Linguist John McWhorter makes the case for Black English as a legitimate, grammatically independent dialect of Standard English For fans of languages, like I am, it s a fascinating book If grammar bores you to tears, this is not for you McWhorter is a scholar, not a brick throwing social justice warrior He does not write the purple prose of Ta Nehisi Coates He provides intellectual cover for the respectability of Black English He attempts to elucidate the why Black English is so denigrated by both the White and Black communities He addresses the puzzle of various stereotypical expressions, including the abundant use of the n word He traces the evolution of Black English s grammatical and speech patterns He compares its growth and evolution with the evolution of Standard English throughout its long history He challenges the stereotype that highly educated Blacks such as President Barak Obama do not use Black English and that there is something wrong with them if they do McWhorter successfully proves his case, in my opinion In this day and age where the Black community and other minority communities feel under attack, a common language gives a sense of belonging to a group This is particularly true when the community feels under attack An explosion of hip hop into the main stream has brought this dialect into most homes across the U.S As the language becomes and accepted, surely the community who originated and speaks it, will be as well. Short book about Black English, its complex rules, its history, how it varies from standard English, and why it s just as good as standard English Nearly all speakers of Black English know it isn t best for formal situations and are perfectly capable of switching to Standard English when required Also an interesting section about why the vocal timbre of white Americans tends to be different than African Americans, such that most of us can easily identify race over the phone even if there is no difference in the words used Good comparisons to other dialects of languages, such as Sicilian Italian A bit repetitive given that it s such a short book anyway. It Has Now Been Almost Fifty Years Since Linguistic Experts Began Studying Black English As A Legitimate Speech Variety, Arguing To The Public That It Is Different From Standard English, Not A Degradation Of It Yet False Assumptions And Controversies Still Swirl Around What It Means To Speak And Sound Black In His First Book Devoted Solely To The Form, Structure, And Development Of Black English, John McWhorter Clearly Explains Its Fundamentals And Rich History, While Carefully Examining The Cultural, Educational, And Political Issues That Have Undermined Recognition Of This Transformative, Empowering Dialect Talking Back, Talking Black Takes Us On A Fascinating Tour Of A Nuanced And Complex Language That Has Moved Beyond America S Borders To Become A Dynamic Force For Today S Youth Culture Around The WorldJohn McWhorter Teaches Linguistics, Western Civilization, Music History, And American Studies At Columbia University A New York Times Best Selling Author And TED Speaker, He Is A Columnist For Time And Regular Contributor To The Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, And Washington Post His Books On Language Include The Power Of Babel, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, What Language Is, The Language Hoax, And Words On The Move A near perfect collection of linguistics essays about Black English Vernacular Whether he s talking about the origins of English or the use of texted lol as an empathy marker, John McWhorter is always insightful, thoughtful, and accessible He s also one of a very small number of linguists who can make you laugh out loud in a coffee shop Or, at least, he has that effect on me His essays showcase the history, depth, and complexity of a vibrant American dialect one that often gets dismissed as slang failed Standard English while weaving together engaging case studies of BEV s intimacy markers, narrative tense, vowel shifts, dismissive emphatic dismissive pronouns, and other complexities Fast and fascinating read Really like 3.5 starts.It s well written, but really short And despite being so short, it feels slightly padded Maybe it s best to think of it as a series of essays than a book His main point is that Black English or African American Vernacular English or Ebonics or whatever is a genuine language, with grammar rules and such It is not just a lazy or slangy version of standard English He makes an interesting and good analogy with Arabic, where there is a standard language throughout the Arab world, but the spoken language is quite different in Egypt, Morocco, Palestinian territory, etc He goes into the meme that Well, you wouldn t speak that way in a job interview, explaining that like Arabs people easily switch between two modes of speaking A couple of subjects I d ve liked him to address clearly, some people can t go back and forth between two languages, or we wouldn t have the Ebonics controversy, putting blacks into ESL classes, and we wouldn t have the witness in the Trayvon Martin trial being treated like an idiot Also, it just doesn t seem very plausible to me that different parts of the country somehow had Black English evolve in parallel I sort of accept that that is indeed what happened, but I would have liked him to address this better. Is Ebonics a language It was popularized as a distinct language spoken by some American African Americans in the 1980 s and 90 s, yet another note in the culture symphony It s interesting, and ironically humorous that linguist John McWhorter refers to a Lingua Franca in the title of his book, not a language Lingua Franca means literally, French Language and connotes any universally understood tongue as French virtually was in Europe in the years around World War I That irony captures the light and sometimes humorous tone McWhorter takes toward the subject of African American, or black speech in America He studies black speech in this book, he says, because that carries a specific ethnographic meaning It refers to the descendants of black slaves in America Afrikaans speaking US citizens, for example, people who immigrated from South Africa, are also African Americans, but we don t call them that He s interested in what s called African American Vernacular, Sometimes he calls it black dialect Ain t nobody can diss my ride, you feel me I understand that sentence but intelligibility is not the only criterion for defining a language according to ISO Standard 639 3 Just as important is for communicators to have a common literature or a common ethnolinguistic identity Having distinct ethnolinguistic identities can be a strong indicator that the groups speech should nevertheless be considered to be different languages On that criterion, one could