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Monday, March 30, 2020

Review: Word on the Street

I checked out Word on the Street and the first few chapters rehashed material that were already covered in his previous books, about language change, though in greater detail, especially the part about Shakespeare's language vs modern English. It's very clear that McWhorter is passionate about that topic and it's great.

Then the second half of the book covered Black English in far greater detail than I'd seen in any of his other books. A key point that he makes is that Black English doesn't have African roots, but instead came from the language of the indentured servants and other poor white immigrants from parts of the UK: Irish, Scottish, etc. It's a very compelling argument and very well done.

At the end of the book I realized that it was written during the Ebonics debate. Apparently, during that era, McWhorter was the  only Black linguistics expert willing to come right out and say that you shouldn't teach Black English in schools. His reasoning is that in every country such as Germany, Switzerland and Finland, kids come into the schoolroom speaking a local dialect that's as far apart from say, High German, as Black English vs Standard English. The school room, however, provides the immersion and standard English or High German training that's needed to succeed in society. Therefore, anything that reduces immersion time in standard English is necessarily a loss for the kids coming into the school room. He proposes instead, that the teachers are given training in Black English so that they understand that kids in lower grades who speak Black English are not speaking in a degraded form of English, but rather in an English dialect. Again, a very strong argument.

In any case, I wish I'd had this book around to read back when the Ebonics debate was going on, but better late than never. Recommended.

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