Armchair Linguist

An amateur linguist drinks strong coffee and makes interesting observations about language from the comfort of his armchair.

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Location: United Kingdom

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Why Bill Cosby needs an attitude readjustment

A few months back, the comedian Bill Cosby made some controversial comments about the language of his fellow African-Americans:

They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English ... I can't even talk the way these people talk: 'Why you ain't,' 'Where you is' . . . And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk. . . . Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. . . . You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!

So Mr Cosby wants African-Americans to learn to speak "standard English". Unfortunately, he isn't going to get anywhere - indeed, I don't think he deserves to be heard - until he shows even an ounce of respect for the language of African-Americans. Alas, language appears to be one of the last remaining acceptable targets for prejudice. To denounce the language of an entire community as "crap" is linguistic imperialism.

For a more educated view of the language of African-Americans by someone who knows what he's talking about, check out William Labov's seminal 1972 essay Academic Ignorance and Black Intelligence.

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