日英･英日同時または逐次通訳(主な顧客：富士通, ソニー, TBS等)
[学歴] 学士号：カリフォルニア大学、バークレー校 修士号：モントレー国際大学
第８回：『Debunking folk-linguistic hyperbole』『Revisiting Ebonics』『Exploding myths』
Debunking folk-linguistic hyperbole
In my previous columns, I have mentioned a few of my experiences and studies that had shaped my linguistic views of cultural context prior to my introduction to sociolinguistics, specifically and extensively in Japan, and relating to Japanese and English. I will now further detail some of the discoveries I made my through my introduction to sociolinguistics, including a range of linguistic issues and studies, as well as treatment of folk-linguistic assumptions and reflecting on the actual circumstances and dynamics in the U.S. as well.
As I have shown, I brought some knowledge and experience regarding the importance of cultural context in language to the introduction to sociolinguistics class. I had observed, studied, and learned a great deal about the cultures of distant and disparate countries and regions. I had the opportunity to learn a great deal more, and to reinforce and greatly expand my view of culture, particularly, deepening my appreciation for the dynamic cultures thriving much closer to home. In fact, I learned a great deal about the Ebonics debate that had raged just across town from my home, as I will discuss further in this column.
I graduated from high school in the San Francisco Bay Area. I studied English, Japanese, and Linguistics, and received my BA from U.C. Berkeley. I was not far at all, as I studied language, literature, and linguistics, from the epicenter of the Ebonics debate, Oakland, California. I was a stone’s throw away, and yet I did not have a clear view of the debate at all, for years. This is one example of an important issue illuminated for me in sociolinguistics class.
I had thought that proponents of Ebonics aimed to supplant Standard English and teach Ebonics as the exclusive variety of English for students to use. It seemed to me that this policy would deny those learners who were taught Ebonics any access to the vast opportunities that required command of Standard English. I had not come to these conclusions simply by sussing out hearsay. In fact, I had read and heard media accounts which implied or stated that Ebonics would be taught, if proponents had their way. The sensationalist, feckless reporting led to widespread misunderstanding of the true goals of Ebonics proponents. This reporting essentially ignored the unique culture that may have benefited from the proper distinction sought for Ebonics, as the legitimate variety that it is, and depicted it as extreme and implausible. Through class discussion, including treatment of Secret (1998), I learned that the real issues deserving attention in the Ebonics debate were most reasonable: Establishing an effective, respectful learning environment in the classroom.
Secret (1998) explodes many of the myths at the eye of the media storm that erupted as Ebonics was misrepresented in Oakland, California, and across the country. With regard to the myth of teaching Ebonics that I mentioned above, Secret sets the record straight:
There’s a misconception of the program, created by the media blitz of misinformation. Our mission was and continues to be: Embrace and respect Ebonics, the home language of many of our students, and use strategies that will move them to a competency level in English. We never had, nor do we have, any intention of teaching [Ebonics] to students. They come to us speaking the language. (p. 81)
Thus, the mass media had misrepresented the practices and goals of Ebonics proponents such as Secret, depicting them as misguided teachers who wished to teach learners an inferior variety of English. In reality, Secret and others had called for recognition, awareness, and respect for the living, legitimate variety that Ebonics was, and is. Secret aimed to instill pride in her learners that they were learning and using English in school to complement, not replace, their own Ebonics. She referred to famous Ebonics-English bilinguals who would serve as role models:
It is necessary for our students to become aware that our greatest models for excellent writers wrote fluently in both English and Ebonics. There are beautiful pieces by Langston Hughes and Paul Laurence Dunbar in English as well as in Ebonics. I had students read An Ante-Bellum Sermon by Dunbar, which is straight-up Ebonics, and then read The Seedling, which is straight-up English. (p. 85)
The Ebonics debate was a telling example of the importance of social context that emerged from our explication of the Ebonics debate. This debate, and Secret’s illustration of the true nature of Ebonics, point to the responsibility of lay people and language professionals alike to examine crucial linguistic issues arising in the media with a critical eye, rather than accepting newspaper headlines at face value. Debates such as this one can serve to underscore the importance of cultural context for us as teachers, linguists, language learners, and language professionals.