Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What Kind of English is "Correct"?


First of all, if you search Google images for "ebonics," this is the only thing that comes up that is not totally offensive. I don't recommend doing the search.

The ebonics (more correctly called African American Vernacular English or AAVE) debate started when I was in college, and wasn't talked about in those terms when I was teaching, but was definitely discussed, usually in derogatory terms.

"Why can't they use proper English?"

"I'm so tired of hearing "axe" instead of "ask"!

"It's not "bafroom," it's "bathroom""!

Usually there was some eye rolling and muttering about how uneducated people were, and even sometimes the expression "those people" which I hate.

I'm not going to explain how AAVE evolved but if you're interested, check out John Rickford's work, which is fascinating and very informative. Even a quick search on Wikipedia can acquaint you with the history of AAVE, which was influenced by slavery, the South, etc. I am not a linguist, so please forgive me if

I am going to tell you about how I dealt with this in my classroom. I didn't get any training on this, and only a very little bit on how to help kids who spoke other language. So I had to improvise.

Most of my kids spoke in AAVE, no matter what their race, because that was the dominant speech pattern of the neighborhood. Like many people do, they referred to "Standard English" as "talking like white people." If someone spoke in Standard English, they'd say they sounded white. When I corrected their writing, they referred to it as "white people talk."

I didn't really like this idea of white people being correct and so I tried to phrase it differently. Again, remember I had no training on this, was young, and was working alone.

I told them that everyone writes differently than they talk. Everyone! They objected, saying that white people talked the way they wrote. I said no, think about me! I say "like" way too much. I say "you know" and "gonna." I don't write that way!

They thought about this.

I told them that if I were talking to the President (not our current one) or was in a job interview, I would talk the way I wrote. That's what we call "formal." But normally, I speak informally.

The light bulb went on.

"So, if I SAY toofbrush, I should write it without the f? And if I meet the President, I should say it how I write it?"

It worked for me. I'd be curious, if any other teachers care to share, how you dealt with this? And go read Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English. It is well worth reading.

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