Black: Or African-American. I figure that any group has the right to change its name once in a generation, but not to expect those who have already changed their language once to change it again. Especially when the change is from one simple syllable to a pretentious seven. Especially when the consensus for the change looks nowhere near as solid as it did in the Sixties. This resolution, and the name Ebonics, legitimize the usage anyway, if anyone cares.
Improve his or her vocabulary: How about, "literally a portmanteau word based on a metonymy" for Black sounds?
OK: This word, the Universal Americanism, the greatest success by far of American cultural hegemony, recognized and used actively anywhere on the planet, might possibly be African. It would be nice if it were so, anyway. That an unpopular President like Martin van Buren (apologies to Abigail), known as Old Kinderhook, would be so immortalized strains credulity.
How much better if the story I saw in about 1969, and regrettably have never seen confirmed, is true: that the slave owners picked up something that sounded like OK from their slaves, as confirmed by the letters and journal of a Jamaican planter from 1815 or so. Alas, the OED rejects this story.
African: The word is omitted in the published text of the resolution; I assume that this is a misprint.
Linguists: The use of linguist as a synonym for philologist is now accepted by the OED, which once considered it obsolete, and the slight ambiguity in the word is not too high a price to pay for using two syllables of Latin rather than four of Greek.
Chaucer: Here is a selection from Chaucer. I swear that I let the book fall open and took the first verse I found.
The REVE was a sclendre, colerik man. His berd was shave as neigh as ever he kan; His heer was by his erys ful round y-shorn; His top was dokked lyk a preest byforn. Ful longe were his legges and ful lene; Ylik a staf, there was no calf y-sene.[from A Chaucer Reader, edited by Charles W. Dunn; Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1952. Page 25]
Here's my close, unpoetic rendering into modern English, based on the glosses given in that book:
The REEVE[estate manager] was a slender, choleric man. His beard was shaved as nigh[close] as ever he could; His hair was by his ears full round shorn; His top was docked[cropped] like a priest before. Full long were his legs and full lean; Like a staff[stick], there was no calf seen.Looks pretty funny. Some odd and obsolete words, even in translation. A foreign language? Impossible to learn without serious study if you didn't grow up speaking it? You decide.
Ah, but you see, it's not the vocabulary, it's the difference in grammar that's important.
So, his beard was shave as close as he can? A lot of grammar in Chaucer is not quite standard modern English. Sometimes, as above, it sounds almost like another variant of English that you sometimes hear in America.
In fact, I must quote one more sentence, this time from the two-page instructions in how to read Chaucerian English, from the same book, which incidentally was required reading for everyone in my freshman class in 1959.
He nevere yet no vileynye ne sayde In al his lyf unto no maner wight.Or, He never yet no villainy didn't say in all his life to no kind of person.
If this doesn't make the grammar of the Hood respectable, nothing will.
Flatly incredible: This argument is long and digressive, and I can claim no expertise in the matter, but only appeal to your own knowledge of languages. Therefore it seems better not to clog the main line of the text with it.
I am not in any sense a linguist: neither a philologist nor a polyglot. On the contrary, I am an American. There are no more than four foreign languages to which I have devoted even the smallest amount of formal study, and only one of them is not Indo-European. In only one could I today do something so simple as plow through the easy prose of a news magazine. Maybe someone more sophisticated could see things that I can't. Maybe he can see things that aren't there. Anyway, if you know any second language at all, you can test what I claim here against what you know. I shall welcome any corrections to what I'm saying.
Consider the grammar of an actual foreign language. Take a language that's related to English, that contributed a large part of our vocabulary, that has its homeland twenty miles from that of English.
French has arbitrary grammatical gender. Its adjectives agree with nouns in gender and number. Its verbs have real conjugations, not just an odd s in the third person singular. It even conjugates verbs in the future and the simple past. Its use of verb tenses is quite different, not caring particularly whether a person walks or is walking, much less whether he had been walking. But you pay for that simplification: the subjunctive! You actually need to pay attention to how you speak of things that are uncertain or contrary to fact, to an extent unknown in American or even English English.
Black English handles some endings differently from standard English, in particular taking a different view of singular and plural. And it makes a distinction among verb forms (sort of reminiscent of Russian perfective and imperfective verbs) that's pretty much absent from standard English. There's no reason to doubt that these features come from West African sources. (No one will suspect that the verbs are taken from Russian.) But the handling of verbs is hardly as foreign as the moods and tenses of French. Tell me, is there much more to the differences than that?
Black English shares some features with English that are far from universal in the languages of humankind; some of these are in areas that seem (correct me if I'm wrong) to be far more conservative than the adoption of vocabulary. The normal sentence is of the form subject-verb-object, with an explicit subject. It uses prepositions. It has personal pronouns and recognizably similar treatment of grammatical cases. It uses articles in ways not radically different from English usage.
Am I to believe that in these ways, and a thousand other ways that I'm too ignorant to name, West African languages are structurally close to English? It must be so, if Black English truly has a basically West African grammar. Or is it that some people have seized on a very small number of differences from standard English, which truly are derived from West African grammars, and made a wildly exaggerated issue of them?
Worth: Sic. We'll assume it's a misprint in the newspaper, which can't be held to standards of perfection. Anyway, the typo is absent from the amended version.
Study, understanding or application: (also, principles, laws and structures). Well, which is it? Are we to study them or understand them or apply them? Might it not be a good idea to do all three? Why principles, laws, and structures? Why not just learn about the languages (plural, see next note) and be done with the matter?
