Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The government and African-American English: language ideology and practice

The Guardian is running this piece by Chris McGreal, called:
US drug agency recruits speakers of 'street slang'
DEA seeks people who understand black vernacular English to translate wiretaps and stand up evidence in court

It's getting a lot of attention, and much of it along this kind of lines from what I've seen. (Yes, there had to be the Airplane video clip.) But there's a big, even massive, point about language in America in this story. The core of it is laid out in this quote from the article:
"It seems ironic that schools that are serving and educating black children have not recognised the legitimacy of this language," said H Samy Alim, a Stanford linguistics professor. "Yet the authorities and the police are recognising that this is a language that they don't understand. It tells us a lot about where we are socially in terms of recognising African-American speech."
Yes, and the government's de facto recognition that (most of) their employees can't understand some kinds of African-American speech makes a powerful point that should be used in future discussions about language and education.


Alex said...

Goes to show how prescriptivist focus on correct language and legitimate languages massively impedes understanding of incorrect and illegitimate forms of speech.

Case in point: that comment about sounding like an Onion article.

Anonymous said...

And see this: