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Props to a Sista!

October 15, 2010

Dr. Simanique Moody

We at Word. want to give props to Dr. Simanique Moody, who is confirmed to receive her Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Linguistics from New York University this coming January 2011. Simanique is African American and hails from Georgia.

Much of what we know about African American English is thanks to the diligent work of trained linguists. But linguists cannot do the work they do without the African American community and the data they provide for analysis. In 1997, John Rickford asked,

What has (socio)linguistics returned to the African American speech community?

The answer he came up with? Not nearly enough. One of the proposed contributions to the African American community is training its community members to become linguists themselves. But as Rickford noted,

Despite more than a quarter century of concentrated work on AAVE (African American Vernacular English), only a handful of African American faculty of any specialization exist in linguistics.

Word. celebrates the induction of a young talented African American scholar from an African American speech community– an event that is far too rare.

Onto Dr. Moody’s work. While there are many studies that compare the speech of blacks to whites in the U.S., there are few that examine the ways different groups of blacks interact socially and linguistically. Along these lines, Dr. Moody’s dissertation, “Language Contact and Regional Variation in African American English: A Study of Southeast Georgia” addresses the issue of black-to-black social and linguistic contact. Dr. Moody investigates the speech of African Americans in inland Georgia and compares it to that spoken along the coast, which has been historically influenced by the Gullah language. She shows that inland and coastal African Americans have little –s marking on verbs following the pronouns he/she/it (for example, saying she talk for Standard English (SE) ‘she talks’). Also, both groups use what is called ‘nonconcord –s’ to express that an event happens regularly (saying I cooks on a Friday, which means something like ‘I usually cook on a Friday’ in SE). However, older folks along the coast express the plural in a way that is similar to that found in Creole languages spoken in places like Jamaica and Guyana (my leg dem for ‘my legs’). Finally, she gives a deeper understanding of a feature of AAE, gon, that is used to evaluate a situation in the past, as in She see me waiting on her and then she gon walk to the back.

Dr. Moody is the recipient of a President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Look out for a future guest blog from Dr. Moody.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Shaya permalink
    April 15, 2011 7:44 am

    Congratulations to Dr. Moody!

  2. Pavita permalink
    April 21, 2011 11:52 am

    I really appreciate Dr. Moody’s work because it forces us to rethink our notions of Black English, and hence the black community in the United States. I read a paper by Renee Blake and Cara Shousterman which discusses aspects of the English used by second-generation Caribbean Americans (SGCA) in New York City. Some features of SGCA English include the presence of inter- and post-vocalic /r/, and a longer down-glide in the raising of the vowel in “bought.” This differs from what we consider traditional New York City AAE, which is grounded in inter- and post-vocalic /r/ absence and in consistent vowel raising of the vowel in “bought.” This data gives us some evidence that SGCAs are doing some linguistic work to differentiate themselves from African Americans and Native Caribbeans. This is consistent with Moody’s point above that Black English is not a monolith, and that there are distinctions among different groups of Black-Americans. As Mari Matsuda says in her paper, ‘Voices of America: Accent, Antidiscrimination Law, and a Jurisprudence for the Last Reconstruction,’ “Yourself is inseparable from your accent.” In other words, the way we use language is central to the construction of our identity. Rethinking the features of the various types of black speech, as Moody, Blake, and Shousterman make us do, also forces us to rethink black identity and the black community as a whole.

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