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Father Knows Best

April 22, 2010

I was watching Larry King the other day and the always outspoken Billy Cosby sat with Larry to discuss the effects of bullying on American schoolchildren. In my opinion, Cosby made some drastic generalizations which made me think of of his hostility towards the black working class a few years ago surrounding their continued use of African American English. I found Cosby’s criticism to falsely assume that AAE speakers are sort of rebelling against society by using nonstandard English. He also doesn’t evaluate the historical context in it’s entirety, which might explain why any demographic group preferred any one dialect. At any rate, here’s an article covering Cosby’s initial claims made during a NAACP conference in 2004. Cosby has reiterated these arguments many times over the past couple years.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jason permalink
    April 24, 2010 1:41 am

    It’s entirely possible that Dr. Cosby might be oversensitive to AAE issues; the question probably has more to do wit hhow he undertsands others (like professionals) use English and how AAE harms more than helps many of those speakers. This isn’t to justify or say he is right, just that his point of view is not entirely baseless or Bill crazy.
    I cannot say which is true; as being half Native American I have my own issues. But, I can say that Rap is both regarded as rebelling against the system (indeed much work has shown this to be the case), and that isn’t a surprise…after all many forms of music and art are just that. But I can also see the side that respects the cleverness of rap.

  2. Ayeska permalink*
    May 1, 2010 4:40 pm

    I don’t think AAE necessarily harms its speakers. It just so happens that we live in a society that doesn’t seem to appreciate difference, particularly linguistic difference. If anything, I think making AAE speakers bidialectical, so that they may speak other dialects such as Standard American English, would be best.

    There is no need to eliminate AAE as there is a time and a place for each dialect. Surely, no one speaks Standard American English in non-academic or professional settings such as their home, or amongst friends. Why should we demand that AAE speakers do so?

  3. Zeke permalink
    May 13, 2010 2:26 pm

    If a white person were to say what Cosby said, they’d never live it down. Commentators would forever view that person as an ignorant racist who, to quote Mr. West, “doesn’t care about black people.”

    But Cosby said it. And he’s black. So it’s ok. I guess. No, actually, it was still really insensitive, and the man is stepping well outside the bounds of his comedy expertise. It doesn’t help anyone to claim that a large population of uneducated individuals are “knuckleheads”. It’s not constructive to conflate severe drug-possession penalties with stealing poundcake. In the world of stand-up, observational humor works largely because the audience views broad generalizations about society with an element of irony. They appreciate the slight but critical distinction between the crazy things the comedian says and the complex nature of the real world. Guess nobody told Bill.


  1. Why Would You Study That Bad English? « Word. The Online Journal on African American English

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