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Reviews | Ukrainian is not “little Russian” and black English is not broken


This mission becomes particularly urgent when it comes to varieties of speech originating in colonialism and imperialism, created by subordinate, often non-white, people under various conditions of forced labor or social isolation. In many cases, under such conditions, adults (as opposed to children, who start learning a language at birth) learned additional languages ​​quickly and without formal instruction, and supplemented what they learned with aspects of their mother tongues, and a good deal of pure creativity, to shape something new: the creole languages, as linguists call them. These new ways of speaking generally eliminated much of the random material of the old language (which any language accumulates over time) which is more difficult for adults to learn and which is not necessary for communication anyway. A creole language doesn’t present you with long lists of conjugation endings or randomly assign genders to inanimate objects, because many languages ​​around the world don’t, and one language doesn’t need them. But even when a language doesn’t do these things, it still has a large number of rules to assimilate, its own grammar, tens of thousands of words, and specific ways in which sounds are formed and sentences are intoned. In other words, it is a human language in its own right.

Yet this (rather effective) elimination of bric-a-brac, plus the fact that Creole is spoken by subaltern people, has encouraged the feeling that it is just a “broken” version of a language. older. This often distracts even the speakers of these varieties themselves. Although there has been a movement in recent times advocating the recognition of Jamaican Patois as an official language, variety pundits are perpetually frustrated by a general misperception, particularly beyond the academy and the arts. , that patois is just broken English, a bad habit.

But one way to know that languages ​​like this are indeed languages ​​is that you can write a detailed grammatical description of each one, full of complex rules (and exceptions) describing how to pronounce words, add a tense to verbs, putting sentences together, conveying nuance – just like in the grammatical descriptions of languages ​​such as Ukrainian which are not creoles but have suffered a similar disrespect.

It reminds me of black English. It’s a dialect of English rather than a distinct language – while standard English speakers can miss some of it when spoken quickly, for the most part they understand Black English easily. But traditionally it has been seen as English gone bad, much like Jamaican patois. The differences between Black English and Standard English are largely due to the fact that it was formed under circumstances like those that produced many creoles. Adult learners had a lot to do with its creation, and as such it ditched some of the unnecessary bells and whistles of Standard English, the absence of which is often presented in a way that inadvertently oversimplifies, even diminishes, black English.

For example, in various sources providing advice on teaching reading to children who speak Black English at home, you come across the same stock examples of how Black English relaxes the rules of Standard English: you will see the comparison “col'” vs “cold” appear in several places to explain that for some words the final consonant is dropped. You will see a basic explanation that the verb “to be” is often superfluous – “she my sister” instead of “she is my sister” and so on.