Ebonics: The Subject Still Stirs Strong Feelings

Dennis Baron debaron at uiuc.edu
Thu Jul 26 01:48:59 UTC 2007

Right, Harold, but I was just talking about BE.  The French, as they  
say, were a whole nother thing.


On Jul 25, 2007, at 7:49 PM, Harold Schiffman wrote:

This goes back even further, I think; Bourdieu shows how when public  
education finally got going on a national scale in the 1880's, the  
goal of teachers became one of replacing patois (which was an  
inherently deficient linguistic system) with standard French, so  
that  the famous 'lucidity, clarity and logic" of the French language  
could then restructure the minds of young French persons.

I quote from an article of mine on the subject:

"Bourdieu and Whorf:  It is also interesting to note that Bourdieu  
specifically discerns a kind of folk-Whorfian (Mertz 1982) world-view  
at work in the imposition and functioning of this model. Teachers in  
French schools are on the front lines, as it were, working constantly  
to ``inculcate a clear faculty of expression and of each emotion,"  
i.e. through language. They work to replace the patois, which is  
nothing but a jumble of confusion, with standard French, itself the  
only ``clear and fixed" thing that deserves to be in their heads, and  
trying to get them to perceive and feel things in the same way. The  
work of the teacher is ``to erect the common conscience of the  
nation." Bourdieu calls this a Whorfian or Humboldtian theory of  
language, which sees scholarly action as ``intellectual and moral  
integration." (Bourdieu op cit.p.32.) Teaching language, therefore,  
is a kind of mind control;' instilling the standard language in the  
heads of children will reprogram them to think clearly."

(From a paper entitled "French Language Policy: Centrism, Orwellian  
dirigisme, or Economic Determinism?" in a volume edited by Li Wei,  
Jean-Marc Dewaele, and Alex Housen, entitled Opportunities and  
Challenges of Bilingualism. published in Contributions to the  
Sociology of Language.(87) 2002, pp. 89-104. On-line at:

On 7/25/07, Dennis Baron <debaron at uiuc.edu> wrote:
This goes back -- in the linguistic literature -- at least to the  
1960s with the work of Engelmann and Bereiter on the language of  
disadvantaged African-American children in preschool  (?headstart)  
programs in Urbana IL -- as I recall, that report claimed that these  
four year olds came to school with no language at all, and it was  
what Labov was reacting against in "The Logic of Nonstandard English"  
and his 1966 report on language in the inner city.


On Jul 25, 2007, at 12:00 PM, Anthea Fraser Gupta wrote:

On 7/25/07 12:19 PM, "Anthea Fraser Gupta" < A.F.Gupta at leeds.ac.uk>  

Can anyone explain why all this literature refers to 'language  
and not to 'the learning of Standard English'? Using 'language  
makes it sound as if children are coming to school without any language!

Ron wrote "And that's exactly what the dominant US folk ideology  
assumes about the
language of African Americans."
Exactly -- is anyone challenging the terminology?


*     *     *     *     *
Anthea Fraser Gupta (Dr)
School of English, University of Leeds, LS2 9JT < www.leeds.ac.uk/ 
NB: Reply to a.f.gupta at leeds.ac.uk
*     *     *     *     *

From: owner-lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu [ mailto:owner-lgpolicy- 
list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Ronald Kephart
Sent: 25 July 2007 17:22
To: lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Subject: Re: Ebonics: The Subject Still Stirs Strong Feelings



Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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