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Community attitudes toward Black English

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2008

Mary Rhodes Hoover*
University of Pennsylvania


Black English is increasingly recognized as a systemic, ‘rule-governed’, form of language (lect), like any other, at least among scholars. There is less adequate understanding of the meaning of Black English to those who use it. Such understanding requires ethnographic study of the place of Black English in the verbal repertoire of the community in which it is used. There has been some work in this area, but much of it has focused on aspects of Black English of interest for linguistic theory, e.g. the possibility of creole origins as a constraint on variability. Such studies have tended not to recognize the full scope and complexity of Black English. The aspects given attention have been those most exotic and remote from conventional English (for criticism on this point, see Abrahams (1972) and Wright (1972) ). While such studies have increased recognition and acceptance of Black English, the model in terms of which they have done so has been implicitly the ‘other culture’ model. There has been an appeal to the acceptance of cultural difference associated in our minds with Ruth Benedict's studies of Patterns of Culture, Margaret Mead's studies in Samoa and New Guinea, etc. This ‘other culture’ model is inadequate to the situation of the Black Community. There is partial truth to it; respect for the ways in which Black Americans may differ from ‘mainstream’ expectations is necessary. But social policy and action, especially in regard to education, cannot be based on so partial a truth. This became clear when well-meaning scholars attempted to introduce elementary school readers that used vernacular Black English. There was great protest from many in the Black community itself.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1978

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This paper is a summary of my dissertation (Stanford University, 1975) and is based on research carried out in the program on Teaching and Linguistic Pluralism at the Stanford Centre for Research and Development in Teaching. I greatly appreciate the assistance of Professors Robert Politzer, Robert Calfee and Charles Ferguson in carrying out this research; the suggestions of St. Clair Drake, Robert Cooper, Claudia Kernon and Robert Hoover; the interviewing skills of Shirley Lewis, Warnell Coats and Dolores Randall; and general assistance of Laura Saltznam.


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