If Black English, Then ...

When various ethnic groups live together in one country, there are usually problems, for example, of differences in culture and language. A judge in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tried to solve the language difficulties of black children at school by a court order. This is what one newspaper editor thought of the decision.

When the judge in the Ann Arbor, Mich., case ordered teachers to go back to school to become familiar with Black English in order to better understand some of their students, he opened the educational system up to assault from a number of other speakers of non-standard English.

Why not order teachers in rural mountain areas to study Appalachian English?

Why not force teachers in schools with large Hispanic populations to study " Spanglish," the oft-heard combination of English and Spanish?

Why not order teachers in a certain New York borough to study "Brooklynese"?

Then there's Mellowspeak. Why not have teachers return to class to get their heads together so they can learn to relate to students who are zonked out on pseudo-psychological jargon?

Why not admit that there's no end to the possibilities?

Black English is a real language - or at least a dialect - and it is spoken by a sizable number of Americans. But if the speakers of Black English expect to succeed in American society, they learn Standard English, just as speakers of other non-standard forms of English do. Regardless of the attachment many Americans - including some non-blacks - have for Black English, the fact remains that those who speak it without being able to switch to Standard English face handicaps in American society.

Of course it is essential that teachers in any class be able to understand students. And certainly it is essential that students be able to understand teachers. However, despite the Ann Arbor ruling, a good case has not been made for the necessity of familiarzing teachers with Black English. Enough familiarity comes from the daily contact teachers have with speakers of Black English. To go further than that is to take an unnecessary step toward entrenching a linguistic handicap.


Appalachian English : variety of American English spoken in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern U.S.A.
Hispanic [-'--] (n., adj.): (of a) person from Mexico or other Latin American country
Brooklynese : variety of American English spoken in the New York borough of Brooklyn
Mellowspeak: nachlässige Umgangssprache, meist unter Verwendung teilweise entstellter Fachbegriffe aus der Psychologie, vgl. etwa dt. "Frust"
return to class: start learning again
get one's head together (AE, infml.): mit sich selbst klarkommen
relate to sb.: have a friendly relationship with sb., get on with sb.
zonked (out) (AE, sl.): ausgeflippt
entrench [-'-]: establish firmly

Understanding the contents

1. a) What social or cultural situation seems to have been behind the judge's decision?
b) What was he apparently trying to achieve?

2. What is the writer's opinion of the judge's decision?

3. a) Why does the journalist refer to various other groups in the American population?
b) What differences between these four groups and the black population make the comparison questionable?

4. What does the writer advise speakers of non-standard English? What reasons does he give?

Analyzing the text

5. A leading article or editorial like this text is usually written by the chief editor of a newspaper to state a certain opinion on current topics of importance. In general, the view expressed is representative of the political tendency of the paper as a whole.
a) What is the main purpose of this editorial as opposed to a report*?
b) What text type* does it belong to, and what text form* does it represent as a variant?
6. a) What three stylistic devices familiar to you from previous texts does the writer combine in 11.8-22 to influence his readers?
b) What optical means are used in this passage to add to the intended effect?

Working with the language

7. The text mentions several varieties of English. With the help of a dictionary, find the basic differences between the following terms: "non-standard English", "jargon", "dialect" and "Standard English".

8. Now look up the definitions of "colloquial English", "slang", "cant" and "substandard English".

Going beyond the text

9. An official of the school system in Savannah, Georgia, said: "I would never subscribe to a theory that there is a 'right or wrong' language or dialect. But you have to make it in the world in which you find yourself- and the world we're in today uses standard English" . Discuss this statement.

10. Should the children of ethnic minority groups in Switzerland be taught in their native language by their own teachers? Write a short argumentative* text.

11. Make up a persuasive speech* in which you try to convince your teacher that the use of dialect should be tolerated during lessons.