Sunday, February 11, 2007


I hear "Who that is?" and "On tomorrow, we be going..." and "I'm ain't touching her!" and "I can use it?" and things of that ilk all the time at school. And I'm torn between correcting and allowing that kind of talk in my classroom. On one hand, what I do doesn't really matter because next year, their teachers will not only not correct it, but they will use the grammar incorrectly themselves.

Here are two of the questions on a ten-question spelling test that I was supposed to give this week:

1. The girl's _____ is big. a. fete b. feat c. feet

2. She sits ____ by the chair. a. loaw b. low c. loow

On the other hand, it is important that the students learn conventional grammar. Or is it? Most likely, they will never leave the Delta, and people don't use conventional grammar in the Delta. I do want them to be able to function outside of the Delta, though. And I think that conventional grammar is important.

It's hard to teach it without putting down the way my students talk. I don't want them to think that they are speaking in a way that is wrong. It isn't wrong. It just isn't how the white majority talks. African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or whatever you want to call it (Ebonics, jive), is a complete grammatical system with as many, if not more tenses than standard English. (See the Wikipedia article on it.) I want them to know how to switch to standard English without marginalizing or losing their own way of speaking.

There was a whole big controversy with teaching AAVE in classrooms in Oakland, California, in 1996. The thing is, teaching children to read in their native tongue and then switching them to standard English actually was shown to improve reading scores in studies. It's a very touchy subject, though.

And where do I come in? I don't know or speak AAVE. I don't mark students down on reading tests if they read "He's my friend," as "He my friend," because that is a pronunciation issue with standard English that stem from fluency in AAVE (and not in Standard English.) But I can't teach the translations, because I don't know AAVE. And I can't teach in AAVE for the same reason. Also, I don't have any AAVE or brige books (books in a mix of AAVE and SE). And I won't have my kids for the rest of their school career, just for another short few months.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

what does 'She sits low by the chair' mean? At least I can understand the other sentence. Maybe someone forgot to put the really correct word in there: 'foot.'

7:43 PM, February 13, 2007  
Anonymous Nina said...

exactly what I was going to say/ask. Thank goodness you've started posting again- I was getting worried!

11:39 PM, February 15, 2007  

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