Language Debate

The following is portions of an online debate I was having about race and language. My words are in black:

It’s not just about self esteem, there are also other very real differences,
such as the fact that when an African learns English, he is learning
standard English, whereas many black Americans grow up learning non-standard English. What makes this so problematic is that it’s not actually *wrong* English, non standard dialects all follow internal rules and are correct within that system. It’s not a wrong language so much as it is a rival version of the dominant language. Please note that I’m not making any blanket assertions such as “all black people speak black English” or any nonsense like that. The point is that while being truly bilingual would not be an obstacle in speaking standard English, being brought up speaking a
non-standard version of English could very well be a hindrance, at least inasmuch as English is a tough enough language to master as it is because of all the conflicting rules and logical inconsistencies. Tossing in a rival dialect just makes it that much tougher.

Non-Standard Dialects”….?? Are you suggesting ebonics is an actual dialect?

I read three of Steven Pinker’s books so I don’t remember exactly which one it was, but he demonstrated that the rules of “black English” are internally consistent and that they follow logic in many cases where standard English demands the speaker depart from it. There is no reason, for example, that a double negative should be improper and in fact many languages consider it proper as a re-enforcement of a point rather than canceling it out. I couldn’t begin to replicate Pinker’s examples that show that American black English are just as valid a dialect as any other. Another example, if only one person in the world were speaking Australian, he would be considered an idiot. When millions of people do it, it’s a dialect.

That sounds like an extremely liberal use of the term “dialect”. Arabic has a number of dialects. Some of these dialects so greatly different from one another that some people find themselves incomprehensible to those who do not speak their dialect. I would consider ebonics nothing more than a black American accent.

That is because you are biased. What is it about black English that disqualifies it from being considered a dialect? An accent does not affect sentence structure and syntax.

Fine…let’s not call it an accent. We’ll call it what it is…an fine example of poor language skills.
You say dialect….I say merely bad english.

I done told you.

That means the same thing as “I have already told you.” It’s a quicker way
of saying the same thing, it’s logical. It is not an error. It also cannot
be categorized as an accent.

Poor language skills are not the exclusive province of any particular race. You will find the same phrase used by members of various races. Calling poor language skills its own dialect is a cop out and doesn’t make the bad english any less wrong.

If I go to Columbia, or Honduras or Mexico or Spain and speak spanish to anyone there, making the usual, jacked-up mistakes make by your typical American who is not a native spanish speaker, does that make “my” spanish its own dialect merely because millions of Americans make the same mistake (even though they understand each other perfectly in spanish)?….No…and it is unlikely anyone in the spanish-speaking world will tell you otherwise. They are just going to tell me spanish sucks…even if they can understand me…my spanish still sucks. Why should ebonics be considered any different? “That’s how say it at home” is no excuse for poor language skills.

It’s not errors. If it were errors then the results would be random and black English would not have the consistency that it does throughout the US. I said you’re biased because you acknowledge different dialects among Arabs but for some reason you don’t seem to think that black Americans are capable of having their own dialect of the English language. Why is that? Are they not smart enough? Linguistic differences among Arabs are evidence of different dialects but black Americans are bumblingly making the same mistakes over and over again? Mistakes although that language adheres to consistent and logical grammatical rules? When I get back to work I’m going to see if I can find the part of Pinker’s work that addresses this.

Different rules that are both valid because they are logically consistent.

Hot chocolate
In English, we put the adjective before the noun it modifies

chocolate caliente
In Spanish, we put the adjective after the noun it modifies.

Are we to conclude that all Spanish speaking people are idiots? Of course not. The rules for each language are internally consistent. Let’s try another one.

Why don’t you go to the family reunions?

I work (white English)

I be working (black English)

In this case the latter sentence is a bit more descriptive and to the point. Yes, the white person said he works, but do we know for a fact that he works on the days the family reunions are held? Not enough information in “I work”. But the latter example implies (I be) that he is in a state of working during the time about which the inquiry is made. But that is besides my point. My question is, is there any reason why “I be working” is a statement that is logically inconsistent? The fact that it is ungrammatical according to standard English standards is neither here nor there, the grammar rules are determined by the more numerous group.

You, however, would not see that because you think it’s all part of an ongoing series of mistakes black people make in trying to speak like you.

You are making certain assumptions, apparently based on your obvious belief that I’m a racist.

I already done told you I don’t know whether or not you are a racist and as such I cannot make that claim. What’s more for the purposes of this argument I don’t even care one way or the other. You are of course free to choose to disbelieve this if you like.

