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CUNY Prof Laments ‘Linguistic Racism’ in Standard English

CUNY Prof Laments ‘Linguistic Racism’ in Standard English

“instructors should not try to change their students’ speech patterns”

So the English Language is racist now, as well? There’s no end to it.

Campus Reform reported:

Prof: ‘privileging of standard English’ is ‘linguistic racism’

A professor of medieval literature at the City University of New York (CUNY) lamented academia’s support for “Standard American English” in a recent op-ed.

In an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed, Dr. A.W. Strouse argues that colleges should support “greater linguistic diversity” and “affirm and embrace” language differences among students, such as the use of slang and African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

Affirming students’ use of non-standard English is important, he says, because students who speak nonstandard English may feel discouraged if called out for it. Citing educators Vicki Spandel and Richard J. Stiggins, Strouse notes that “negative comments…tend to make students feel bewildered, hurt, or angry.”

“Already, scholars of rhetoric believe, as the consensus view, that instructors should not try to change their students’ speech patterns,” Strouse writes. “In the classroom, students shut down in the face of pedantry because they hate when bossy teachers tell them how to talk, especially in cases in which bourgeois white teachers dictate ex cathedra about what speech is ‘correct.’”

After asserting that “linguists know that notions of ‘proper’ speech have nothing to do with ‘mastery’ and everything to do with how certain in-groups dictate propriety,” he goes on to point out that “much queer, feminist, and anti-racist scholarship has given voice to marginalized communities—precisely because, without those voices, mainstream academia does not possess a vocabulary for understanding diverse social realities.”


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So the English Language is racist now, as well?

Um, no. He’s not saying that at all, and you either know it or are a very sloppy reader. He’s saying that privileging one particular dialect of English over all others is racist. Since a professor’s dialect is no better than whatever a student is speaking, it’s racist for the professor to presume to “correct” the student. In principle this is hard to refute; in practise it’s bat-shit crazy. One needn’t be a prescriptivist to recognize the advantages that come with mastery of one of the standard English dialects, or the educator’s duty to encourage such mastery.

    filiusdextris in reply to Milhouse. | August 16, 2017 at 11:12 pm

    If one dialect doesn’t have sufficiently robust tools for precision in language, as compared to another, there’s at least *some* objective grounds, beyond majority deference, for preferring the other.

    I make no comparison here on those grounds of so-called standard English with whatever dialect(s) the CUNY professor may be defending.


As long as one is not expecting to be able to communicate with society as a whole and intends to spend one’s life inside the ethnic/linguistic bubble in which one has been raised, then I suppose knowledge of and proper usage of the “lingua franca” of the larger society is not needed.

I’m sure there are plenty of ways in which to translate “would you like fries with that?” into variety of dialects used throughout our country.

I guess that makes any other country that teaches its students the “proper” usage of its language to be terminally racists as well.

As the 1960s singer/comedian Tom Lehrer observed in his song “Smut” – “When correctly viewed, everything is lewd.”

Woe to the easily-offended, for they shall always be provided with that for which they seek.

mainstream academia does not possess a vocabulary for understanding diverse social realities

This is misdirection; he’s pretending that the addition of technical “jargon” to English is an argument for passing off, say, Ebonics as a passable form of English.

The way needed new words are added in English is to borrow from classical languages (generally Greek or Latin, as in “neologism”; such borrowing is particularly easy in a lightly inflected language such as English) or German, which is fairly unique in its ability to generate gawdawful long words which say something useful. A growing and evolving language needs such a mechanism if it’s to cover anything new. On the other hand, slang is used to obfuscate; to attach a new word to an old concept or meaning and so frustrate speakers who are not part of some semi-isolated group which wishes to remain semi-isolated. And the desire for linguistic obscurity is indeed a “thing”; in extreme cases such as Romany, most dialects remained totally unwritten for most of European history, all in the interests of deliberate obscurity.

In short, if you’re trying to teach English, then teach English, and not something else.

    Milhouse in reply to tom swift. | August 16, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    he’s pretending that the addition of technical “jargon” to English is an argument for passing off, say, Ebonics as a passable form of English.

    No, he’s not doing that at all. And Black English Vernacular (so-called “Ebonics”) is a perfectly valid dialect of English, just as good, in principle, as Standard American English; it’s just not as useful in many situations.

    Nor is there any reason at all why new words should be derived from the classical languages, or from any European language. New words enter English all the time, from all languages. As James Nicoll put it back in the usenet era, “English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”

In HS literature class during the semester we were studying Olde English, one morning I showed up completely unprepared. This is a school that did not take unpreparedness lightly. I thought I dodged a bullet when the teacher began calling on classmates to read passages from the assigned reading. I hastily started to thumb through the pages I should have been prepared for.

As others read and recited, panic set in. How are they doing this so effortlessly, it’s all in Olde English. When I was called upon, I attempted to read stumbling and stuttering over the words. I was chastised by the teacher. Did his “negative comments” tend to make me feel bewildered, hurt, or angry.” Not so much, but at an age when every social faux pas seems like an end of life experience, I was humbled and humiliated. BTW, the text was divided into two sections, Olde English and modern standard English. If I had been prepared, I would have known that one simple fact. A lifetime lesson learned.

    Milhouse in reply to MadisonS. | August 16, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Not relevant. You were studying a specific English dialect, which was not being presented to you as more “correct” than Modern English, and certainly not as one you ought to adopt for your own use. The teacher’s negative comments were because you hadn’t learned the subject matter.

    This is about teachers “correcting” students who do know the subject matter, but who talk or write about it using a dialect the teacher considers less worthy than his own. In principle this is wrong. But we live in a world where there are a few standard dialects that one must know to get ahead, regardless of what one speaks at home or with ones friends, and it’s part of any educator’s job to ensure that students can use one of those dialects correctly when called upon to do so. Even when discussing a different dialect, such as Old English or Black English, if the discussion about it is taking place in one of the standard dialects of Modern English then the teacher should correct any mistakes, so the student will be better equipped to use it in future whenever he chooses.