There is so much to unpack inside this week’s assigned readings that leads to, I would say, some challenging answers. Therefore, I decided to dive into stand-out points, beginning with Bad Ideas About Writing, Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe, in the Chapter of African American Language is Not Good English by Jennifer M. Cunningham. Cummingham states, “Linguists define languages according to their grammatical origins, not their vocabulary. For example, English is considered a Germanic language because its grammar follows Germanic rules, even though its vocabulary is largely French and Latin” (p. 89). This statement brings to a study on The Adventure of English, Episode 1 Birth of a Language via a BBC Documentary. As the story goes, the adventure begins in South Bank, London. The North Sea, now called the Netherlands in Friesland, is believed to sound close to modern language worldwide. Around the 5th Century, Germanic tribes contained parts of the Jutes, Angles, and Saxon families that took their language and ours with them to live a better life. Conversely, Germanic invaders slaughtered the Friesland Celts, and the Celts later adopted the Germanic culture and language. In the 6th Century, Germanic tribes occupied half of the mainland of Britain and divided it into three kingdoms: Kent, Sussex, and Wessex, which spoke various dialects. The Anglo-Saxons emerged speaking Old English, the language we Americans speak today from names to numbers, averaging about 5,000 words in active recovery. Soon, a Monk, Pryor Augustine, led a mission from Rome to Kent. (Allen 2020).
Additionally, reading that “African American Language is more grammatically African than English, even though its vocabulary is English” (p. 89) is surely a new concept to me. As often, after being introduced to these interesting, assigned readings, it urges me to gather another take on each subject matter. Thus, this reading is no different in scope out outside perspectives that tie into the conversation, explaining the difference between grammar and vocabulary in the language. Understanding that African American English does not follow the grammatical rules of Standard American English helps us realize that these are, in fact, two grammatically separate languages and cannot be compared to one another. In her book Talkin’ and Testifyin’, Geneva Smitherman breaks down the parallel between the grammar and structure rules in West African languages and African American English. She points out the repetition of noun subjects with pronouns, such as, “My father, he works there.” and uses the same verb form for all subjects, “I know; he knows; we know; they know” (Smitherman, 6-7). This example shows how the structure of the language does not coincide with that of Germanic languages but of languages from West African tribes such as Ibo, Yoruba, and Hausa. African-American English came to be because enslaved people had to apply their knowledge of West African grammatical rules and English vocabulary to bridge the gap and communicate with their masters. They adopted the English vocabulary and applied it to a different language, thus creating a new language, what is known as African-American English, which still holds influence today. Smitherman also demonstrates how African-American English has evolved over centuries in the United States and how the structure of the language remained the same. For example, throughout the evolution of the language, there are still sentence patterns that don’t use any form of the verb to be, which is commonly found in West African languages. (Bayan 2019).
Therefore, it does “follow logically that African American Language ought to be considered linguistically (according to scholars like Ernie Smith) an African language, separate from English, based on its grammatical origins in the Niger-Congo or western and southern parts of Africa” (p. 89). But I am not certain I concur or not with all the talk about the Black American Language being an accepted language. I guess I am so accustomed to the American Language that I cannot see a specific written language for Black people.
In the piece, We Been Knowin: Toward an Antiracist Language & Literacy Education by April Baker-Bell, James Baldwin quotes, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me What Is?” (p. 6). struck a chord. And need I say that is the question? Without overthinking it, we understand African American English is a language entirely different from the Standard American English that is spoken in professional environments, in classrooms, and textbooks. This language was created for the survival of enslaved Africans in the Americas, and over centuries has evolved into a language that is an entire culture. Author of the novel Manchild in the Promised Land, Claude Brown, calls this language the “language of the soul” and is appropriately named. This language was somehow able to keep the essence of its origins while taking on an entirely new vocabulary to create something that has survived for centuries. When comparing Standard American English to Black American English, there is no comparison. They cannot be compared to each other because they are two different languages with two different origins that happen to share the same vocabulary. This would be like trying to compare the Oromo language from Ethiopia to Mandarin from China or French to Tagalog from the Philippines. It is impossible to compare one language to another if the standards are different and the structures are different. Also, how can anyone determine how “good” a language is? If the message is being delivered and is understood, who is saying that a language is good or bad? One is not inferior to the other, so in regard to the original question, is African-American English good English? The answer is yes, it is good English. (Bayan 2019).
Followed by the question, “What is the purpose of a language education if it cannot be used for various sorts of freedom or save students’ lives?” (p. 7). It seems that Vershawn Ashanti Young: Should Writer’s Use They Own English? writing profoundly answers the question of whether we should, for instance, teach how language functions within and from various cultural perspectives. And we should teach what it takes to understand, listen, and write in multiple dialects simultaneously. We should teach how to let dialects comingle, sho nuff blend together, like blending the dialect Fish speak and the black vernacular that, say, a lot—certainly not all—black people speak (p. 112). Furthermore, if people of color wish to see a change in the curriculum, then this is the way I assumed non-people of color should adhere to implementation.