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[Xmca-l] Re: Ruqaiya Hasan



Martin:

A good example! Labov says:

'Some educational psychologists first draw from the writings of the British
social psychologist Basil Bernstein the idea that "much of lower-class
language consists of a kind of incidental 'emotional accompaniment' to
action here and now." Bernstein's views are filtered through a strong bias
against all forms of working-class behavior, so that he sees middle-class
language as superior in every respect--as "more abstract, and necessarily
somewhat more flexible, detailed and subtle."'

Bernstein is making an empirical statement about a specific corpus of
data--similar to the kinds of statements that Labov himself makes later in
the article when he re-examines Bereiter's data. The same thing is true of
Bernstein's comment on language which is "more abstract and necessarily
somewhat more flexible, detailed, and subtle". These are all empirical
facts, based on data.  Ruqaiya's contribution (with Clare Cloran) was to
provide a LOT more data--and also to provide grammatical categorires that
made it clear exaclty what "flexible", "detailed" and "subtle" referred to.

But to take these empirical statements about specific corpora--and then to
say that "Bernstein's views are filtered through a strong bias against all
forms of working class behavior" is about as fair as to take the statement
that middle class language is "more abstract" and then to conclude that
Bernstein "sees middle class language as superior in every respect". This
proves one thing and one thing only: Labov is being ill-tempered and
demagogic.

Of course, any fair linguistic comparison will reveal that the rules of
black English are more complex than the rules of white English, and they
are just as binding. But that's trivial: there are African languages that
have more than a hundred and seventy case endings. Even if this were not
largely a matter of how you define case, it would prove nothing about how
language is implicated in distributing information, much less in
distrubting material goods and reproducing class differences.

There's something much worse going on here, Martin. American culture has
appropriated a lot from black English--and yes, a lot of it has necessarily
been the appropriation of emotional responses to tragic and harrowing
material processes. Somehow, when black people try to turn the tables and
appropriate some of the really powerful abstract thinking that is, for
historical reasons--because of slavery and murderous, genocidal repression,
not to put to fine a point on it--concentrated in an academic discourse
dominated by whites, we are told that this is not necessary or even
desirable. Somehow, when black church leaders like Jesse Jackson say that
blacks are now "African Americans" on a par with Irish-Americans or
Italian-Americans, nobody even bothers to point out that a continent is not
a country, and this kind of relabelling is a kind of rewriting history,
just as the claim that the slavery was not the key issue in the Civil War
is. And somehow, when Obama makes speeches to black people, he gets to say
things like "we express God's grace", even though this implies that grace
is something man gives rather than God, and nobody sees the contradiction.

(I was too easy on Obama's speech: what he really said was not that grace
was unasked for, but rather that it was undeserved, and unmerited. Yes--the
kind of grace that God delivers through the barrel of a racist's gun is
utterly undeserved and unmerited. But how can anyone say such stupid and
heartless things, much less believe them? Only by assuming that what you
say and even what you believe doesn't matter so long as you feel right.)

David Kellogg

On Tue, Jun 30, 2015 at 7:15 AM, Martin John Packer <mpacker@uniandes.edu.co
> wrote:

>
> On Jun 29, 2015, at 4:51 PM, David Kellogg <dkellogg60@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> > But
> > Ruqaiya and her student Clare Cloran were the ones who really provided
> > empirical evidence that class dialects were not simply matters of
> phonology
> > and phonetics. There were differences in lexical choice, and difference
> in
> > grammatical patterns as well. So class "dialects" were not simply
> dialects.
> > In fact, they were NOT dialects at all.
>
> David, where does this leave Labov's analysis of the negative in Black
> vernacular English, in which he seems to see "radically different kinds of
> grammatical operations"?  And here's his rebuttal of the notion that
> African American kids are intellectually deficient; he writes that "All
> linguists agree that nonstandard dialects are highly structured systems";
> evidently not just different in phonology and phonetics.
>
> <http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/95sep/ets/labo.htm>
>
> Martin
>