Skip to main content Accessibility help

Talking Black in America: The role of the documentary in public education

  • Walt Wolfram and Kellynoel Waldorf

African American Language (AAL) is the most widely recognized – and controversial – ethnic variety of English in the world. In the United States national controversies about the speech of African Americans have erupted periodically for more than a half-century now, from the difference-deficit debates in the 1960s (Labov, 1972) to the Ebonics controversy in the 1990s (Rickford, 1999) and linguistic profiling in the 2000s (Baugh, 2003, 2018). Further, the adoption of performance genres from AAL into languages other than English, such as hip-hop and rap, has given the speech of African Americans even wider international recognition and global status (Omoniyi, 2006). The curiosities and controversies about African American speech symbolically reveal (1) the depth of people's beliefs and opinions about language differences; (2) the widespread level of public misinformation about language diversity; and (3) the need for informed knowledge about language variation in public life and in education.

Hide All
Alvarez, L. & Kolker, A. (producers). 1986. American Tongues. New York: Center for New American Media.
Baugh, J. 2003. ‘Linguistic profiling.’ In Makoni, C., Smitherman, G., Ball, A. F. & Spears, A. K. (eds.), Black Linguistics: Language, Society, and Politics in Africa and the Americas. New York: Routledge, 155–68.
Baugh, J. 2018. Linguistics in Pursuit of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bell, A. & Garrett, P. (eds.) 1998. Approaches to Media Discourse. Malden/Oxford: Blackwell.
Blanton, P. & Waters, K. (producers). 1994. The Ocracoke Brogue. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Language and Life Project.
Cameron, D., Fraser, E, Harvey, P., Rampton, M. B. H & Richardson, K. 1992. Researching Language: Issues of Power and Method. London: Routledge
Charity Hudley, A. H. & Mallinson, C. 2011. Understanding Language Variation in U.S. Schools. New York: Columbia University Press.
Denham, K. 2007. ‘Linguistics in primary school.’ Language and Linguistics Compass, 1(5), 243259.
Hutcheson, N. 2007. Personal email correspondence on community collaboration. 27 September, 2007.
Labov, W. 1972. ‘Academic ignorance and black intelligence.’ Atlantic Monthly (June) 59-67.
MacNeil, R. (producer). 1986. The Story of English. London/New York: MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.
Omoniyi, T. 2006. ‘Hip-hop through the world Englishes lens: A response to Globalization.’ World Englishes, 25, 195208.
Reaser, J., Adger, C. A., Wolfram, W. & Christian, D. 2017. Dialects at School: Educating Linguistically Diverse Students. New York: Routledge.
Reaser, J. & Myrick, C. 2015. ‘Writing language-based trade books: Making linguistics accessible to lay audiences.’ Language and Linguistic Compass, 9(5), 198208.
Reaser, J. & Wolfram, W. 2007. Voices of North Carolina: From the Atlantic to Appalachia. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina Language and Life Project. Teacher Manual & Student Workbook.
Rickford, J.R. 1999. African American Vernacular English: Features, Evolution and Educational Implications. Oxford: Blackwell.
Wolfram, W., Reaser, J. & Vaughn, C. 2008. ‘Operationalizing linguistic gratuity: From principle to practice.’ Linguistic and Language Compass, 3, 1109–34.
Wolfram, W. 2016. ‘Public sociolinguistic education in the United States: A proactive, comprehensive program.’ In Lawson, R. & Sayers, D. (eds.) Sociolinguistic Research: Impact and Application. New York: Routledge, 88107.
Wolfram, W. & Eisenhauer, K. (forthcoming) ‘Implicit bias and sociolinguistic justice.’ In Blake, R. & Buchstaller, I. (eds.), The Routledge Companion to the Work of John Rickford. New York: Routledge.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

English Today
  • ISSN: 0266-0784
  • EISSN: 1474-0567
  • URL: /core/journals/english-today
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed