John Baugh


My name is John Baugh.  It’s spelled J-O-H-N  B-A-U-G-H and I’m a professor of education and linguistics at Stanford University.

Many Americans are uncertain about how to refer to the speech of people of African descent within the United States and it’s traveled under many labels through the years. When I was a graduate student during the 1970’s the term Black English was most popular.  I use the term black street speech to refer to, um, the speech of blacks in the inner city in colloquial situations and didn’t mean to mislead my readers when I did that because blacks don’t just speak in one uniform way, but within the African American community, people will often make a distinction between school language, language in the community, language in church and I was concentrating primarily on the language that was spoken, um, by African Americans in colloquial and informal settings at that time.  The history is one where slaves came to the U.S. from a completely different background than did immigrants from any other group and it was primarily because they were separated by language upon capture to hold down uprisings.  And then once they landed in the new world they weren’t really allowed to go to school, so the linguistic differences that they encountered as a result of slavery were more deeply entrenched than for other immigrant groups because of the lack of  access to education. 

Children who come from inner city communities, not just African American children, but to a very large extent many African American children in--in urban and--and perhaps some rural settings, um, their language usage at home and in the community may be substantially different than the language that will be needed to be successful in school.  And so it’s not identical to a bilingual situation where a child speaks a language other than English, but it does require a fair amount of linguistic dexterity and for many African American youth, there are also issues of identity that play into this as well.  So, the perception that one’s speech is closely in line with one’s cultural alliances and affiliations, uh, is reflected in--in the language of many young, uh, people from various racial backgrounds and for African Americans a lot of this de--is--is reflective of the fact that they feel that their group loyalties and loyalty to their peers are more strongly reflected if they use their vernacular language rather than standard English.  Um, under many circumstances there are students who try to do well in school and recognize that within the academic context that’s the linguistic--that standard English is the linguistic norm that they should adopt. 

If I were in a position to entice teachers and, more broadly, educators, to more fully appreciate the significance of linguistic diversity in the United States, I would begin by having them reflect back on their own family experiences first and the unique linguistic ancestry of their family.  Very few of our American ancestors can trace their heritage back to England and exclusively through an English heritage.  The majority of American citizens once had ancestors who were not native speakers of English and so by first appreciating the linguistic struggles that take place in--in one’s own family, uh, you begin to get a sense of what it’s like for people who don’t presently have standard English proficiency.  And so I would like very much for the teachers today to recognize that the linguistic diversity that they encounter in their classrooms might be thought of as a linguist--as a linguistic resource rather than a linguistic liability.  At the time I was a--an elementary school student in the ‘50s and the ‘60s many of my teachers who were well intended, chastised my language thinking that it would help improve me, but it--it diminished my self-esteem and more than that  there were peer pressures that were upon me to speak the language of my peers.  So if today’s teachers could recognize that their students are under competing linguistic pressures and that the nonstandard dialect isn’t simply willful defiance of standard English, but an artifact of the history of segregation that has separated the society for far too long, then we may come to the point where we have greater linguistic tolerance in the future.

When I think about what teachers can contribute to making students feel more comfortable linguistically, I am immediately reminded of my life experience as a child of public school teachers.  My mother is a public school teacher, my grandmothers were both elementary school teachers, my mother-in-law’s a special education teacher, my sister-in-law is a high school counselor, her husband is a high school football coach, my paternal uncle teaches mathematics in an inner-city ele--elementary school and his wife teaches art in an elementary school so, um, my family at Thanksgiving always  focuses on these issues and I have the highest professional regard for teachers.  First, I think that teachers want to have control over their own curriculum.  Teachers have preferred teaching styles and so what I would like to do is to help teachers take the preferred teaching styles that they have that they know are effective with students already and calibrate that so that that effectiveness can be maximized with students from diverse backgrounds.  Many of the teachers that worked with my--my mother and my grandparents would stereotype a lot of  minority students and simply dismiss them and say that their academic prospects were not that high.  What my mother and others, I think, demonstrated quite effectively is that you can take students from diverse backgrounds, provide them with the skills that they need, a scaffolding, a linguistic scaffolding, if you will, to make the transition from the home language to fluency in the dominant linguistic norms that will help them, uh, obtain the lifestyles that they want to acquire.

The Eubonics controversy is misunderstood for many reasons.  If you’re--the person that--that views this tape is likely to acknowledge that there are certain stereotypical linguistic patterns that are associated with African Americans.  There has never really been an adequate term to account for the linguistic consequences of the African slave trade, and indeed, the original definition of Eubonics from 1975 looked at the linguistic legacy of slavery in West Africa, the Caribbean and the United States.  Because of the fact that I was a graduate student back in 1972 and in ‘73 when this term first emerged I recognized that the people who coined the term intended for it to refer comprehensively to the linguistic legacy of slavery.  What this means then is that people of African descent in Brazil speak Eubonics with a Portuguese base.  People in--of African descent in Haiti speak Eubonics with French base.  And it was never intended, originally, to focus exclusively on the United States.  There were then scholars primarily oriented toward an, uh, Africalogical perspective, very strongly influenced by looking at the African influences in language and society among people of African descent, that felt they wanted to control the terminology at which point they began to produce work exclusively using the label of Eubonics to refer to the language of people of African descent.  Now the difficulty that one runs into linguistically is that race can never define a language community.  People from different racial backgrounds can speak the same language.  One can speak French and you don’t have to be of a particular race, so when you use a linguistic label, in this particular instance the label was created with a racial group attached to it, and therein lies part of the problem.  Clearly there’s a legitimate historical justification for looking at the linguistic consequences of the African slave trade, but in order to try to address the educational needs of African American students, educators in Oakland tried very, very much to introduce terminology that was more closely aligned with that of traditional language minority students for whom  English is not native.  So, essentially, the ultimate consequence of the Eubonics controversy, which has never been resolved, is whether or not the linguistic differences that resulted from the African slave trade are constituted as separate language or a dialect.  The reason that this is significant educationally is that if it’s a separate language those students might be eligible for bilingual education funding, however, if they speak a dialect of English, no such funding would be available.  So, the stakes are fairly high and the linguistic evidence that has to support this needs to be more forthcoming and we’re working very hard, but we’re doing so not to try to  get around affirmative action, but to find better ways to address linguistic equality in the society as a--as a whole.

You raised a very important question and it’s one that came up when the linguists were first asked to clarify the status of Eubonics as either a language or dialect.  What many of my colleagues in the linguistic society recognized at that time was that there are places within the world where language labels are used and yet the speakers, Swedish and Norwegian are--are nearly mutually intelligible, but they have different labels as separate languages.  The so-called dialects of Chinese are, in many instances, mutually unintelligible and yet they’re classified as dialects largely because they share the same writing system.  The situation in the United States became more complicated because we have laws that are in place that define where funding allocations can go or cannot go.  And so the label is--is quite significant, but--but--but to the pointed end, if we’re looking at a separate language, it’s one where there is very low intelligibility among people who don’t share the same system and chances are you’ll need a translator or an interpreter for communication to take place.  And in a bi-dialectal situation, which I think is more appropriate for the African American situation, we have individuals who do understand a great deal, they don’t understand everything, but most of what is said is comprehended to the point where an interpreter is not required.

When we speak of standard English in the United States I have a tendency to focus on two broad categories.  The first is national standard, I’m trying to produce some of that now, that’s what  a broadcaster might use in any part of the United States, but we also have regional standards and these are reflected very nicely in the speech of our representatives in congress, for that matter, you heard traces of regional standard dialects, uh, by President Clinton and President Gore and, uh, President Kennedy, for that matter, President Johnson, President Carter, each spoke with a very distinctive accent which was representative of the standard English provincially in their region.  The United States is quite distinctive in this regard because we do have regional standards that differ substantially from the national standard.  Minorities have been either encouraged or--or coerced, in some instances, to gravitate toward those standard norms.  People see it as completely counterintuitive to have members of the majority culture acquire the nonstandard variety and yet this was proposed by the--James Slead (ph) a scholar at the University of Texas.  Many, many years ago there was a program that he advocated, uh, under an article titled “The Politics of Bidialectalism” and he said that--that the more affluent students have the time and the resources to engage in the luxury of learning another dialect and he--and took the radical position that they should learn nonstandard English and that the st--and that the nonstandard speakers wouldn’t have the burden of linguistic change.  Um, that was rejected unceremoniously by members of the nounc--National Council of  Teachers of English and others as--as, uh, being impractical,  but it exposed the fact that there--there isn’t uniformity in the oness (ph) of linguistic change on our students.  The burden has always been on those from standard Englishes, not native.

For many years linguists have routinely referred to the concept of speech community without really providing adequate reference.  The first significant definition of a speech community was provided by Leonard Bloomfield in 1933 where he defined it as a community where people interact by means of speech. Now that sounds simplistic and circular, but from that he tried to say that people had to share the same linguistic knowledge in order to effectively communicate by means of speech.  In later years, Del Heinz, William Lebove and many other scholars recognized that people had to also share norms of interaction and norms for communication in order to be considered to be part of the same speech community.  We have colleagues now that work with disabled students that monostatually (ph)  use the term language community so that speaker--so that signers, not speakers, of sign language, forgive me, so that--that  the deaf who use sign as their means of communication can also be thought of as a language community as well.   The notion of linguistic imperialism, which I wrote about under other circumstances, is where dominant groups are intolerant of those who do not share fluency in their linguistic norms.  And what is natural and--and--and taught at the--the--the knee of every mother of the upper class isn’t equally accessible to those from the lower socioeconomic echelons.  And so imperialism comes about when the dominant group is either extremely insensitive and there’s a benign unawareness or lack of sensitivity, uh, toward others that don’t share fluency in their norms or what’s worse, is that there’s overt discrimination, a kind of shibboleth (ph) where, uh, language is a signal of who should be included or excdlued from certain segments of society and that doesn’t just exist in the US, that’s--that’s found throughout the world and, indeed, I’m going some current research on linguistic profiling that looks at this where people are the--the object of discrimination based on their speech.  Linguistic profiling differs from racial profiling in the sense that, um, it also targets people within a particular racial group.  Let’s take whites for a second.  Linguistic profiling can affect people from the South when they travel to the North.  It can affect people from Chicago or New York when they travel down to Alabama and Georgia.  So beyond race, we find that the linguistic differences among us can of--often serve as--as basis upon which we gravitwate--gravitate toward other people or that we--we find that we’re less comfortable with--with people.  And, um, I think that’s all I want to say about that right now.

Because of the fact that I have such great respect and admiration for teachers and I’m mindful of the fact that my own mother, uh, who was a devoted teacher throughout her professional career, was frustrated by mandates that were handed down from above that constrained her ability to be a professional teacher,  I would like to think of what I offer as a complimentary piece of information in an alliance to help advance educational excellence for students from all backgrounds throughout the United States.  As director of Stanford’s teacher education program, which is a po--position I held previously, a philosophy was one of encouraging all incoming teachers to succeed with students whose backgrounds were substantially different from their own.  What this meant is that we would break away from the model where, um, we saw a pattern where students were more likely to succeed if they were taught by teachers whose backgrounds were similar to their own.  Minority students are in a lose/lose situation with that because the vast majority of teachers are--are white, um, very well intended with an extremely difficult job.  I would like to move beyond an ethos of linguistic tolerance to one of genuine linguistic acceptance in an environment where teachers are champions of the language that children bring to school.  When I attended school one of the most hurtful things that happened to me at the hands of many teachers, that I knew were well intended, was they made me feel that I was somehow abusing English when I said ain’t or if I didn’t have perfect  subject/verb agreement or one of the most frustrating things, I used to pronounce the words pin, p-i-n and pen, p-e-n with no difference, they sounded exactly the same and many teachers devoted a--an extraordinary amount of time to trying to get me to pronounce those differences, but there were many instances that I was often confused because I would use a form like be as in ‘they be running’ which means that they are usually running.  That’s a very productive grammatical form to have in your linguistic arsenal and yet within standard English, where that form is not used, I was told that that was wrong.  So if teachers can recognize that when, for example, a Latino student writes the word school as eschool with an ‘e’ in front, that that’s influenced by Spanish and not simply a--a willful mistake or--or an inadvertent mistake, um, it would be wonderful if there was a way to introduce this without adding an added burden to the teacher.  What I like about your program and what it’s trying to do is that you are mindful of the fact that your teachers are extremely busy people with limited amounts of time with tremendous expertise in their own right and that they are facing a difficult situation where students, in many instances, appear to be defiant and resisting the very linguistic information that they feel the students need in order to succeed.  To a certain extent, this is a reflection of youthful patterns that we see across the board regardless of ...unintelligible... because white adolescents also engage in slang and--and in--in nonstandard language usage, um, that--that that’s a defiance of authority.  When that defiance of authority, uh, also takes into account race, socioeconomic status and circumstances where parents have not had the benefit of a good education themselves, teachers are faced with even greater difficulties and often under circumstances where they have fewer resources then teachers with hetero--with homogenous classrooms of students who speak standard English in more affluent communities. 

