Date: Tue, 27 Jan 1998 02:34:20 -0600 From: Mike Salovesh Subject: Re: Survey help--new participant (LONG!, detailed) Beverly Flanigan wrote: > > . . . I'm interested in Mike Salovesh's replies on the survey, > particularly those referring to "Chicago Ebonics." Sometimes we hear > a lack of tense marking, or the use of uninflected "be," and assume > they apply in all contexts (as the "Mad Monk" did some time back). > Does Mr. S. really hear "[He] in his office yesterday" or "I don't be > eat ..." or "He done sell" (instead of "sold") in Chicago African > Americans' speech? Answer: Yes, yes, and yes. My shorthand "Chicago Ebonics" refers to ordinary conversations among African Americans in Chicago today, Black Chicagoans yesterday, and Negro Chicagoans of my youth. (The variant labels are intended to reflect self-identifiers commonly used at different time periods, within what used to be called Chicago's Black Belt.) By yesterday, I mean prior to 1965, the last time I lived in Chicago's Black Ghetto -- or in my conversations with Black residents of Stateville, the Illinois maximum security correctional facility, where I taught some courses for university credit in the 1980s. Much of my interaction in these speech communities took place, and continues to take place, in settings where the usual lines between "blacks" and "whites" are somewhat blurred, in part because I prefer to ignore them. When I make such a claim, it's only fair that I identify myself. The trouble is that in today's society I am an anomaly out of past time. As I was growing up, people whose ancestors, like mine, came from southern or eastern Europe were not really seen as of "white race". Social usage admitted me to the "white race" sometime around 1960, give or take five years or so. (For my previous status, witness, e.g., the way U.S. immigration laws were written in the early 1920s -- people who shared my ancestry were regarded as "racially inferior" and undesirable candidates for admission to the U.S.) Let me amplify that from personal experience. In 1959, I took a job at the Chicago credit card office of Texaco, Inc., where I was the first person of Russian ancestry they had ever hired. In those days, Texaco hired through outside employment agencies. Their instructions to those agencies didn't just say "whites only". They got highly specific: no Catholics unless "Irish" or "German"; no "Jews", no "Italians", no "Greeks", no "Poles"; and so on, ad nauseum. Texaco was not alone in those days: discrimination of this sort was a major function handed over to employment agencies almost universally. I used quotes around the label words in the preceding paragraph because Texaco used them in what today would be a special, bigoted sense. (Let it be noted, however, that these were the common meanings of such terms in normal Chicago speech and social usage.) The labels meant ancestry, however distant, not place of birth or citizenship or current religious affiliation. On the application forms, I reported my religion (Quaker) accurately, and said nothing about the religion of other members of my family. If my eventual boss at Texaco had known that some of my ancestors were Jews, OR that some of my ancestors were Russian Orthodox, OR that some of my ancestors were Catholics, I would not have been interviewed, let alone hired. My "blood" would have been seen to be tainted with those unacceptable, unAmerican religions or something else equally ridiculous. I was used to being part of several excluded minorities, which gave me a (probably erroneous) great feeling of freedom to move at will in minority communities. In the most segregated city in the U.S. I lived, at various times, in what were regarded as all black neighborhoods, all white neighborhoods, Jewish neighborhoods, Catholic neighborhoods, Polish neighborhoods, Italian neighborhoods, and others. Wherever I lived, I talked to my neighbors. (That includes my neighbors from the year and a half my wife and I lived on the next block over from the Chicago headquarters of the Lost/Found Nation of Islam in the Wilderness of North America, the Honorable Elijah Muhammed's Temple Number Two. A majority of our neighbors when we lived there were Black Muslims.) > Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but past tense would not have zero > marking, nor would "be" be used without pres. prog. -ing, or "done" > with the infinitive instead of the past participle in most (if not > all?) varieties of AAE. I mostly agree with your statements as normative in most varieties of AAE. That's not the question I was responding to, however. I was reporting on constructions I regularly hear in actual use. The sentence "The principal in his office yesterday" may indeed have zero grammatical marking for past tense; the word yesterday marks the time another way. Zero grammatical tense marking when a sentence includes time words is an admittedly unusual pattern, but I have encountered it often enough that I don't notice it consciously any more. "Be" plus pres. prog. "-ing" is the form I normally expect, but "I don't be eating that stuff" actually hits my ear as almost as unusual as the same sentence without "-ing". The sentence "he done sell all that" strikes me as possible, but special. It would carry more emphasis than "he done sold all that". I'd expect to hear it accompanied by a tone pattern marking emphasis. (The sentence would sound most natural to me if both tone and stress mark the word "sell".) That, at least, is what the combination of "done" with the infinitive stem conveys to me. When I first started taking conscious notice of constructions using zero grammatical tense marker plus some separate word indicating time, I immediately tucked it away