LING 407: Black English
Instructor: G. Tucker Childs
This course introduces students to a unique variety of American English that has had, and continues to have, great social, political, and linguistic importance in the United States and beyond. Recent debates on the use of "Ebonics" in the classroom, recommended by the Oakland school board, shows how engaged the American public can be, even with very little knowledge of the topic. The name itself is controversial: which name is chosen, be it the latest choice among AAVE (African-American Vernacular English), Ebonics, or Black English, reveals one's approach and one's political stance towards the variety.
This course should dispel some of the myths surrounding AAVE, especially those promulgated by ignorance or racism, e.g., that AAVE is "bad" or "uneducated" English. We will consider such questions as the origins of AAVE. Does it have a creole history comparable to such true creoles as Gullah and Jamaican English, or is it just another English dialect? In doing so, we will compare AAVE to other African American Diaspora varieties in both Africa and in the New World. What is the variety's present trajectory? Is it becoming less like "Standard" English and self-consciously diverging from more mainstream varieties?
We will confront both the structure and the function of AAVE. How is it the same and how is it different from other varieties of English? Is it in fact a monolithic variety or is it composed of many sub-varieties dependent on age, gender, ethnicity, and political orientation? What is its role in the speech community? What is its importance for establishing one's (ethnic) identity? What is its role in popular culture, e.g., the Hip-Hop "Nation". How has it been appropriated by the entertainment industry and by those not born into the speech community?
Although the course approaches the study of AAVE from a (socio-)linguistic perspective, other perspectives will be presented and indeed encouraged. Students who have not taken a linguistics course but who have an interest in the topic are welcome and will be allowed to take the course with the instructor's approval.
Prerequisites: LING-390 or permission of instructor
Textbooks: Green, Lisa J. 2002. African-American English: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Mufwene, Salikoko S., John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey, and John Baugh, eds. (1998). African-American English: Structure, History, and Use. London and New York: Routledge.
Rickford, John R., and Rickford, Russell John. 2000. Spoken Soul, The Story of Black English. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
In addition, a small packet of readings will be assigned.
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