AAVE grew, largely, from what you would call Southern American English (which is no more a dialect than ebonics). In any case, I am well aware they intend to speak the way they do. However, intentions do not a dialect make.

So you think formulating your phrases in Yoda -speak is going to win you points on this list??

But hey, while we are into questioning qualifications and racial biases, lets get some shit on the table (an idomatic expression). What is your problem with me?

I don’t have a problem with you. What makes you think this is about you? My problem is with the fact that you are wrong in this debate.

I said you’re biased because you acknowledge different dialects among Arabs but for some reason you don’t seem to think that black Americans are capable of having their own dialect of the English language. Why is that? Are they not smart enough?”

Simple, obvious facts seem to have escaped you. Arabic is a language thousands of years old.

Yet there is not an Arab alive who is a thousand years old, so what’s your

The point is that it takes alot longer for true dialects to emerge. AAVE has only been developing for 200-300 years…Yet there are no blacks 200-300 years old…(was there something you wanted to prove with your comment about thousand-year-old arabs?)

My point is that Arabs don’t live nearly as long as you think they do. No actually my point is that dialects can develop quite quickly, although I have to do some research to prove that.

It has had time to evolve, as have its various dialects…AAVE has not.

The fuck it hasn’t. You do realize, I hope, that black people didn’t just get here in the 1980s. How old are you??

36…not that it matters…and I am well aware of when blacks began arriving.

Because you were poking them with a stick?

If we have this coversation in a few hundred years maybe things will be different, but they are not now.

Go have a three way gay death pact at Harvard and then come back and talk to me.

What is it with you and homoerotic, suicidal, Ivy league love triangles? And you are complaining about my points being difficult to grasp?

You set up an impossible task for me to further this discussion (come see you after 100 years) so I gave you a task that, while not entirely impossible, is implausible.

I made no comments that would indicate any of the things you implied or outright said. Although I have an idea why you seem to have some problem with me (basically calling me a racist), I thought you would like to get it off your chest first.

So…What gives?

I didn’t call you racist because I’m not certain that you are one. Perhaps you are simply a cultural chauvinist. That would all be speculation and not
useful as calling people names is not particularly useful in making a point
about linguistics.

Yet you imply it anyway, so what is the difference? Are you sure this doesn’t have something to do with a previous post on another topic?

I’m certain we must have debated before but I don’t remember on what topics. I don’t have it out for you. I’m too concerned with hating my ex-wife and as such I don’t have the time or energy to carry an online grudge. I do have the time and inclination to oppose your argument.

18 Responses to “Language Debate”

  1. R says:

    Ebonics is a dialect of English, according to the definition of the word “dialect.”

    So what? It doesn’t take any particular brain power to create a dialect as it is merely defined as making up your own rules for a language.

    I have a new English dialect I like to call the Soopah Troopah. It involves replacing any English word that sounds like “meow” with “meow.” There, that took all of 2 seconds to think of.

    Have a good day meow.

  2. I happen to think that any time Yoda’s name enters a conversation, that conversation just jumped way up on the cool scale.

  3. Kearns says:

    I’m not sure that these debating techniques would hold up in debate club, but you are clearly correct. I grew up in a predominately African American AKA Black neighborhood (even though I am completely of European background) and “Ebonics” is most certainly a different dialect. And, of course, for the record the “Arab dialects” referred to could clearly not be thousands of years old, as we have a clear record of how Arabic was spoken across the entire Arab world only 1400 or so years ago in the Qur’an. Modern Arab dialects all have to be younger than that, and in many cases much much younger. I would hazard a guess that what my ex-wife speaks (“Darija Magrebi” or Moroccan Arabic Dialect) is only a few hundred years old, and likely younger than “Ebonics”…

  4. Pentagod says:


    I AM working!

  5. Pentagod says:

    I think it a funny troll, but the beauty of this conversation is summed up by Too Short:

    When you talk ignorant,
    you get treated that way..

    And when they throw you in jail,
    you got nothing to say!

    (so sayeth the Flock)

  6. mexi says:


    I AM working!

    You be illin’.

  7. Phelps says:

    It bes that way sometime.

    I started to argue against you, but then I realized you weren’t the blue guy. Hell, I think 1337speek is a dialect, and wowspeek is a branch of it. How’s that for a young dialect?

  8. mexigogue says:

    Hell no I ain’t the blue guy. Plus the blue guy claims to be a linguist. I asked him if he was quite certain he’s a linguist. He might be getting his words mixed up.

