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- Published on Amazon.com
This book was meant for every teacher, journalist, voter, politician, mother, writer, speech-giver, and person interested in language usage. It is a very smooth read with the rigor and content of a scholarly work and the clarity and craftsmanship of a New York Times bestseller. It would be a perfect book for a Freshman seminar or to read on a warm summer afternoon.
This book has five sections. The first section is the introduction.
The second section is for everyone interested in Speech Communication, Rhetoric, Writing, Rhetorical Style, Code-switching and Genre analysis--folklore, prayers, writers, music, poems, etc. In addition to discussing discourse level topics, it also introduces phonological and syntactic markers of the different speech varieties. It also describes the difference between hip-hop slang and the systematic language variation in sound, grammar, and rhetorical style that characterize AAVE.
The third section, devoted to illustrating the phonological, syntactic, and evolutionary (linguistic/etymological) systems of AAVE, is written for the lay reader, but it is useful for advanced students of linguistics as well who would like to gain an overview of how the language works. It is very thorough in illustrating the systematic rule system of AAVE, including socio-linguistically predictable frequencies of feature occurrence, and it explains linguistic notions in lay concepts for those without a background in linguistics. It is extraordinarily clear and easy to understand, but theoretically thorough and deep. It is careful to explain the linguistic environments of AAVE rules, and illustrates every point with multiple examples. Nearly every page of the book contains data illustrating the richness of the language being described and the linguistic notions being discussed. The data is presented in a format digestible to the lay reader, but Rickford is careful to preserve all of the information that a linguist may wish to pull out of the data. The last chapter in this section is devoted to historical linguistics. It describes century by century what data is available and how to use it to triangulate a theory of language origin. It explains the anglocentric, creolist, and afrocentric positions on the origins of AAVE. The book then goes point by point through all of the syntactic and phonological characteristics described in the previous two chapters and describes the theoretical positions of all three camps on these points. It is one of the best descriptions, point by point, that I have ever read on the origins of AAVE.
The fourth section deals with the Oakland Ebonics controversy. It explains the issues involved from all perspectives, the history of the issues, the players, and the media issues. Most usefully, it includes information on educational research showing the outcomes of various educational programs for language minorities here and abroad which never got aired during the controversy. It also describes a number of programs which showed substantial improvement in outcomes, but which were discontinued for political reasons. It is a case study worthy of any political science, media, public relations, or educational administration course.
The last section deals with language and identity. It is short, but poignant with many illustrative examples. It touches on important socio-linguistic concepts, but it could be expanded greatly.
The rest of this is intended for instructors considering this for a Freshman survey course. The points are excessively nit-picky and not at all relevant to anyone other than an instructor.
What I wanted more of:
1) more unscripted examples of code-switching and analysis of reasons for it 2)discussion of why the Nova Scotia, Liberian, and Sierra Leone data is so valuable (i.e. comparative method for the lay person) 3) more specific explanation of the "universals" of pidginization and creolization 4)discussion of decreolization. The terms basilect, mesolect, and acrolect with weak explanation of their significance. This is quite uncharacteristic of the book as a whole, which carefully explains or avoids linguistic jargon. 5) more extensive discussion of educational research on literacy acquisition 6) more in-depth examples of comprehension issues. There is a lot of discussion about the work Labov is doing on this, but there is a paucity of examples. (Again, uncharacteristic of the book as a whole.) 7) presentation of more scholarly theory and research on psychology of education and its effects on learning 8) more extensive explanation of network theory, which is mentioned several times but only briefly explained, 9) more information about the differences between regional varieties of Black English in previous centuries, 10) more information about differences between regional varieties of AAVE now. The book shows that variation is extensive along social class and social network lines, however, it gives the impression that there is now little to no regional variation in it. The book could be more overt in stating to what extent they believe this is true.