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PQQLK9
10-02-2004, 04:58 PM
September 30, 2004 OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Changing Places
By HENRY LOUIS GATES Jr.

How do you spell 'rat,' " my father would ask me during a lull in one of his
many bid whist card games with his buddies from the paper mill. "R-a-t," I'd
respond dutifully, with all of the preschool pride that I could muster. "Not
that mousy kind of a rat," he'd say. "I mean like 'rat now.' " His buddies
would howl as my perplexity grew.

Like many black people who came of age in the 60's, I've always delighted in
the mind-bending playfulness of the black vernacular. And jokes turning on
malaprops and double-entendres are among the most vital aspects of black
culture. The Kingfish's quip, on "Amos 'n' Andy," that he and Andy should
"simonize
our watches" is nearly canonical in many black households.

But all of us have our favorites. It's said that Tim Moore, the actor who
played Kingfish, once had to appear in court as a defendant. "Yo' honor," he
told
the judge, "not only does I resents the allegation, but I resents the
alligator!"

Still, I have to confess that the use of "ax" for "ask" has always been, for
me, the linguistic equivalent of fingernails' scraping down a blackboard.
The
first time I heard the word "ask" pronounced that way was on a Bill Cosby
album in the 60's.

"I'm-o, I'm-o ax you a question," his character stammers, and in my
Appalachian hamlet we'd laugh at that, certain that nobody would really be
foolish enough
to say "ax" for "ask."

Don't get me wrong: it's not as if the black citizens of Piedmont, W.Va.,
spoke the king's English, but axing was something we did in the woods.

It was when I first visited Bermuda, where just about everyone I met says
"ax," that I began to suspect that this usage had deeper origins than I'd
known.
Sure enough, as William Labov, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania,
explained to me, "aks" is traceable to the Old English "acsian," a
nonstandard
form of "ascian," the root of "ask."

Professor Labov argues that black Americans have become more monolingual
since the 60's - that fewer of them have a mastery of standard English.
That's
the result of residential segregation, the fact that poor blacks tend to
live with poor blacks. But it's also compounded by desegregation, which
ended
up separating the black poor and the black middle class.

Because of these two factors, there's now a large group of poor black people
whose face-to-face conversations are almost entirely with people like
themselves.
As the cultural critic Greg Tate told me, black people are "segregated,
landlocked and institutionalized between prison, the project and public
institutions."
He added that "there's a certain tribal caste to segregated African-American
communities for that reason," and that's reflected in their increased
monolingualism.

Writing in The Times 25 years ago, James Baldwin ventured that the black
vernacular was one of self-defense. "There was a moment, in time, in this
place,"
he recalled, "when my brother, or my mother, or my father, or my sister, had
to convey to me, for example, the danger in which I was standing from the
white man standing just behind me, and to convey this with a speed and in a
language, that the white man could not possibly understand, and that,
indeed,
he cannot understand, until today."

Is that still true? The black vernacular seems to be everywhere these days,
from Dave Chappelle's show to Boost Mobile's "Where you at?" ad campaign.

"It becomes part of the mainstream in a minute," the poet Amiri Baraka told
me, referring to the black vernacular. "We hear the rappers say, 'I'm outta
here' - the next thing you know, Clinton's saying. 'I'm outta here.' " And
both Senator John Kerry and President Bush are calling out, "Bring it on,"
like
dueling mike-masters at a hip-hop slam.

Talk about changing places. Even as large numbers of black children struggle
with standard English, hip-hop has become the recreational lingua franca of
white suburban youth. Baldwin's notion of using black English to encode
messages seems almost romantic now.

Is it possible, after all these years, that white folk have come to speak
"black" far better than blacks speak "white"? Just axing.

Fair_Play
10-02-2004, 05:52 PM
Blacks vs. Latinos
William J. Stern

Does Los Angelesís recent mayoral election reveal an emerging trend in urban politics?


In the June 5 run-off in Los Angelesís mayoral race, James K. Hahn trounced fellow Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, a hard-left "progressive" who was seeking to become the first Latino mayor since the late nineteenth century of this now nearly half-Hispanic city. The key to success for Hahn, who is white, was winning a surprising 80 percent of the black vote, offsetting the huge majority of Latinos who voted for his opponent.

Looka like Villaraigosa didn't think to 'ax' for the black vote....

the way the hispanic chicano mestizo illegal cholo vato latino population is breeding, and the total disinterest in legal immigration for our southern brothers and sisters, well homeland security signs will need to be in espanol, amigo.

Troy
10-03-2004, 10:15 AM
The "Valley Girl Invasion" has "LIKE" intertwined into almost every sentence.
The "Monty Python Invasion" has "AS WELL" added to the end of numerous sentences.

It's almost to the point of like making me gag me as well... /ccboard/images/graemlins/smile.gif

pooltchr
10-03-2004, 03:56 PM
Nick,
A very interesting theory. The problem remains that proper english is still a requirement for the majority to achieve most any level of success in the business world. The decision makers of the world are going to continue to view this type of language as an indication of a lack of education. Anyone who, for whatever reason, can't speak proper English, is at a great disadvantage, "ir-regardless" /ccboard/images/graemlins/wink.gif of race.

highsea
10-03-2004, 04:40 PM
Unless you're bilingual, like Jesse Jackson, of course. When he's speaking to black groups, he axes his questions, but when it's a white group he asks.

Like, you know? It makes me sick as well.

Stretch
10-04-2004, 06:42 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote highsea:</font><hr> Unless you're bilingual, like Jesse Jackson, of course. When he's speaking to black groups, he axes his questions, but when it's a white group he asks.

Like, you know? It makes me sick as well. <hr /></blockquote>

So the grist of all this is that language is regional, ethical, and geomorphic. Whoa! What a construct eh? I however reserve the right to be misunderstood in 87 languages! It's a gift.........St.~~who snuggles to understrand himself sum times~~

SpiderMan
10-04-2004, 08:34 AM
<blockquote><font class="small">Quote Troy:</font><hr> The "Valley Girl Invasion" has "LIKE" intertwined into almost every sentence.
The "Monty Python Invasion" has "AS WELL" added to the end of numerous sentences.

It's almost to the point of like making me gag me as well... /ccboard/images/graemlins/smile.gif
<hr /></blockquote>

Lately the kiddies have taken to tagging "or not" onto the end of every other statement. I wonder what TV show they're emulating?

SpiderMan (don't own a TV)

hondo
10-04-2004, 10:26 AM
Great post. As you said ,in West Virginny, especially
in the hollers and down by the crick we all tend to
give the language a work-out.

hondo
10-04-2004, 10:37 AM
Re-read your post. It goes far beyond language.
My students, mostly white, wear their pants way
low and unfortunately don't have the but to hold
them up. It's a whole attitude. Body language, demeanor,
approach to sports. Lou Reed once did a song called
" I wanna be black." That seems to be the case.
Just don't exclude me from the white country club.

hondo
10-04-2004, 10:40 AM
[Butt. School teachers in WV actually can spell.
We often wear shoes, too.


quote=hondo] Re-read your post. It goes far beyond language.
My students, mostly white, wear their pants way
low and unfortunately don't have the but to hold
them up. It's a whole attitude. Body language, demeanor,
approach to sports. Lou Reed once did a song called
" I wanna be black." That seems to be the case.
Just don't exclude me from the white country club. <hr /></blockquote>