LINGUIST List 8.164

Tue Feb 4 1997

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Karl Teeter, Re: 8.134, Disc: Ebonics
  2. Thomas T. Field, Ebonics and linguistics
  3. Stirling Newberry, Disc: Ebonics
  4. Stirling Newberry, Disc: Note on Subject: 8.143, Disc: Ebonics

Message 1: Re: 8.134, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Thu, 30 Jan 1997 10:58:29 -0500 (EST)
From: Karl Teeter <>
Subject: Re: 8.134, Disc: Ebonics

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

	The discussion has become tiresome and I regret taking valuable
list space to say more, but this is a LINGUIST list, and if linguists
won't understand the term "dialect" who will? A dialect IS a language
(I'm looking again at Edward Sapir's article "dialect" in the
Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, N.Y. 1931). Whether it is
RECOGNIZED as a language is not a matter of linguistics, but of politics.
This is where the violence comes from, and would it were merely verbal!
Applying "moral value" to a dialect is not the business of linguists, for
goodness sake! What of Hindi/Urdu, Serbo-Croatian or, for that matter of
the dialects/languages of former Rwanda-Burundi, where people who speak in
exactly the same manner kill each other? As Sapir says, "to the linguist
there is no real difference between a 'dialect' and a 'language'..." Or
if you don't like Sapir, just go back to the Boas collection of papers
entitled "Race, Language, and Culture"! But please let us stop talking
about the differences between "slang" and "respectable" speech and
recognize the ebonics debate as primarily another opportunity for racial
prejudice to be exhibited. Black English (AAVE?) is a language, even as is
my Boston dialect, let's face it. Okay, I'll take up no moah space.
Yours, kvt
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Message 2: Ebonics and linguistics

Date: Thu, 30 Jan 1997 16:08:51 -0500
From: Thomas T. Field <>
Subject: Ebonics and linguistics

I think it would be too bad if we as linguists didn't learn something from
all of this Ebonics controversy. For the most part, we've just provided the
public with our usual tired responses about the equality of dialects, etc.
We've been saying the same thing for decades, and it hasn't proved
convincing. Isn't it time that we tried to find out why?

I accidentally deleted the recent message reminding a correspondent that
linguists and prescriptivists use different metrics when they evaluate
forms of language with respect to each other (so I don't know who wrote
it). This seems to me to be the crux of our problem (and I truly believe
that *we* have as much of a problem as all the prescriptivists out there).
We have one metric and they have others. Ours is related to abstract
concepts of linguistic structure and theirs is related to the communicative
tasks that face them in everyday life.

Our dilemma is that, while we have an important message to communicate,
very few people outside linguistics can make sense of our metric. Most
couldn't care less, since it seems to them to have little to do with the
pressures of life in society.

We haven't very often tried to justify our metric to the public. We haven't
tried to lay out for the public the different metrics that are commonly
used in evaluating language varieties. We have simply continued to talk
down to what we feel are the ignorant masses, assuring them that we know
better and that they are stupid and reactionary.

- ---------------------
Thomas T. Field
Modern Languages and Linguistics
University of Maryland Baltimore County
Baltimore, MD 21228 Tel. 410-455-3197 Fax
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Message 3: Disc: Ebonics

Date: Thu, 30 Jan 1997 23:58:32 -0500
From: Stirling Newberry <>
Subject: Disc: Ebonics

>Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 07:53:37 +0100
>From: Max Copperman <>
>Subject: Re: 8.127, Disc: Ebonics

For the question at hand, if you have forgotten what this is, read the
original Oakland resolution which declared "Ebonics" a genetically based
"language" - and the defenses of it that begin from "a language is a
dialect with an army and a navy."

More I cannot say for fear of being censored.

>Date: Wed, 29 Jan 1997 10:51:29 -0800 (PST)
>From: Johanna Rubba <>
>Subject: Ebonics

This post is the "they aren't part of our club" defense. Perhaps the lack
of creditiblity of linguists among scientists are statements such as those
contained in the original Oakland resolution which, in point of fact, were
made by people who consulted degree bearing people in the field...

Or statements such as "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy"
which came from a Linguist on this list.

If the field can't do good science , don't whine about people not taking
the science you do seriously. Good science is not being done if some
members practice it, but continue to allow other members not to, and
continue to protect with social arguments people who are doing bad science.

In physics if someone made claims similar to what have passed for axiomic
truths that have been posted by PhDs on this list - they would be either
drummed out of physics or promoted to the head of the department.

If linguistics is a science I would be *fascinated* to hear what the
mathematical definition for a language is.

People may make claims about "we are doing science here and you non-experts
will just have to defer to us certified experts" when its membership stops
talking about errant nonsense such as a particular language being
genetically based and definitions of what "a language" is that read like
something out of a propoganda tract.

Stirling Newberry
Boston, Massachusetts
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Message 4: Disc: Note on Subject: 8.143, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Fri, 31 Jan 1997 11:14:19 -0500
From: Stirling Newberry <>
Subject: Disc: Note on Subject: 8.143, Disc: Ebonics

Benji Wald brings up the division of higher learning and use of the
colonial language in running many nations in Africa. There are some
circumstances in place in these countries which are worth noting:

1. Many of these states are countries, but not nations. Often there is not
one local language, but several. As the example of Ethopia shows, the
attempt to impose one of those languages from the dominant social group on
the others leads to revolution and the formation of ethnic nations that
separate off. Thus there are strong political motivations to allow local
groups to speak their local language.

2. A second political motivation is that it keeps the various smaller
ethnic groups divided and unable to unify into a single opposition - if
they all spoke the same language this unification would be far easier to
effect. As a larger percentage of the population of a country becomes able
to read and write the same language, it becomes neccessary for potentially
unifying figures to be killed.

3. By restricting access to information to those selected for it, it allows
a relatively small ruling elite to maintain power.

4. Because many of these countries have elites that derrive the vast
majority of their power and wealth from their relationship to the outside,
the outside is the source of moeny, credit, medical care, and military
training and technology, as well as support in the case rebellion from
within. Thus it is more important for the elite to converse with outsiders
than with their native population as a whole unit.

Finally one should note that many of these states are not doing a
particularly good job in running their own affairs, have wretched social
and educational systems, strong man governments, high levels of corruption
and problems with ethnic strife exacerbated by language differences.

I am not sure this model is working and this argues against its adoption

A more interesting situation to follow would be post British Hong Kong.
There is basically one spoken language - and it is part of a large
international economic zone. How long will English remain an active elite
language there?

Stirling Newberry
Boston, Massachusetts
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