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[Xmca-l] Re: Speakers of AAE


I've extracted what I could from the Metaphor thread regarding AAE, Labov, etc. Hope this is of service to those who wish to further discuss AAE and Orr's work. I apologize if I did not get everything.

I'm of the sense David Kirshner is very happy this topic is on stage, so I hope you all will not see me as being rude for asking it to go to a new thread?

Kind regards,


From: on behalf of lpscholar2@gmail.com <lpscholar2@gmail.com>
Sent: Sunday, December 21, 2014 11:02 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Speakers of AAE

I am in over my head when exploring linquistic themes. However, the power of “grammatical structures” within events and even multiple “ontologies” [as recently discussed] leaves me wanting to understand more linquistic anthropology.

I want to add Peter Jones voice to our explorations though a quote he offered while critiquing “Critical Discourse Analysis”  He wrote 
”Our position, in contrast with the practice of CDA, is that the identification of the communicational processes and strategies relevant to particular engagements, the understanding and interpretation of what the relevant or significant communicational forms, meanings and patterns are in a particular situation or event is something that emerges in the course of detailed empirical investigation of the relevant event in all its complexity. There is simply no method or procedure of discourse analysis to be applied short of this process of deciding what words mean in the course of interpretatively reconstructing an entire action or event to which the words contribute. Within the event itself there is no level or dimension of “discourse” as a self-contained, stable and iterable system of forms and meanings.”

As I read this quote and link it to the power of grammatical syntax as it “shapes” meaning I’m asking how Peter Jones and David Kellogg overlap? In the above paragraph how is “peter” agentively  using the syntactical grammar for “personal” ends?  and how dominatingly  is the grammatical syntax “shaping” what the person “peter” is “becoming”

Is the grammatical syntax an “aspect” or “element” of the “shaping” and “forming” context WITHIN a multimodal relational  interplay OR Is “Peter” one “aspect” or “element” WITHIN THE EVENT OR ACTION.

In other words is “Peter” more centrally located [as “agentic”] IN DECIDING, and also more deliberate, IN DESIGNING [self-consciously deciding] the action and events AS “activity?

”Who IS doing  the deciding, and how agentively?

Back to “the third space” as a “case” Is the DESIGN of the third space an agentive shaping?  I read Kris as saying there is a hybrid agency BOTH autobiographical and intersubjective..

How central in shapting this “third space” is grammatical metaphor.  Is grammatical metaphor dominant, or is Kris as deciding and designing PRE-structures more agentively dominant or is it the radical reciprocal inter-subjective hybridity OF and IN “the third space” what is dominant?

These are questions generated in my “musings” linking and transverse-ing our explorations as performances.


From: Vera John-Steiner <vygotsky@unm.edu>
Sun 12/21/2014 11:05 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>;


About Labov's work, the children were taking care of a rabbit and making
cogent arguments about feeding, etc.

From: greg.a.thompson@gmail.com
Sun 12/21/2014 10:28 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>;

Re double negatives as "negative concord": Russian too no?

From: Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co>
Sun 12/21/2014 10:01 AM
To:eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>;

Double negatives in Spanish too. And we all know how that really slowed the Spanish down! Not.


On Dec 21, 2014, at 10:55 AM, Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com> wrote:

> There was also the problem of the double negative of African American
> dialect.  Psychologists said that a double negative was equal to a
> positive, and then therefore  speakers of AAE were incapable of logical
> thought.  Labov laid out the paradigm of positive and negatives in AAE, to
> show just how logical it is.

On Dec 21, 2014, at 10:55 AM, Carol Macdonald <carolmacdon@gmail.com>
Sun 12/21/2014 8:57 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>;


A small piece of info about Labov. At the height of the psychologists'
theory of deficit, the linguists and sociolinguists came to the fore with a
profoundly important observation of difference.  No language has a deficit.

As you know, Labov did a partial replication of the deficit situation. The
big white man into an interview with a small black child, and performed
dysmally.  However, Labov has set up his own  second analysis, by asking
the children in the "waiting room" to take care of his white rat. That
situation produced an abundance of language. These children were certainly
not short of language, not "nonverbal".

