Ebonics

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters mertz at gnosis.cx
Fri Dec 28 11:31:57 MST 2001


Hi Charles,

|    gram mar
|    1. a. The study of how words and their component parts combine to
|          form sentences.
|       b. The study of structural relationships in language or in a
|          language, SOMETIMES including pronunciation, meaning, and
|          linguistic history.

|CB:  Not in the definition you post above.  Structural relationships in
|pronunciation and meaning would be part of phonology or phonetics, and
|semantics, no ?

Well, yeah.  But the definition I give is modified by the word
"sometimes."  That is:  grammar is -definitely- about syntax, and
-sometimes- (in some usages) about phonology and semantics.  The syntax
sense is more primary, to my mind (and according to American Heritage;
other dictionaries might vary, I just happen to have this one on my
computer).

But this is just a quibble.  I agree I should have simply used "syntax"
in my original post; and we have no real disagreement about the various
aspects of language.

|This reference to "structures" suggests attention to Structural
|linguistics after Jacobson (?) and the other, which posits structures in
|phonology and semantics.  All aspects of language are rule governed,
|i.e. have grammars.

I suppose the focus on structures really goes back to Saussure, although
Sassure's phonological analysis is obviously less fleshed out than
Roman Jakobson's.

I wonder if it is really "all aspects" that are structural though.  I'm
not sure I would buy an analysis of pragmatics in structural terms...
and of most interest to Marxists, sociolinguistics as an element of
pragmatics.

| Agree.  I interpret your placement of Black talk importantly in its
|cultural and political, and historical context as warranting communists'
|attention to ebonics.

This is actually why I paid much attention to the Ebonics stuff in the
first place, or why I opine now.  The usual mainstream discussion was
between a somewhat naive feel-good afrocentrism and a right-wing
racial-loathing against anything associated with "those people."  That's
the same "debate" that gets played out in lots of public-policy and
cultural areas (welfare, music censorship, housing segregation/
desegregation, etc).  Those things are important "on the ground"--but
both sides are rather intellectually bereft (the racists are worse, of
course)

But my take on things is out of Voloshinov and some of that Russian
school (with some echos in the French post-structuralists, like
Althusser).  Basically, I think that language variants are part of the
lived experience of the class struggle.  Class structures are
experienced in large part as linguistic forms, and these forms
themselves congeal a history of class processes.  It's not as simple as
being able to promote a "socialist realist" edification of black
vernacular as a political program.  But as an analytic tool, I don't
think Marxists have paid enough attention to the specifics of speech.

Yours, Lulu...

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