Date: Mon, 24 Nov 1997 10:57:26 -0500


Subject: Re: Re[2]: vernacular

Ellen Johnson writes,

"The negative motivation was my shock at hearing Labov say on the radio

that only poor, inner-city blacks *really* speak AAVE, that anyone who

has learned to code-switch can never go back to speaking the

vernacular in a way that is grammatically consistent. I shouldn't

have been shocked; it is the logical extension of his idea that

people who have been exposed to more dialects will mix them. It makes

sense on one level (and he does have the quantitative evidence), but

it bothers me on another. Like Orton's Survey of English Dialects

where only the most provincial "folk" speakers were interviewed for

the same reason: to obtain the "purest", uncontaminated nonstandard


I guess my problem with this is twofold. 1) it shows that we are

still firmly entrenched in structuralism, looking for behavior that we

can write neat rules for and 2)it leads us to focus on speech that is

not really the common, everyday speech for most people in our society,

what I thought "vernacular" was supposed to mean. Or do I have too

much of a middle-class bias here?"

I find this very interesting. It reminds me of some arguably

analogous controversies in anthropology, i.e., over the desire of

Boasian anthropologists, in studying Native American tribes, to describe

the culture and language of those tribes as if they'd never been in contact

with European American society - an unlikely situation to be in,

towards the end of the 19th century and subsequently - and also to devalue

as corrupt, and to remove from consideration, the actual mixed and

multicultural state in which most members of most tribes found themselves

at the time.

Best, Larry Rosenwald