This article discusses the significance and contents of Stanley Legum, Carol Pfaff, Gene Tinnie, and Michael Nicholas’s 1971 report, The Speech of Young Black Children in Los Angeles. Although it is one of the first four substantial, quantitative sociolinguistic studies of AAVE nationwide and the only one from the West Coast, it was never formally published and remains essentially unknown and uncited. However, it is significant as one of the earliest studies of the speech of young (K-4th grade) African American children, as a potential reference point for studies of change in real time and for its implications for applied sociolinguistics—what we can do to improve the reading abilities and school success of African American and other vernacular English speakers. After an overview of the phonological and grammatical features covered by Legum et al., it discusses their findings with respect to the simplification of word-final consonant clusters ending in t and d, copula absence, and invariant habitual be. It then summarizes the authors’ findings and their assessment of its educational implications and discusses a searing “minority dissent” by Gene Tinnie, one of the two African Americans coauthors. Tinnie’s contrarian opinions and fears turn out to have significant echoes in more recent sociolinguistic work that urges researchers to consider similarities with standard English as well as differences from it, to be mindful of how educators might overuse the differences our descriptions pinpoint, and to remember the larger contexts of poverty-stricken and racism-plagued communities in which AAVE-speaking students live and go to school.
John R. Rickford; An Early Study of the Speech of Young Black Children in California: Why It Matters. American Speech 1 May 2014; 89 (2): 121–142. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-2772041
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