There was also the problem of the double negative of African American
dialect.  Psychologists said that a double negative was equal to a
positive, and then therefore  speakers of AAE were incapable of logical
thought.  Labov laid out the paradigm of positive and negatives in AAE, to
show just how logical it is.

As a linguistics student in the early 70s, we were inordinately proud of
these linguistic insights. It was the birth of sociolinguists.

I apologise for the lack of references for this presentation. Please
correct any details.


From: Dr. Paul C. Mocombe <pmocombe@mocombeian.com>
Date: Sun 12/21/2014 9:26 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu>;

Hi greg,

Doing the 1990s, the California school system were discussing using AAE to teach standard english.  The black middle class went crazy over the issue. There is a gap between academia, which views AAE  as a distinct linguistic system and the masses, the black middle class of teachers, preachers, and other educated professionals, who are less likely to do so.

In my own research it is apparent when you look at standardized test scores and content...black students from the inner cities are not understanding the content.  I am currently doing field work at an urban school in Florida that is 100 percent black, and the teachers and administration are all black.  I am looking at the impact that teaching reading via language arts instruction will have on test scores.

The school has been an "F" school for the past 5 years.   The students struggle with vocabulary and understanding author's purpose.  Testing in Florida starts in the 3rd grade.  Last year out of the 70 third graders who took the state standardized tests, 10 were proficient in reading...yes 10.  The state average for proficiency is 65 percent for whites, 34 percent for blacks.  

Dr. Paul C. Mocombe
The Mocombeian Foundation, Inc.

-------- Original message --------
From: Greg Thompson <greg.a.thompson@gmail.com> 
Date:12/21/2014  10:36 AM  (GMT-05:00)
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca-l@mailman.ucsd.edu> 
Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Metaphors

In the interests of following the recently suggested injunction not to
directly address specific interlocutors, I'll talk in generalities (This
makes it a bit more challenging to have a conversation but it also makes
one think about the extractable and generalizable point that is beyond the
immediate context).

In my previous post (apologies for drawing on prior context), I neither
suggested nor intended to imply that Orr's work is racist (do intentions
matter when it comes to meaning?). This speaks to some of the difficulties
of talking about issues of race. And in this connection let's not forget
the fact that this list-serve is dominated by white men - that doesn't mean
that we are necessarily racist but it does mean that we are likely to be
ignorant of many aspects of these issues.

Nonetheless, I believe that we can overcome our ignorance through
education, by learning more about the issues - even when it comes to trying
to understand cultures and languages that we did not grow up with. And
while I think that there is good evidence for the linguistic relativity
hypothesis, I do not believe that language is a determining influence in
ALL thinking (Whorf uses the term "habitual" to describe the type of
thinking that is most susceptible to the influence of language). That means
that even if you don't speak AAE, you can still study it and even come to
understand how the grammatical forms lend themselves to particular ways of
understanding the world (this is what linguistic anthropology is all

And this is my concern with Orr's work. With all academic work, I think it
is worth considering questions like "How would racists take up our
research?" In the case of Orr's work, my sense is that racists could easily
take up her research to argue (perhaps even by using the linguistic
relativity hypothesis) that AAE speakers are unable to do complex
mathematical thinking. This is why I would think that it is important to
give a positive articulation of what AAE does as a language. It is
certainly important to understand what it CAN'T do (e.g., help one learn
math in a particular way), but it is equally important to understand what
it CAN do.

As Paul points out, Labov has done some of the work addressing this. But
note that Labov's work was done 40 years ago and no one has sought to
replicate or do any kind of similar work. What gives?