My own linguistic circumstances are rather unique and there’s been more than one occasion where I’ve had teachers at the end of a presentation say, ‘Well I want my students to be able to do what you do.’  Thus far, I have not modified my speech so people see that I do a inner-city side as well as my professional voice,  (Mr. Baugh changes dialects within the previous phrase) but the circumstances in which I grew up demanded that I  (clears throat) have fluency in more than one dialect if I was going to be accepted in more than one community.  Um, my parents played a great--had a great deal to do with the fact that I knew I was in a nurturing, loving environment.  My parents are also both well educated.  My parents both have PHd’s, they didn’t have PH--I mean they--they acquired the PHd’s as I grew up, but, um, they were both college educated and when I was a child and so having circumstances where, um, my mother, as an elementary school teacher, knew what was acceptable in school, had a great deal to do with it.  My mother’s an expert on the teaching of reading so I had the advantage that I think many middle class parents, uh, provide, um, I was from a middle class background and if the majority of teachers just think about how they educate their own children, OK?  Because I am the student of  a teacher and under the very best circumstances in public and private schools there’s a partnership between the home and the school.  The very best education takes place there.  The difficulty that we face with parents who have not met with academic success themselves, is they rely almost exclusively on the school and their reliance is often on schools that have restricted resources.  So, even though I attended some schools in that situation, I was seen as one of the brighter students or more capable in that situation largely because of the  added work and support that I received from my mother and my father.

My first awareness of linguistic profiling, although I didn’t call it that at the time, uh, happened when I was looking for housing in California.  I called several apartment complexes using my professional voice, which I’m using now, and was told there was no difficulty and in most instances, when I went to look at housing there was no difficulty, but in four instances I was told that there was some mistake.  And, at the time, I was suspicious that there were racial overtones to my being denied access to even look at this housing, uh, but I couldn’t prove it.  And so I conducted an experiment  later to see if, in fact, the housing discrimination patterns could be influenced by speech.  And so because of having grow--because I have grown up, uh, in Los Angeles in an--in an--in an inner city context, um, I modify (uses accent)  my speech as the situation calls for.  And so I would call and  I would say, ‘Hello, I’m calling about the apartment you have advertised in the paper,’  but I would also call using a (uses a Chicano accent) Chicano dialect and say, ‘Hello, I’m calling about the apartment you have advertised in the paper,’ (uses professional dialect) as well as my professional, ‘Hello, I’m calling about the apartment you have advertised in the paper.’  Now, educators will be seeing this, but experimentally this is very important because the same utterance with the same grammar is only being modified phonologically.  So if perspective landlords hear the nonstandard phonology and deny access to the housing, it’s not because I’m not using standard English grammar, I am using standard English grammar, and so what this work shows is that linguistic profiling can take place over the telephone and indeed, in some new research that  we’re doing, we’re showing, quite effectively, that insurance companies, uh, rental agencies, uh, and others, uh, will often use the telephone as their first screening and--and thereby maintaining, uh, racial discrimination that’s much more difficult to detect. 

The message I would like teachers to take away from this is that they are in a unique position to let every student know that they bring and enrich the linguistic heritage and legacy of the United States.  This is not Bosnia, ethnic cleansing is not part of our cultural orientation.  Americans, almost more than any other people on the face of the earth, should recognize that our ancestors come from all over the world and speak the various languages of the world in pursuit of the desire to become a good America.  Our ancestors who came here, if you think of them as good Americans, were good Americans philosophically before they had English proficiency.  And what would be wonderful is if teachers could help to encourage and nurture that linguistic diversity, rather than viewing it as something that’s problematic that should be eliminated.  This is especially important in the global economy.  We’re at an incredible time of transition where resentment against the United States can be found in various pockets throughout the world.  And one of the best ways that I’ve found to demonstrate that we, as Americans, are appreciative of our neighbors abroad is through our efforts to try to learn their languages and use those languages when we go there.  Um, our dominance in the world has created a situation where most Americans can travel to almost any other place on the globe and find English as one of the languages that tells them how to get to the exit, the bathrooms and the bank.  Um, that’s misleading and we don’t really provide comparable services for others who come here and indeed they recognize that English is so pervasive here that they feel they need it.  We’re in a unique position to actually turn that around a little bit and recognize that by reclaiming our heritage languages we can begin to build bridges back to the various nations where our ancestors came from and do so supportive of the global economy and I think reflective of our responsibility as the wealthiest nation in the world.