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“Improper” Fan Page

April 14, 2010

Profile picture from the fan page

There are many misconceptions and generalizations about African American English (AAE). One in particular connects AAE with all African Americans. Many people assume that all black people speak AAE all the time, which is certainly not the case. African American English-speakers include races other than blacks, just like Standard American English-speakers. Another key misconception is that AAE is just slang or improper speech. AAE is more than just street talk or slang, involving a complex set of rules and features, and can be spoken incorrectly, just like Standard American English (SAE). The dialect also has a respectable history, whereas slang is often generational. This does not mean that slang does not exhibit features of AAE; it often does. However, all examples of African American English are not merely slang. Furthermore, to call AAE “improper” implies that Standard American English is proper, rather than merely the standard form of English. This word choice is therefore subjective. Most logical people agree that SAE is standard, since most Americans speak it, and that AAE is nonstandard; but who should be allowed to determine what is “proper” and “improper”? This idea of “proper” and “improper” language, along with the generalization that all African Americans speak African American English, leads many blacks to feel defensive about issues surrounding AAE. The Facebook fan page,”I am Black, and YES I use proper english” [sic], reflects this issue.

Many would empathize with such a defensive reaction as a response to racial and linguistic stereotypes. There is also the fear that acknowledging African American English as a legitimate dialect will somehow hinder blacks’ chances for mobility, both socially and economically. Others, however, would argue the opposite: that neglecting the role of AAE in academic performance continues to impede blacks’ educational advancement and subsequently perpetuates low unemployment rates and the economic gap between races. While in several ways an understandable reaction, the defensive response of this fan page does not help the case for the acknowledgement and acceptance of African American English as a foundation to build upon when teaching Standard American English to young AAE-speaking students.

Addendum, May 2012:  As Facebook archived many of its groups in 2011, the group mentioned in the post,”I am Black, and YES I use proper english” [sic], is no longer searchable on the site.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. francescah permalink
    April 15, 2010 12:16 am

    I think you bring up an important question of whose standard are we adhering to? Who makes the rules? Who enforces the rules? Who loses from the rules? Who uses the rules to keep some in and some out?

  2. Amy permalink
    April 16, 2010 4:11 pm

    I think it is the people in power who create the rules, and whose standard everyone is usually forced to adhere to! People always say that history books are one-sided because they are written by whoever won the war. I think it’s the same for which langauges are considered “proper” and which are not. For so many years it has been the speakers of more standard varieties of English who are in power, so speakers of less standard varieties, like AAE, are considered “improper” by many.

  3. ships permalink
    April 16, 2010 6:02 pm

    What is “proper” English and why does Standard English qualify as proper? In an increasingly glocalized world, people from so many different places are using English in their own ways, blending it with their native languages. As this happens more often, the concept of Standard English will become irrelevant, because so many new and diverse speakers are being initiated into using the language. It’s time we take a step back and rethink what proper English really is and expand the definition beyond just standard american English.

  4. Cara Shousterman permalink*
    April 18, 2010 3:29 pm

    It’s sad that a lot of the beauty and creativity inherent in nonstandard language varieties gets ignored because of our ideologies.

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