On Sat, Dec 20, 2014 at 11:37 PM, David H Kirshner <dkirsh@lsu.edu> wrote:

> Greg,
> I'm delighted that you're familiar with and appreciative of Orr's work.
> Cleary she didn't provide "serious consideration of how AAE speakers
> actually use prepositions"--she couldn't have, as she was not a native
> speaker of Black English dialect, and she was not a linguist. But I'm not
> sure how paying serious attention to technical nuances of Black English
> grammar would have helped, as her analyses show that the African American
> students in her classes were not speaking either standard English or Black
> English Vernacular, but rather a hybrid that arises from their efforts to
> emulate standard English.
> Now, it's true her work didn't parallel the approach Gay and Cole took to
> understanding what other psychologists were classifying as linguistic and
> cognitive deficits by carefully studying the native language and culture.
> On the other hand, she did something Gay and Cole didn't do, namely
> micro-analyze the linguistic miscues operating in the classroom, and the
> resultant dilemmas of comprehension this created for her African American
> students.
> As the excerpt copied below illustrates, Orr was scrupulously attentive to
> understanding her students' experience of distance and location given the
> different linguistic setting. And her analyses consistently point to the
> mismatch between the native dialect and the language of instruction as the
> source of the problems, not the native dialect, itself. To label this work
> as implicitly racist, I think cedes too much to those who mistrust science
> as a tool of the oppressor, and whose only locus of attention is the
> history and legacy of social injustice. Even now, in this discussion, we
> are missing the point. The major significance of Orr's work is not that
> differences in grammatical structure have semantic implications. This is
> merely a window to the dramatic realization that semantics are written into
> grammatical form.
> David
> Excerpt from Orr (1987):
> "Jane gives us in these diagrams a glimpse into the kinds of mental images
> she constructs when she is using the single symbol length, representing
> both location and distance, as a tool with which to think. Even the
> diagrams Jane drew for problems 13 and 14 begin to be less incomprehensible
> if one attempts to construct in one's own mind images of the information
> given in these problems, while adhering to the requirement that length be
> used to represent both location and distance. They can be seen as possible
> consequents or extensions of the symbol length when it is used to represent
> both location and distance. Consider, for instance, the mental images one
> might construct in responding to problem 13: Two cities, both represented
> by line segments, are equal distances (that is, equal line segments) closer
> to a third city (another line segment) than two other cities (line
> segments) are. The first two cities must be represented by equal line
> segments because they are equal distances closer to the third city than the
> other two cities are. And these other two cities must also be represented
> by equal line segments because they are equal distances from the third
> city. One can see that Jane's diagrams are not as lacking in reason as they
> may initially have appeared to be.
> "Jane's diagrams suggest the possibility that when words, or symbols are
> used as instruments with which to think, the use in one language of a
> single symbol in contexts where a second language requires two or more can
> lead a speaker of the first language to arrive at a different mental
> construct of some given information from that arrived at by a speaker of
> the second language. Or, as in Jane's attempt to handle problem 14, the
> result may be an inability to arrive at a workable mental construct at
> all."  (p. 25)
> [Note, this excerpt is part of a longer segment I emailed on Dec. 19 that
> shows Jane's diagrams that Orr is referring to.]
> -----Original Message-----
> From: xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu [mailto:
> xmca-l-bounces@mailman.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Greg Thompson
> Sent: Saturday, December 20, 2014 3:14 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Metaphors
> The issues that are raised by Orr are indeed important ones. I am a fan of
> her work as it points to important differences in language usage among AAE
> speakers. I agree that she shouldn't have been condemned for pointing out
> these differences (particularly considering how important it is for
> teachers to understand the consequences of these differences). If you want
> to help AAE speaking students do better on standardized tests, then you
> absolutely need to pay attention to these differences.
> My one concern here is that I do feel like there is a problem of deficit
> thinking that is at least implied in her work (and maybe "implied" is too
> strong a term - maybe it's just that she doesn't provide evidence to
> discourage us from this view). What we don't see in this book is any
> serious consideration of how AAE speakers actually use prepositions - e.g.,
> the ways of using language that exist in the community of AAE speakers.
> This gives Orr's work a feel somewhat like the studies of math among the
> Kpelle studied by Gay and Cole in the pre-early days of LCHC (see wiki for