  9. R says:

    Maybe he thought you meant “linguini.”

  10. mexi says:

    I’m not sure that these debating techniques would hold up in debate club

    LOL, only if it was moderated by those blind WWE refs!!!

  11. Phelps says:

    I’m learning to become a cunning linguist.

  12. JoAnne says:

    He’s a linguist in the sense that he took language training in the service. Compare and contrast with people who actually do independent research on language.

    But he’s convinced those people are controlled by some kind of PC army, so they’re all just pretending AAVE is a dialect for the big bucks.

  13. Cosmic Siren says:

    There is no way this guy is a real linguist. Linguists don’t decide what is good and bad language. They look for the patterns in the way people speak.

    I wonder what he thinks of Cajun and Creole, if he finds Ebonics such a problem.

  14. Cosmic Siren says:

    Official Linguistic Views on AAVE

    Resolution by the Linguistic Society of America on “Ebonics”: January 3, 1997
    The distinction between “languages” and “dialects” is usually made more on social and political grounds than on purely linguistic ones. For example, different varieties of Chinese are popularly regarded as “dialects,” though their speakers cannot understand each other, but speakers of Swedish and Norwegian, which are regarded as separate “languages,” generally understand each other. What is important from a linguistic and educational point of view is not whether AAVE is called a “language” or a “dialect” but rather that its systematicity be recognized.

    Dr. William Labov’s Testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee: January 23, 1997.
    The term “Ebonics,” our main focus here, has been used to suggest that there is a language, or features of language, common to all people of African ancestry, whether they live in Africa, Brazil or the United States. Linguists who have published studies of the African American community do not used this term, but refer instead to African American Vernacular English, a dialect spoken by most residents of the inner cities. This African American Vernacular English shares most of its grammar and vocabulary with other dialects of English. But it is distinct in many ways, and it is more different from standard English than any other dialect spoken in continental North America. It is not simply slang, or grammatical mistakes, but a well-formed set of rules of pronunciation and grammar that is capable of conveying complex logic and reasoning.

    The Center for Applied Linguistics
    African American English (AAE) is a dialect of American English used by many African Americans in certain settings and circumstances. Like other dialects of English, AAE is a regular, systematic language variety that contrasts with other dialects in terms of its grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

  15. Anglo-Sized says:

    Ebonics is a dialect, theres no question about it. It stems from a Tower of Babel type atmosphere where people from different tribes were thrown together as slaves. Of course, it eventually assimilated into intelligible English but retained the unique speech patterns as passed down through generations. After all, blacks weren’t allowed into schools that taught ‘proper English’ until the 60’s. (And proper English is loosely used, many people who speak Queen’s English think American English is disgusting).
    There still is a remote geographic pocket of people who haven’t even evolved that far linguistically …. the sea islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina. The people here still speak a dialect-some linguists make a strong case for a language- known as ‘Gullah’. Think Brer Rabbit.
    Of course, if this guy doesn’t think Ebonics is a dialect, I guess Texan, New Yorker, Philly, Southern, Appalachian, Cajun, Yooper, Lumbee, Chicano and Midwestern aren’t dialects either.
    Set me up with this idiot, I want to talk to him

  16. Anglo-Sized says:

    ha ha…I’m not done yet either. Linguists to Australia noticed a distinct dialect and accent only one generation after its colonization. South African English has only been around for 120 years or so and yet it is just as distinct as any other dialect. Tristan da Cunha, yet having only been settled for about 180 years, has such a far flung dialect of English that English speakers can understand what they’re saying, but they don’t understand the meaning. (for example, Dondall is pronounced Donald and water is spelled watrem)
    Anyway, the point is that it doesn’t take hundreds of years for dialects to form.

  17. mexi says:

    Good points my caucasian friend. I also forgot to add that when Jews first began migrating to the United States they started rival synagogues and newspapers depending on whether they spoke the sephardic Yiddish or the German kind. Those dialects also emerged in a relatively short period of time.

  18. Anglo-Sized says:

    Yiddish has its origins in the Russian Pale, where its a blend of German, Hebrew, Polish and other Slavic languages.
    It’s similar to Ebonics in that its a result of a certain people from different areas being exiled and thrown together and had to come up with a means to communicate . It’s semi intelligible to German, Sleep is Schlauf in German and Schluf in Yiddish.
    When Israel formed in 1948 they decided to revive Hebrew, which had laid mostly dormant for 2000 years, because Yiddish was the language of exiles.
    The only other successful revival of a dead language is Welsh.

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