in the same memory hole where I carry some odd facts about Japanese. (Some of those odd facts may actually be true, since I knew enough Japanese -- some 45 years ago -- that I was able to make phone calls in Japan without worrying too much about whether the phone would be answered by a monolingual Japanese speaker. Very little of the actual language remains in my head today, however.) I have the impression Japanese sentences normally don't mark number grammatically in either the noun or the verb, but the speaker can choose to say the equivalent of "one man go" or "five man go" if necessary. > Non-native English may, of course, not inflect for plurals and may > not be able to handle sounds like 'th' in 'thick' . . . That raises a question I didn't face in my original note. I think that there are native speakers of English whose normal speech reflects the fact that their parents or grandparents spoke some other language. I feel uncomfortable saying that such people are speaking "non-native English" when English is the only language they have ever spoken. Let me amplify from my own speech patterns. I'm the Chicago-born son of a man who was also born in Chicago, 20 years after HIS father came to the U.S. My grandfather, who died a decade before I was born, spoke Russian and English and some Yiddish. So did my grandmother, whose English was accented, but competent. My father's only native language was English. You'd expect that my English ought to be that of a native speaker. I discovered that isn't so when I read some British linguist's description of English articulation. (The author may have been Jones; I don't remember for sure.) I was struck by his description of how native English speakers were supposed to pronounce /d/ and /t/. Where the linguist described the articulation as "tongue tip", I noticed that in my own speech what touched the alveolar ridge sometimes was the tongue blade, certainly well past anything that I felt as the tip of the tongue. The two varieties seemed to be in free variation. I didn't know what to make of that observation for years -- until I started to learn about Russian phonology. The phonetic range of my /d/ and /t/ phonemes include what would be both "palatalized" and "non-palatalized" stops if I were speaking Russian. This phonetic feature carried over even at a full generation's separation from Russian speaking. More generally, take a look someday at a native speaker of English whose parents or grandparents spoke a Slavic language. Watch the articulation of /b/ and /p/; you'll usually see that what moves is the lower lip. The upper lip is tense, but it doesn't move at all. I used to know a very good (and remarkably observant) linguist who lived for some years in Pittsburgh, where there are many people of Eastern European descent. He once remarked that Pittsburgh is full of people whose upper lip seems to disappear entirely by the time they're 45 years old -- a reasonable consequence of habitually using the lips as I described. They are, nonetheless, monolingual native English speakers. That's why I said something about the plausibility of some of Sonja Lanehart's survey sentences in non-standard, foreign-language-influenced varieties of English I have heard in the U.S. Maybe, just maybe, we'd lose some interesting data if we left such possibilities out because they "really" aren't *pure* English. > A query too: I've never heard the term "Platform English." What is > the history of this term? I assume it's the equivalent of "Media > English" or an assumed "General (Midwest) American"? Or does it refer > only to "coached English," for example, for elocution or debate? The term goes back to pre-TV days, perhaps even before network radio, when a generally accepted "Media English" was not established in the U.S. "Platform English", the kind you expected to hear from a lecture platform as used by an educated speaker, was (usually) a learned second language. It was regarded as a special, and desirable, variety of "proper English". Its model was whatever elocution teachers taught. Its most-emphasized norms may well have been deliberately chosen as markers precisely because they did not occur in anyone's normal, native speech. Unlike English U as it is still taught to members of the British upper class, Platform English was not supposed to serve as a class marker in everyday speech. Platform English was not supposed to be spoken in everyday life: it was meant for the lecture platform alone. Platform English is (or, rather, was) not "General (Midwest) American" at all. Neither was it Leonard Bloomfield's SAM, or Standard Average Midwestern. The conscious goal of speaking platform English was to remove all regionalisms -- an obvious impossibility. The goal was widely held, nonetheless. Schoolteachers tried to produce something similar when trying to teach "proper English" to their students. I still remember a fourth or fifth grade teacher who tried to teach me and my classmates not to "drop our aitches". What she meant was that she wanted to hear us say things like "HHHwhy was Moby Dick a HHHwhite HHHwhale?" That was far from anything any of us would say. It was far from anything we had ever heard a midwesterner say. When she wasn't around, just inserting a single "aitch" before word-initial "w" was a guaranteed laugh-getter. I'm laughing at myself when I say that Platform English is my only native language. Still, I do have to make a conscious code switch if I want to talk like a normal human being. The switch is always to a fair approximation of some other specific dialect of English, not any generalized average of all the Englishes I've ever heard. -- mike salovesh anthropology department northern illinois university PEACE !!!