> more:  http://lchcfestschrift.wikispaces.com/Chapter+1). Before they
> showed
> up on the scene, everyone had assumed that the Kpelle (Liberia) couldn't
> comprehend basic math concepts b.c. they weren't learning it in the ways
> that it was being taught (and perhaps there were even linguistic relativity
> arguments that pointed to this). Rather then continuing to pluck these
> folks out of context and run them through various types of experiments, Gay
> and Cole "explicitly began with the assumption that “we must know more
> about the indigenous mathematics so that we can build effective bridges to
> the new mathematics that we are trying to introduce”"
> >From their research, they found that the Kpelle actually had high
> competence with complex mathematical problems (e.g., estimating volumes).
> As they write:
> "Overall, the data suggested that no generalized lack of mathematical,
> perceptual, or problem solving abilities stood in the way of mathematics
> education. When the materials and procedures used in assessment tasks were
> designed to match closely valued local practices, lack of ability could be
> replaced by apparent special ability. At the same time, schooling did
> appear to influence performance in tasks that were routinely used to
> measure cognitive development."
> So I think I would be more comfortable with Orr's work if she were to have
> included this kind of rich understanding of usage in context and how
> prepositions actually are used among AAE speakers.
> This points to a larger question that might be irksome to some folks, but
> the question regards the extent to which mathematical language is
> predicated upon a particular form of what Whorf called "Standard Average
> European." In short, the idea here is that Math has a history and a
> culture. This doesn't mean that it is useless or a waste of time, just that
> it is a particular way of encountering the world that is good for
> particular things and not for others.
> I think we've gone round this mulberry bush before, but that was just more
> grist for the mill (I prefer my metaphors mixed!).
> -greg
> On Fri, Dec 19, 2014 at 8:46 PM, David H Kirshner <dkirsh@lsu.edu<mailto:
> dkirsh@lsu.edu>> wrote:
> >
> > The topic of how grammatical form relates to meaning calls to mind the
> > groundbreaking work of Eleanor Orr--whom you've probably never heard of
> on
> > account of the fact that her work was condemned by a politically-correct
> > faction of race-conscious sociolinguists who decided her analysis of
> Black
> > English Vernacular could too easily be appropriated into racist
> discourses
> > about language deficiency.
> >
> > Orr was a Washington DC area teacher and principal in the 1970s and
> 1980s,
> > who traced math difficulties of her African American students to subtle
> > grammatical differences between Black English dialect and standard
> English.
> > Her 1987 book goes into compelling detail to support the thesis that the
> > meaning structure of basic mathematical terms is embedded in the
> > grammatical setting in which those terms are expressed. For instance, the
> > meaning of “distance” is embedded in the grammatical structure “distance
> > from _________ to __________” where the place-holders hold locations; if
> > you don’t have that grammatical structure, and you're in a linguistic
> > environment in which that structure is assumed, you're likely not going
> to
> > be able to gain full access to the concept.
> >
> > The attached excerpts from her book--ignore the Forward, unless you'd
> like
> > some context--reveal some of her students' bizarre conceptions of
> distance
> > (and other basic mathematical concepts) as revealed in their diagrams.
> Her
> > approach involves linguistic analysis of sentences produced by her
> African
> > American students that she reads as collapsed versions of standard
> English
> > sentences, with differences in prepositional structure being highlighted
> > (but other grammatical elements also are indicated).
> >
> > This work cuts against the grain of anything going on in mathematics
> > education. The Piagetian view that dominates that field holds that basic
> > concepts come about from reflection on our actions in our engagement with
> > the material world. When language enters the conversation, it's with
> > respect to semantic structure; to my knowledge, nobody's ever implicated
> > syntax directly in basic quantitative understanding.
> >
> > This work is particularly interesting to me in connection with my
> > 21-year-old son who is autistic, and whose grammatical function is
> severely
> > impaired. He has a decent vocabulary, but unless the setting for the
> > conversation provides contextual clues, he can't piece together how the
> > semantic elements are linked to one another. It is only recently that it
> > occurred to me his lack of a secure sense of basic quantitative terms
> like
> > “more” and “less” may be rooted in his grammatical incapacities.
> >
> > The XMCA discussion, thus far, has touched on grammar with respect to
> > lexical items such as prepositions. But we've not yet tied that to the
> > grammatical forms that embed those lexical items. I'm very curious as to
> > whether that further connection can be made.
> >
> > David Kirshner
> >
> > Orr, E., W. (1987). Twice as less: Black English and the performance of
> > black students in mathematics and science. New York: W. W. Norton &
> Company.