New York Times on the PSAT Glitch

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Wed Jun 4 11:58:26 UTC 2003

I don't think linguists go around saying "valid" in this context. I
suspect that most of us are much less naive about the public's
perception of our claims about varieties than this suggests; a great
deal of this "wording" gets attributed to us by
too-quick-to-pay-attention-because -they-need-a-sound-bite
journalists. (Would that English were German for such a modifier!) I
hurry to add that I do not accuse all journalists.


On Mon, 2 Jun 2003, Dave Wilton wrote:

#3) The idea that all forms of language are equal and equally valid flies in
#the face of what people know to be true from their experience. When a
#linguist says, for example, that Ebonics is no less valid than RP English,
#people find this absurd. They live in a world of prejudice and social
#stratification and when linguists make statements like this, people who live
#in the "real world" dismiss them as pronouncements from an ivory tower. It
#doesn't matter that facts are on the side of the linguist; facts are
#unimportant, perceptions are.

I'd rather say: There is no absolute validity. People know perfectly
well that AAVE is unacceptable in, say, a newscaster on a major network
that is not specifically targeting Black people. So it's our job to make
clear what we mean, when expressing to a general audience what among
ourselves, in our professional context, we can say as simply "AAVE is as
valid as [you name it]."

-- Mark A. Mandel

Dennis R. Preston
Professor of Linguistics
Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
      Asian & African Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
e-mail: preston at
phone: (517) 353-9290

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