Web Exclusives: Bonus Stories


June 4, 2002:
LIN 203/AAS 203 Language and Race

"You makin sense but you don't be makin sense." That sentence in Black English makes perfect sense to students in C.N. Keach's course that analyzes nonstandard English dialects. It means "At the moment I understand you, but in general, I'm clueless as to what you're saying," explains Keach, a visiting professor with the program in linguistics and an associate professor at Temple.

Her 26 students learn that Black English, also known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), like other nonstandard English dialects, adhere to grammatical rules and principles that are unconscious to speakers. By studying the grammar, word formation, sentence structure, and phonology, the students "make those unconscious rules conscious," says Keach.

Dominic Notario '03, a chemistry major who speaks four languages, says the course has "changed my opinion on AAVE. I don't see it as a bad form of English. ... I see it as a form of English that makes more sense" because standard English has more exceptions to its grammatical rules than does AAVE.

Students also study Hispanic English — English that uses Spanish grammatical rules such as pronunciation, word formation and sentence patterns — and Native American English, which emerged in the wake of the forced separation of Native American children from their parents in the late 1800s.

For assignments the students analyze the rules in their own dialect and those of a different dialect, interview people about their attitudes towards nonstandard English dialects, and translate passages from Standard English into a nonstandard dialect and vice versa.

Keach hopes that her students will "question the way we decide that certain groups of people speak in unacceptable ways." Her "subversive goal" with the course: "If they ever had it, and most people do, their snobbery with respect to vernacular dialect would diminish."


Reading list:

Spoken Soul: The Story of Black English, by J.R. Rickford and R.J. Rickford

Exploring Language, edited by Gary Goshgarian

English with an Accent: Language, Ideology, and Discrimination in the United States, by Rosina Lippi-Green