These triples are typical warning signs of edu-prose. They make a nice, long sentence, but convey no particular thought.
The amended version changes the "or" to "and". Good. But only an educationist would leave those silly triples in there, or read the whole passage without skin creeping.
Its principles: Can you find the antecedent of its? An obvious candidate would be languages, but that doesn't work. There's only one singular available: community. Are we supposed to study the principles of the mainstream public educational community? Doesn't work either. By the way, the "languages" mentioned at the start turn into the "language" before we're done with the paragraph. (The January 17 proofreading fixed the "its" but not the "language".)
Is this an isolated typographical error or an example of muddy thinking that pervades the work? Our judgment may be influenced by the desperately bad both-and construction that ends the paragraph.
Stature: These students have a unique language stature? Are they linguistically bigger or more important than other students, or smaller or less important? Or maybe it's their unique status as speakers of allegedly West African languages with English vocabularies that we're concerned with. (The wording is unchanged in the January version.)
Governor: Actually, governors: various governors. How many governors have we had in 15 years? Three? Can one or two out of three governors really be various? Three out of three can't be various; it's all of them. Remember, people who are busy educating others can't spare the time to avoid sloppy thinking.
Stature: Again, their linguistic stature.
But seriously, folks, just look at that sentence! "Equal protection of the law rights". Add just two more letters (to wit, "to") and arrange the words right, and you'd have English. I suppose we can't afford that verbiage because we used all our spare space for study, understanding or application of principles, laws and structures. (Of course, if we're pressed for space, we could take out "of the law" and lose nothing but awkwardness.) All this is in the context of programs that have substantially benefited people in the interest of vindicating their rights. Flabby? This prose has a cholesterol count over 300.
proficiency"; and: I've taken the liberty of closing the quotes in what seemed the right place. And that's how it appears in the amended version; the error was probably in the newspaper's transcription anyway.
Interests: I'd have thought that the board had a legitimate and strong interest in providing equal opportunities, but apparently it has many. I wonder what they are. Anyway, the amended version uses the singular. But oh heck, I just noticed that they forgot to make the verb (dictate) singular!
Blank space to protect the spoiler: I.e., to keep your eye from drifting to the solution to a problem that's coming up.Check your answer: The subject of the verb is "programs". That is, the interests dictate [that] programs that recognize skills are as fundamental as application is. Ghastly as this sentence is, the one essential trick that makes it truly unreadable is the omission of that.
There are many times when "that" can be omitted; there are others when its omission leads you to read that interests dictate limited English proficiency educational programs. Programs recognizing skills of students. Oops, the programs aren't the object of dictate (sounded a little odd, but not too odd for this document) as we thought during the preceding seventeen words, but the subject of are.
Ultimately African descent: Well, strictly speaking, this is wrong. According to what seems to be the best current information, we are all ultimately of African descent. This would explain the fact (quite insufficiently publicized in my opinion) that the genetic diversity of Africans equals or exceeds that of all the other so-called races put together. So much for the obsolete notion of race, whether superior, inferior, or neutral, particularly as applied to Africans.
And that such deficiencies: Hey, here's the that that was missing from the previous paragraph! Obviously it doesn't belong here, where it makes the statement quite impossible to parse. How nice it would be to have a comma before the and. Could the that have been inspired by the vague feeling that the preceding, unrelated and called for some kind of separator?
But look, they did a both-and construct with proper parallelism. That's what's so baffling about edjicators: in the midst of all the garbage, here's a detail done right where actually literate people often slip up. (The January version dropped that both-and, because of problems with content, not form.)
In January they left the "that" and changed the "will" to "shall". Go figure.
Language stature: Actually, this use of stature can be justified: African-American speech is asserted to have the standing, or stature, of a language and not just some contemptible little dialect. (I'm not saying that a dialect is not as respectable as a language; but I don't think I'm wrong in imputing that idea to the board.)
Stingy: There is a stronger and better word than this, which because of a regrettable coincidence of sounds is impossible to use. Consider it used, if you like.
One guesses: I said that one guesses what the problem was, but there really is no need to guess. There was a motion to delete the language about embracing the legitimacy and richness, but it failed 5-2. The sponsor was a new board member, Jason Hodge, a Black college student who views Ebonics as simply slang. The board was able to compromise on wording that they could adopt unanimously, but no one could expect the compromise to be satisfactory to everybody, or to anybody.
Worldwide English: This is a term I adopted while writing the revisions. Well, why not use it? Lots of people object to the term "standard English" because they perceive and resent an implication that this kind of English is better than the others. And it is perfectly easy to argue that there is no single standard English, but numerous versions. Without taking a position on whether this is sober truth or plain silliness, let's just work around it. There is a kind of English, or a collection of similar kinds of English, that native English speakers around the world speak and understand; moreover, there are equally many speakers of that same language, or something very similar, as a second language. Surely one of the purposes of teaching English, and an uncontroversial one in the worldwide English-speaking community, is to get people into that community.
Camel-like: There is an old joke that a camel is a horse designed by a committee. This is, of course, unconscionable flattery to committees, which could never design such an original and brilliantly adapted beast as a camel. The truth of the matter was expressed by my father, Stillman Drake, after some years of doing his duty on university committees: "I wouldn't serve on another committee, if it was composed of God, Einstein, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt."
By way of contrast: No offense to the Examiner here. Both items needed to be covered; as it happened, the Chron ran the nice one.
And you begin to think: Anyone who criticizes the English in this passage simply doesn't know what conversational English looks like when transcribed. Penalty: go and give a deposition and read your own words. That will humble you.