Tuesday, October 05, 2004

You axing me?

Don't panic, I had enough brutal violence in last week's post, so this isn't anything to do with me getting either the literal or the figurative chop. Instead, the New York Times has been contemplating the way that Black English Vernacular is influencing the way that white Americans speak.

The article attached to the first link below is written for an American audience so you have to bear with some of the references to American people and TV shows that you might never have heard of. But it usefully explains how racial segregation in the US, the product of slavery, contributed to the development of this separate language variety; and then how, in the 20th century, racial desegregation caused different classes of black people to develop different relationships with Standard English.

But what the writer is most interested in is the way that the language variety of the poorest, most oppressed black people is the one that is becoming the "recreational lingua franca of white suburban youth". He notes how Clinton, Kerry and Bush have all used features of black vernacular speech. He asks, or even ax, whether white Americans now speak "black" better than black Americans speak "white".

Click on the links, read the articles... What do you think? Is this happening in the UK? How similar or different are British and American Black English Vernacular speech? Is "white suburban youth" adopting either? Have you heard British politicians at the party conferences speaking "like mike-masters at a hip-hop slam"?

Changing Places

Black English Vernacular - an explanation


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