Did he say “Negro Dialect?”

So online linguists everywhere are reposting John McWhorter’s article from the New Republic, where he tells us to give Sen. Harry Reid a break, for praising then Senator Obama for not speaking with a “Negro dialect.”

A younger me would have chimed in with a one-two punch decrying injustice and lecturing extensively on African American Vernacular English (which is what we linguists call that variety of English, at the request of our African American colleagues).   A younger me would have written a long boring rant.

But nobody wants to read that post.  When it comes down to it, people don’t want to change; white Americans want to continue to hide their fear of Black people, hoping they don’t get in trouble… Black activists want to yell aha! at white people who let their fear slip… and most of all nobody wants to hear what linguists have to say, certainly not the linguistics of the matter.

So here’s what the new me says…  the idea that we all talk the same is a joke.  We talk different, duh.  The morality that some people attach to “the Queen’s English” or even “Standard American English” is laughable.  Homogeneity has no place in the United States of America.

I have a cousin who is in law enforcement in the Philippines.  He confided in me once… apologetically… that he had a hard time understanding African Americans.  You have to remember that our families in the old countries… they’re not minorities the way we are; we American-born cousins dispatch issues like that before breakfast.   Anyway, he says “I don’t understand Black people,” and I said, well duh, the Philippines wasn’t colonized by Black people.

I saw that my answer made my cousin feel better; he was worried that fear of the Black people was part of the colonial legacy of that the largely white  American military and the American missionary corps left in the archipelago.  Luckily I was there to remind him that linguistic variety is acquired by exposure.  In a country with 80 languages, they know this, but for some reason people forget that it applies to varieties of English.

I have to end this post now, because all I can think about is what life would have been like in the Blackapines… yah, better end it there.

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