Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 01:28:06 -0500

From: Jim Crotty Monkmag[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]AOL.COM


In a message dated 11/23/97 5:46:26 PM, you wrote:

Interesting that this issue of stereotypes should come up this weekend.

I happened to hear part of "What Do You Know" on NPR Saturday (a

terrible show, but sometimes I leave the radio on after "Car Talk"),

and who should be the guest of the day but Jim Crotty. He did part of

his stand-up road show on slang (read "dialects") and then launched

into a description of "Rap Talk," which he equated with "Ebonics."

Citing the usual oppositions ('bad'=good, etc.), he then said that to

do it right one should just forget about tense and use lots of "be's"

instead. The audience laughter was lukewarm, fortunately. When he was

asked how sales of his _How To Talk American_ were going, he answered

"pretty mediocre." Please, Mr. Crotty, drop the shtik; there's lots of

good scholarly stuff out there, if you really want to know something

about dialects.

How to respond.... Read my chapter on Black Rap speech before jumping to

conclusions.... What are you supposed to say when someone asks you about

Ebonics anyway? Yeah, it's cool. No, I don't think it should be taught as an

official language. Yes, there seems to be a distinct way that

African-Americans use language. Read Black Talk by Smitherman, Flapper 2

Rappers by Dalzell... and many others.... There seems to be a consensus that

there is something unique about the way some African-Americans use the

English language.

But, frankly, the whole subject of Ebonics bores me to death. It bored me

hearing it decried by racist Republicans at cocktail parties in Omaha, and it

bores me any time it's picked over now. I am not interested in pushing

stereotypes. I wasn't even interested in putting anything in the book about

rap culture and so-called "black speech" because it had been so well covered

elsewhere. But there's nothing I hate more than people saying "you left_____

out..." Or "why didn't you cover_____." And, the fact is, I've heard a lot of

"rap talk" or "black talk." So I put something in. I'll admit at 8:00 a.m. on

a Saturday morning I wasn't into talking about Ebonics. My usual "schtick" on

Ebonics is that "it's a good thing. Prefer not to talk about it. Drop your

judgments." Guess my guard was down.

Ebonics is not Rap (though in the mainstream mind I'm appealing to it's all

looped together). Almost all my rap terms in the book have very little to do

with accent, or even that much with uniquely African-American grammar. Which

is why a lot of these terms have passed on to the mainstream, and can be

heard by "yo boys and "wiggas" all over America. However, there probably is

an element of "Ebonics" infiltrating "black rap," so the two can't be

completely isolated. Remember: I called my chapter "Black Rap Culture" (the

implication being that Ebonics and black talk, new and old, are part of the

"Culture" surrounding Black Rap)...not "Ebonics" (and actually tried to

strike the joke below it--"Hooked On Ebonics"--but the editor wouldn't allow

it because they saw it as a nice timely "hook").

In addition, the "bad is good" inset (in my chapter on Black Rap Culture) may

be tired for you, madam, but it isn't for most Americans. This book wasn't

written for dialect phreaks, but for regular folks with no linguistic

training who are eager to learn of the vagaries of American speech. I've

lived on the road for 12 years, visiting many of the regions and inhabiting

many of the subcultures I covered in the book. I said right in the beginning

this is not a scholarly tome. There are far better trained authors out there,

who cover this ground better than I. My exact quote from the introduction is

as follows: "there is one salient advantage to this existence" [living on the

road]--"I've seen and heard a lot. I have caught the nuances of America's

hilariously, and amazingly wide, linguistic heritage. Other, better trained

authors can go on at great and fascinating length about the character of

various expressions as they cut across linguistic bioregions, or they can

trace etymology over centuries or make a cogent if a tad bit PC defense of

various kinds of 'street' slang. I am not interested in nor am I up to that

task. What I offer is a snapshot of a place, occupation, or culture. I don't

look exclusively for dialects or accents (though they are here too). Rather,

I look for colorful words and expressions, insider terms, the overall

rhetoric (both spoken and unspoken). If nothing else, this book should

clearly reveal how different kinds of Americans think by noting the way they


There's a lot more in that intro, which I encourage to read. It might even

inspire you.

In reference to the use of "be" in the interview, all I did was use the

example of San Francisco's "We Be Sushi" restaurant to showcase a tendency in

black speech that has spread beyond black culture. As in, "he be talkin' some

serious trash." If you, kind woman, have not heard such speech out of the

mouths of a black American, you are living in a vacuum. Not all or even the

majority of black Americans talk this way, but I have heard it quite often

from black Americans. In How To Talk American I called it as I heard it. And

that "be the truth." The reason the audience didn't laugh at this point in

the interview (discussion of Ebonics and black speech) is because I indicated

by my tone the subject just didn't interest me. I do believe they found other

parts of the interview quite true and hilarious, as evidenced by the flood of

positive emails I received after the show, and by phone messages indicating

the same.

To reiterate, How To Talk American is only secondarily about dialects. For

the sake of thoroughness, I tried to cover accents and dialects as best I

could, given my limitations. But my main interest is in terms that are

compelling independent of pronunciation--like "prairie dogging" and "that

dog'll hunt" and "Monet." All this other "foo-foo" I leave up to people like

you, darlin'.

So, you see, my friend, the issue is more complex than you make out. I'd

watch those kneejerk reactions. You have no concept what my "schtick" is.

It's only partially about "accents" and "dialects." And it's a helluva lot

about real experiences with real people using the American tongue (call it

stereotypical, but my stories are very specific to a place and often to a

specific set of individuals within a place or a subculture; I didn't do some

survey, or read it in a book). But I can see quite clearly ADS is

predominantly about accents and dialects (as the name implies). Which is why

I might take a sabbatical from this list, which tends to focus more on the

intricate minutiae of HOW we say things, rather than WHAT we, in fact, say.

As for the sales of my book being "pretty mediocre," it was a JOKE,


Lighten up!