NYTimes: The Metamorphosis of the Western Soul

I want to share with you, folks, the most stupid article I have read in a while. It’s so stupid, it’s like a work of art. The article is on neoliberalism, the subject we all know I like. But God, is it ever stupid. It’s a triumph of stupidity of uncommon proportions.

This is what happens when, instead of reading the truly interesting and abundant scholarly treatments of the subject, people try to invent the wheel.

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11 thoughts on “NYTimes: The Metamorphosis of the Western Soul”

  1. Slighy off topic but have you read this article? It is a great discussion of that poem debacle in The Nation. The author, McWhorter is a trained linguist and faculty at Columbia (and black himself). I wasn’t familiar with him but I liked this article and so spent the morning reading a bunch of other things by him. He is fantastic: erudite but accessible. And he just announced he will be a contributing editor at The Atlantic. So I’m looking forward to reading more by him. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this. 🙂

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/who-gets-to-use-black-english/566867/

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    1. What I don’t get is this. If “People be lookin’ at him funny” is not incorrect English, then does it mean I shouldn’t correct it when I see it in academic essays? Because I see it a lot. What about the incorrect past participles (“I would have saw”) or double negatives? I was not taught this way of speaking and I find it very hard to understand it. What should I do?

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      1. He is saying AAVE is a dialect that has its own logic. You are teaching standard English. And as a teacher of standard English, you should correct those errors.

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        1. From the article “Try telling a Moroccan that his everyday Moroccan Arabic is “wrong” compared to the Modern Standard Arabic used on the news. He’ll tell you that it’s a matter of context: The news is in standard, you talk about it in vernacular. The difference between Black English and Ted Koppel’s speech is of the same kind as the one between Moroccan and standard Arabic.”

          The same thing applies to school. In a university, we use standard English. So that is what we teach. But if you were to write a play about a group of Black people living in Compton, standard English doesn’t make sense in that context. If you wanted to write such a play, then you would have to learn the rhythms and rules of AAVE.

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      2. “What about the incorrect past participles (“I would have saw”) or double negatives? I was not taught this way of speaking”

        It’s all about register and it should be a trivial issue but English speaking countries have just about the worst first language education in the world.
        Lots of countries have big gaps between everyday spoken usage and formal language and they deal with that just fine because they have better language education (Finland and Czech Republic come to mind). People use colloquial language with each other and more formal usage (often involving major grammatical differences) in more formal situations.
        But for complex historical reasons in the US people (even ones who should know better) can’t distinguish between ‘relaxed informal usage’ and ‘wrong and illiterate’.
        So you should correct non-standard usage in academic essays but be aware the students have probably suffered a lot of verbal abuse over the years because the school system has failed them (and then takes its failures out on them).

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        1. “But for complex historical reasons in the US people (even ones who should know better) can’t distinguish between ‘relaxed informal usage’ and ‘wrong and illiterate.”

          Exactly.

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      3. “I was not taught this way of speaking and I find it very hard to understand it”

        Here’s the thing, if you’re a native speaker of English (who grows up monolingually) then the kind of English you were taught (prim and proper standard English) is the most boring language in the world and emotionally kind of… meh. It’s fine for some purposes (which tend to be boring) but it’s no fun to use to talk to friends with.
        And lots of non-standard usage is fun and expressive and makes conversation more lively.

        Compare with what you’re written about your Russian usage – standard formal Russian is kind of boring or tedious for you so you get very creative and I assume do lots of non-standard things and I bet even advanced second language learners would find you very hard to understand.

        Double negatives are a separate thing. They’ve been part of spoken English for hundreds of years causing no problems whatsoever in communication but they’ve never been respectable which makes them more expressive in casual usage.
        For me “She don’t know nothin'” has a different meaning from “She doesn’t know anything.” although they formally have the same meaning.
        Similarly, where I’m from “I done told him” has a different meaning from “I told him” or “I’ve told him”

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      4. “does it mean I shouldn’t correct it when I see it in academic essays? Because I see it a lot. What about the incorrect past participles (‘I would have saw’) or double negatives? I was not taught this way of speaking and I find it very hard to understand it. What should I do?”

        Bad grammar is simply bad grammar, period. It’s a marker of poor education, no matter how some people try to glorify its use as being “the people’s language.” This is true of all dialects that deviate from proper English, and bad English has no place in schools at any level.

        Definitely correct improper English whenever your students use it.

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    2. Basic knowledge question: do poor whites use AAVE too, especially if they live in areas in which poor black AAVE speakers are a majority? Would a poor white use not standard in other ways English than a poor black? How can they speak very differently despite living in close proximity for generations after slavery?

      Anyway, I still believe in governmental educational programs being capable of getting rid of AAVE in one-two generations if anybody truly wanted to achieve that. Immigrants to Israel learn an entirely new language, while here we talk about a slight variation of English.

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      1. “do poor whites use AAVE too, especially if they live in areas in which poor black AAVE speakers are a majority?”

        Just as not all Blacks know AAVE (if Obama knows any he learned it as an adult) some users of AAVE are white. But usually poor whites have different types of non-standard speech (though in the south there’s a lot of overlap).

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      2. “. . . do poor whites use AAVE too, especially if they live in areas in which poor black AAVE speakers are a majority?”

        Yes and no. As McWhorter points out, languages and dialects tend to form among people who live in close proximity with one another. And poor white and black people tend to live in seperate worlds. To give an example, I taught at a large, public, urban secondary school before my PhD program. The school I taught at had about 3000 – 4000 students. Out of all those students, exactly 2 (two) were white. The rest where Black and Latino (and the Latino students had their own “spin” on vernacular English). I knew one of those white students and he did speak AAVE. But as the demographics of my school reveal, de facto segregation in the United States is quite profound. White people–even poor ones–just don’t live in majority black neighborhoods.

        “Anyway, I still believe in governmental educational programs being capable of getting rid of AAVE in one-two generations if anybody truly wanted to achieve that.”

        I don’t think Black people want to lose their vernacular language (and our urban public schools are woefully inadequate–but that’s another discussion.) But AAVE is expressive, fun, and musical. I actually love the use of the word “be” and it does express a sort of subtlety that standard verb forms don’t quite get at.

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