy it to the listserv, and/or
reply to the newspaper!)

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair
325 South Manning Boulevard
Albany, NY 12208-1731

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