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ERIC Number: EJ889902
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2007-Jan
Pages: 9
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: 27
ISSN: ISSN-0092-055X
If IDA Known: The Speaker versus the Speech in Judging Black Dialect
Dundes, Lauren; Spence, Bill
Teaching Sociology, v35 n1 p85-93 Jan 2007
While students generally recognize that racism exists on an individual level, the instructor's challenge is to both elucidate patterns of discrimination and to expose their corollary: unearned and unrecognized systemic privilege of the dominant group. Unaware that their sense of entitlement advantages them at the expense of people of color, some students may resent discussion of the pervasive yet invisible systems that afford supremacy to the group in power. The exercise presented in this article examining black dialect (BD) provides a thought-provoking demonstration of this social inequity that promotes critical self-examination. Although most students are aware of the range of dialects found in the United States, few have contemplated if there are compelling reasons to vilify BD, a variety of English also known as Black English, African American English, or Ebonics in the popular media, and used in varying degrees by African Americans in writing and speech. The class lesson described represents a synthesis of arguments advanced by a number of linguistics scholars that demonstrates that BD is a unique but not inferior system of English grammar with variations that convey distinct nuances of meaning that can enhance discussions of social inequality and racial bias. While other exercises help broaden students' perspective on social inequality, this exercise offers advantages that other lessons often lack: (1) Unusual approach: Students are intrigued by how deconstructing BD in a sociology class can reflect the broader power structure; (2) Non-threatening way of teaching about social inequality: The exercise takes students through a series of steps where they draw their own conclusions that culminate in implications about cultural hegemony. It provides a solid illustration of discrimination in which contentious questions of an oppressed individual's effort and ability are irrelevant; and (3) Direct reflection of reality: Compared to simulations where instructors face the significant challenge of convincing students that the game mirrors real life, BD is concrete with tangible social consequences. The goal of this teaching note is to demonstrate that while a single standard for speech may be functional, dialects that differ from those used by the people in power have come to reflect inferiority, regardless of their actual merit. Who makes the judgment and about whom can affect the perceived worth of a particular practice. The authors also explore how BD elucidates the operation of dominance and privilege in other areas of social life. (Contains 3 footnotes.)
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A