Any professional linguist will tell you that, as a language system of communication, black English and standard English are equal, in the same way that French and Greek and Chinese and English are all equal. They do things differently, but there is no factual way to say one is better than the other…
But if black English is not deficient, why do so many people believe it is? Because black Americans have a history of powerlessness. And every society I know worldwide looks down on the speech of the powerless. We learn this attitude unconsciously when we learn the million and one rules and beliefs of our society. Most of what we know we learn without being explicitly taught — by observation and deduction.
And Leonard goes on to describe this wonderful experiment:
Texas researcher Frederick Williams asked white student teachers to watch videotapes and rate black, Mexican-American and white Anglo children on whether their English was standard and how fluently they spoke. The white children scored highest. But the videotapes were specially done. Even though the visuals showed different children, there was only one voice track: standard English. Stereotypes were stronger than reality.
That should be taught to everyone as early as possible in the educational process; it might help avoid a lot of ignorant prejudice.
Many thanks to Ted Harlan for the link!
I can’t resist quoting part of Leonard’s bio:
Dr. Robert A. Leonard is Professor of Linguistics at Hofstra University. His specialty is Forensic Linguistics as applied to U.S. law. He directs the Linguistics Program, and is also Professor of Swahili… In the arts, Dr. Leonard co-founded and led the rock group Sha Na Na and as bass and lead singer performed at the Woodstock Festival, the Fillmores East and West, on television’s Tonight Show, and in the Academy Award-winning Woodstock movie.
Who said linguists were boring?