argue that there is indeed a distinct black language It s a difficult definition.McWhorter s main point is that whether characteristically black American speech is considered a language, a dialect, or a vernacular, it is a distinct and legitimate form of speech and above all NOT a devolution of standard American English He labors to make this point Black speech is in no way inferior to Standard English He brings forth plentiful historical and linguistic evidence for this argument and even demonstrates how black speech is sometimes rich in expression than Standard English I believe him Why doesn t everyone That s exactly the thesis that makes this book and McWhorter s point of view controversial Even educated black people, he says, even his close friends, do not admit that there is a distinctly black way of speaking, even though it is patently obvious that there is Why Because black speech patterns are considered, by educated, proper society to be vulgar, inferior, low class, uneducated and degenerate And why that judgment Racism, pure and simple.Most educated black people don t even like to admit there is a black accent, or blaccent, as McWhorter names it, though a simple test is to listen to a television program with your eyes closed and pick out the black voices then look to confirm Anyone can do this But again, to admit that black people have a blaccent is to implicitly make a judgment that black speech, and therefore black people, are inferior to the white standard.McWhorter s mission is to overcome these racial biases with reason and evidence Black accent, vocabulary, and grammar, are not a matter of slang, not merely a Southern dialect, and not a product of ignorance Black speech has legitimate historical roots and is organic to a particular ethnicity, and should be taken as a legitimate vernacular of its own Besides all that, code switching is common Most black people can speak Standard English perfectly well if circumstances call for it very funny examples are often found in the work of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle and many others Just as interesting, many black speakers, like McWhorter I ve heard many recorded lectures by him have no discernible blaccent yet can speak black vernacular at will Barack Obama was once criticized for exactly that I was fascinated by the historical and linguistic evidence, for example, from early 19th century recordings of black speech, that McWhorter describes as sounding like Irish or Scottish, nothing like today s black vernacular Language, any language, is alive, always changing, never static I m a huge McWhorter fan It was from him that I came to understand proto Indo European, and much else Since I was already on board with him concerning the uniqueness and legitimacy of black speech, it s hard for me to evaluate how convincing his arguments are I m convinced, but racism is not an evidence based attitude so I don t think he ll change any minds But he might give pause for thought among those willing to listen, because the topic of black vernacular is widely misunderstood I admire him for the effort. Linguistics for the people I really enjoyed this book, and I hate linguistics it opened my eyes to a way of speech and communication that I did find odd McWhorter does a great job explaining language and dialects via a case study on Black English. An impassioned argument for the acceptance, appreciation, and celebration of Black English, which is not simply broken English, but a legitimate English dialect John McWhorter lays out a solid case, relying on his own experience as well as a ton of linguistics scholarship, not only about Black English or African American Vernacular English but also standard languages and their informal dialects from around the globe Standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic, Standard French and joual, Standard Italian and Sicilian, etc It brought me so much joy, and was incredibly eye opening I recommend it wholeheartedly. In this fascinating book, linguist John McWhorter presents a compelling argument that the spoken language of the majority of black Americans is not a broken or error filled English, but is a separate dialect from what he terms Standard English Linguistic scholars currently refer to this dialect as African American Vernacular English, which is quite a mouthful and sounds very academic, so the author refers to it as Black English TALKING BACK TALKING BLACK, in an introduction and five chapters totaling less than 200 pages , addresses many of the preconceptions of Black English, proposes a cultural and linguistic heritage for Black English, gives examples of the systematic grammar and speech patterns that qualify this as a distinct dialect of Standard English, and includes many historic and modern references to illustrate the dialect throughout time The overarching idea is that, just as the English Language has grown and changed over time, due to various influences and interminglings, so has Black English They are both rich and complex languages and are deserving of study and celebration. McWhorter spends about 85% of his words on complaining and arguing about the way Black English has been treated by the popular news and entertainment media If instead he had spent 85% of his words talking about the grammar and vocabulary of Black English, you might be reading a 4 star review.McWhorter is one of those writers who subscribe to the idea that before you tell the reader what the reader showed up to read, you should first spell out for the reader what you are planning to tell the reader This insults the intelligence of the reader We have already gleaned from the dust jacket the alleged purpose of the text Look, it says right here on the back of the book Talking Back, Talking Black takes us on a fascinating tour of a nuanced and complex language If we open the book, it is because we are interested in the information itself not in the author s assurances that he has a plan to share the information later in some subsequent chapter.When we do, with the exercise of some patience, reach some actual information even though it is presented anecdotally rather than systematically it can in fact actually be interesting But it would be a much better read if we didn t have to sift through so much non information to get to it.
John Hamilton McWhorter Professor McWhorter uses neither his title nor his middle initial as an author is an American academic and linguist who is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, where he teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy, and music history He is the author of a number of books on language and on race relations His research spec
- 192 pages
- Talking Back, Talking Black: Truths About America's Lingua Franca
- John McWhorter
- 16 March 2018 John McWhorter