African American, Creole, and Other Vernacular Englishes in Education: A Bibliographic Resource
reviewed by Tony Mirabelli - July 22, 2014
Title: African American, Creole, and Other Vernacular Englishes in Education: A Bibliographic Resource
Author(s): John R. Rickford, Julie Sweetland, Angela E. Rickford, & Thomas Grano
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415888670, Pages: 328, Year: 2012
Search for book at Amazon.com
I'm an academic coordinator and lecturer at a large public university. Just this past spring semester, a student stopped by my office, her eyes welling with tears. I asked her what was wrong. She had just submitted her final paper for a course. She was handing the paper to the professor at the end of the final lecture of the semester. The student had perhaps gone beyond the expectations of the professor with regard to the number of citations in the paper that also included a lengthy bibliography. According to the student, the professor took a cursory glance flipping through the pages and quipped that her writing looked suspect considering the way that the student spoke in class. This student is Latina, and has an Hispanic dialect. I convinced the student to meet with the professor to discuss her concerns, and, of course, the professor apologized for the comment, said that the student misunderstood, and congratulated the student on an outstanding final paper. What this event reminded me of, however, is that despite more than 40 years of research on dialect variation and academic achievement, some educators (not necessarily the one referenced above), and including those at elite universities, can still harbor biased notions toward speakers of vernacular or non-standard varieties of English.
African American, Creole, And Other Vernacular Englishes In Education: A Bibliographic Resource is a must-read text for anyone teaching courses about language and education, or anyone doing research on the same topic. In the era of search engines, digital catalogues, and the Internet of all things, books still matter, especially those that help us make sense of a large body of literature.
The introduction provides useful context for how this area of research evolved. A direct correlation for the impetus of this research is made to the Civil Rights Act, other important political events, and the general intellectual milieu of the 1960s where language was recognized to be essential to the advancement of civil rights and social equity (p. xiv). The introduction also is worth reading because the authors use a unique method of coding for the bibliography, and that is explained in the introduction. This method allows for the bibliography to be organized and coded around specific bodies of research, or topics of research, with the use of the alphabet, and a brief numerical system designed to categorize specific language varieties. As the authors write, The elaborate topic-coding and cross referencing allow users to narrow their search to relevant lists of entries, circumventing the unwieldy and sometimes numbing task of searching through endless pages of references for possible items of interest (p. viii).
There are 22 different topic categories that cover a wide array of subjects and include, Bidialectalism and/or Contrastive Analysis (B), Disorders of Speech, Language or Communication (D), Ideology, Attitudes, and/or Identity (I), Language Acquisition (Q), Vernacular Literacy or Dialect Readers (V), and Video Resources (Z) to name a few. The language varieties covered in the book include African American Vernacular English (1), Anglophone Pidgins and Creoles (2), Asian and Asian American English (3), Latina/o Englishes (4), Native American English (5), and Other vernacular Englishes (6). The topic categories are organized like book chapters, and are listed in the table of contents in like manner. Each topic category begins with a summary illustrating what the selected bibliographic entries listed in that section share in common. These summaries when read in total provide excellent background knowledge and a big picture view of how research has evolved in this area.
For example, I've been looking for literature to supplement my course reading list for an undergraduate course for a specific lecture and discussion on the Ebonics debate that erupted in the mid 1990s and the actions taken by the Oakland Unified School District. One of the topic overview sections is titled, Controversies about Vernacular Englishes in Schools (K). This led me to a list of roughly 100 entries, many of which also had abstracts (Note: The authors include abstracts to many of the entries when they were available during the compilation of the bibliography). The process of reading specific topic overviews and scanning the selected bibliographic entries that ultimately pointed me to a few articles requiring further examination took me less than an hour.
The topic overviews also provide the added benefit of helping an instructor to frame a lecture and discussion around specific readings. The Topic Overview, Language or Dialect Awareness Approach (L), for example, summarizes how descriptive linguistics has contributed to the legitimization of vernacular dialects of English. The politics of prescriptive and descriptive grammars can often be confusing for college students, especially when discussing political correctness. But by exploring the rationale of descriptivism through well-selected academic literature, students can understand how qualitative and quantitative research unequivocally proves the logic and legitimacy of vernacular varieties of English, and allows students to critique the politics of linguistic variation without denigrating certain varieties of English.
The only criticism of African American, Creole, And Other Vernacular Englishes in Education regards the last Topic Overview, Video Resources. This list is very short, and there must be more references than those provided. While productions such as The Story of English (1986) or Do You Speak American (2005) are excellent resources, work like Crosstalk: A Study of Cross-Cultural Communication (Gumperz, Jupp, & Roberts, 1979) are not included. Understandably this film was produced for a British audience, and so might not be relevant to the purview of the bibliography. Collecting some of these kinds of resources, however, might also require thinking outside the box. I've discovered that audio and video recordings can be excellent supplements to course readings that can highlight or animate, important topics and themes. Interestingly, comedians can provide entertaining context. Anjelah Johnson's skit on the nail salon, for example, highlights how authority in vernaculars of English can be exercised in ways that are not always obvious. And Key and Peele's skit on the substitute teacher challenges our understanding of correctness and asks us to consider why one dialect variation has more political authority in the classroom than does another.
In the end, however, African American, Creole, And Other Vernacular Englishes in Education is a valuable and worthwhile bibliography, and I wholeheartedly recommend it!
Cran, W. (Director). (1986). The story of English (TV Mini Series). United Kingdom: BBC.
Cran, W. (Director). (2005). Do you speak American? (Documentary). United States: MacNeil-Lehrer Productions.
Gumperz, J. J., Jupp, T. C., & Roberts, C. (1979). Crosstalk: A study of cross-cultural communication. London: National Centre for Industrial Language Training