McWhorter on "Negro English"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 15 00:16:11 UTC 2010

My interpretation of Reid's quoted remark about "Negro dialect" was simply
that Obama's level of eloquence (regardless of phonetics and the like) was
as good as anyone's and a million miles from the kind of comic dialect that
a large number of  brain-dead white Americans might expect from an
African-American candidate, whom they would vote against for that reason

Reid can hardly doubt the eloquence of Martin Luther King and the less
stirring but unexceptionable speech of Colin Powell and, yes, Michael
Steele.  A list would include, among other individuals, Supreme Court
justices, U.S. senators, Civil Rights activists, and Shakespearean actors.

The reported occasion of the remarks was a campaign discussion on whether
Obama could win a presidential election in 2008. I think Reid was making a
realistic, if "inartfully phrased," campaign observation about the
prejudices of many white voters.  I'd compare it to an imaginary midwest
Republican saying to Republican insiders that Giuliani, for example, would
be electable because he doesn't "look Italian" and doesn't have "a Bowery
Boy dialect - unless he wants to."

When I lishear Obama's speech, Willie Best and Stepin Fetchit do not
enter my mind. (Though now, of course, they will, dammit!  Thanks a lot,
Wilson!!). Nor do recollections of  J. Carroll Naish in _Sahara_ or Mr.
Patchagaloop from _Abbot & Costello_ rush in when Giuliani speaks.  Only a
nitwit would make such associations, though nitwits can swing an election.

(Dialect note: though he frequently played Italians, Naish was of Irish


On Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 5:44 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro English"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Stick to your guns, Terry! I'm with you. If people feel that the
> opinion of any random BE speaker from the 'hood fails to meet their
> academic standards, let them talk to to the Johns, Baugh and Rickford.
> McWhorter is the academic equivalent of Michael Steele, the titular
> head of the Republican party. They both probably sleep with The Bell
> Curve under their pillows and cry themselves to sleep.
> As I've said before, considering Obama's background, IMO, his speech
> patterns are surprisingly black, whatever the circumstances under
> which he may have cause to open his mouth in public. The fact that I
> don't like McWhorter for my own reasons doesn't prevent me from
> acknowledging that his more-or-less pointing out that, for most
> non-blacks, a black person who doesn't sound like Steppin  Fetchit,
> Andy Brown, or Willie Best is speaking the
> non-existent-except-in-Fowler "standard" English is spot on. Have the
> speech patterns of Gen. Colin Powell already been forgotten? Did
> nobody pay attention to the way that he spoke as well to what he
> spoke? In contrast to Powell, Obama sounds downright Chicago
> inner-city, beyond any doubt. You don't have to see him in order to
> notice this. His speech is, therefore, unworthy of any special notice
> as though it were, somehow, distinct from the speech of any relatively
> well-educated Northern black man. But, somehow, the speech of Powell,
> IMO, all but non-distinct from the speech of any well-educated
> Northern *white* man, drew - and draws - no comment, AFAIK.
> If you, as a white person, find anything "articulate" in the speech of
> Obama distinct from the speech of any other black person, but notice
> nothing worthy of note WRT about the pattern of Powell's speech, you
> are, then, consciously or subconsciously, racist WRT your concept of
> what constitutes black speech or maybe even WRT what constitutes a
> black person. Isn't Powell a well-known speaker of English generally
> regarded as a black man and not as a white man? So, where's the
> discussion, the comparison and contrast, of their speech patterns?
> 'N' why *didn'* none a yawl never notice nuthin' special 'bout Powell
> speech?
> Well, as a reasonably late-comer to the set, perhaps I should search
> the archives before posting. But, like Willie, I gits ti'ed.
> -Wilson
> On Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 3:05 PM, Terry Irons <t.irons at>
> wrote:
> > ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> > Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> > Poster:       Terry Irons <t.irons at MOREHEADSTATE.EDU>
> > Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro English"
> >
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> >
> > I retract my comments about his view on AAVE.  It is more his
> > conservative views on victimology  and race that I find troublesome. In
> > that context, citing the passage from Matthew is appropriate for him.  I
> > think he fails to see that sometimes the log in the other guy's eye is
> > more the problem than the speck in my own.
> >
> > Gordon, Matthew J. wrote:
> >
> >>I'm not sure where you got that impression, Terry. McWhorter's views are
> pretty much in line with the received wisdom within linguistics. For example
> in the  piece linked in this thread, he says, "Black English is as
> systematic as standard English, and what we hear as "mistakes" are just
> variations, not denigrations."
> >>
> >>-Matt Gordon
> >>
> >>
> >>On 1/13/10 1:13 PM, "Terry Irons" <t.irons at MOREHEADSTATE.EDU> wrote:
> >>
> >>See Matthew 7:4-6 or Luke 6: 41-42.
> >>
> >>While McWhorter is well published, he views AAVE as a degenerate form of
> >>standard English, not a legitimate variety of language.
> >>
> >>------------------------------------------------------------
> >>The American Dialect Society -
> >>
> >>
> >
> > --
> > Fraternally, Terry
> > (*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)
> > Terry Lynn Irons        t.irons at
> > Voice Mail:             (606) 783-5164
> > Snail Mail:             150 University BLVD UPO 604 Morehead, KY 40351
> > (*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)
> >
> > ------------------------------------------------------------
> > The American Dialect Society -
> >
> --
> -Wilson
> –––
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> –Mark Twain
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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