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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

5 - Dialect and identity: beyond standard and nonstandard

Summary

THE ‘LOGIC’ OF DIALECT

I noted earlier in this book that the linguistic evidence bearing upon the validity of all dialects was powerful: the term ‘substandard’ must be consigned to the dustbin, and no variety can be seen as more or less ‘correct’ than any other. In this chapter, I return to the relevant linguistic scholarship, in connection with the powerful ‘test case’ provided by Black English in America. I will also point to some further important aspects of dialect – and, hence, identity – evaluation.

Beginning in the 1960s, Labov's investigations of American Black English have remained compelling, and his two-volume overview (1994) provides an admirable summary of work on language variation and change, including replications of some of the early studies reported here. The language of inner-city black speakers was seen to make an excellent illustration of dialect validity in general, since it had for so long been rejected as inadequate by the white middle class, and since its speakers were victims of a prejudice that went well beyond language alone. If it could be shown that Black English were not some incorrect or debased variety, this would make a strong case for the linguistic integrity of all dialects. There were three central strands to Labov's work (for a fuller analysis of which, see Edwards, 1989).

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Further reading
Baugh's, John (2004) ‘Ebonics and its controversy’ in Finegan, Edward and Rickford's, John edited book, Language in the USA: Themes for the Twenty-first Century, is a fine consideration of the many facets of Ebonics, and the controversies surrounding it, by one of the foremost scholars in the area.
Coupland, Nikolas and Bishop's, Hywel (2007) article, ‘Ideologised values for British accents’, provides an up-to-date assessment of the study of attitudes to British varieties.
Giles, Howard and Billings's, Andrew (2004) chapter, ‘Assessing language attitudes’, in Davies, Alan and Elder's, CatherineThe Handbook of Applied Linguistics is another good contemporary overview of attitudes.
Labov's, William (1976) Language in the Inner City is a collection of early work which includes his now-famous article, ‘The logic of nonstandard English’, the most thoroughgoing and fair-minded assessment of Black English in America of its time; the central features of Labov's argument remain central today.