Date: Mon, 17 Jul 1995 23:36:03 -0600

From: Salikoko Mufwene s-mufwene[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UCHICAGO.EDU


In message Mon, 17 Jul 1995 20:56:02 -0400,


Labels as distinct from realities have political/economic motivations.

Notice that my fanciful name for this language included "Hibernian." In

this respect I include many so-called non-standard varieties spoken by

people of Irish and Scots descent in what we call BE. I teach many of

these people in the Appalachian plateau region of the US, a region with

the most concentrated poverty in this land of plenty. These people are

intensely aware of the fact that they speak differently from the way

people on the TV speak. It is sad that they are often ashamed of this

fact, and want to change they way they speak. I see it every day. It is

a case of internal colonialism at its worst.

In Spring 1986, I was "hunting/fishing for" Gullah on the Sea Islands of

South Carolina. One particular weekend, I was hosted by a family at

Frogmore, near Beaufort. I was assigned to the family because the guys at the

Penn Community Center thought I was likely to hear them interact in Gullah.

I heard a little bit but the wife claimed only her husband spoke it. I heard

her speak it only when she was testifying in church. The man claimed he did

not know what "Gullah" was, even after I heard him speak it with his brother

while they took me to visit Parish Island. When I told him afterwards that I

thought he and his brother had spoken Gullah during the tour, he was shocked

that his variety was called Gullah, though he knew they talk different from

mainlanders. Anyway, he got me back. He took to a joint in the evening and

introduced me to an old toothless and stammering man that even the locals had

trouble communicating with. Afterwards, with a satisfied grin, he told me:

"maybe that's what you call Gullah and have been looking for."

The point of this story is: who decides in such cases what to call such

varieties which claim as much descendance from English as what is spoken on

TV? It's all right when native speakers decide to disfranchize themselves

and claim they speak another language. What if they think they speak the

same language, is it up to those who cannot communicate with them to

disown their variety? Were all the original navite varieties in the British

Isles or in England mutually intelligible among all members of the language

community? It's politics all right, but whose politics should matter? If you

are native Appalachian, it's your right to claim Appalachians do not speak

English. However, if you are not, isn't that a one-sided decision? When does

a dialect become a separate language?

I think that for professional reasons, differences and similarities do not

decrease or increase depending on whether we call AAVE/BAE and Appalachian

English dialects of English or separate languages. I'll be very happy to use

a name that comes from members of the community. When linguists make up

names of their own and want to impose their ideological biases, I'll

challenge them to justify their positions, hoping to benefit from their

expert arguments.