The African American Language (AAL) is not seen by the American Education System as a legitimate language. Some scholars want to see AAL used in the classroom and as a valid area for research. Others discredit AAL as a language and refer to it instead as a dialect or just broken English. This leads to worldviews of African Americans, and other non-African Americans speaking the language, as lazy and uneducated. In a nation of many co-cultures, it is counter-productive for cultural groups to express dominance over others. Instead, each culture should be given the respect they deserve, freedom to be themselves, and have their languages recognized by the academic community.
In her review essay, The Literacies of Hip-Hop, Nancy Effinger Wilson attempts to clear this misconception of laziness and under education. She reviews four books written by authors who use AAL “they research [it], they honor [it], and in the process they have created a community of scholars” (Wilson, p.539). Each book uses a different approach to handling the topic, but all four introduce AAL as a legitimate language and worthy of scholarship. According to Wilson, these scholars have proven that Standard American Language is no longer the standard American language (p.539).
Wilson uses the authors’ words to express her own concerns about the legitimacy of the language. An English teacher and Writing Director, Wilson connects the language to its roots and illustrates the necessity for African Americans to have their language recognized. Geneva Smitherman explores cultural roots of the language in Word from the Mother: Language and African Americans. She also articulates the strength of the culture, thus the validity of the language. Kermit Campbell advocates bilingualism and provides support for the literary credibility of AAL in his book titled Getting Our Grove On: Rhetoric, Language, and Literacy for the Hip-Hop Generation. Another advocate, H. Samy Alim confronts the “ideology of linguistic supremacy” in his book Roc The Mic Right. Elaine Richardson’s Hiphop Literacies explores the origins of the language and provides definitions and examples of the terms used within it. (Wilson, 2008).
Since language is determined by culture (Hybels & Weaver, 2008), understanding and accepting AAL as a legitimate second language to SAE and honoring the scholarship of it would improve the nation’s education system. SAE is a dying language in America, with one in five students speaking a language other than English (Hybels & Weaver, pg. 119). Bilingualism is almost a necessity for American teachers, marketers, business people, and researchers. A British language expert states, “English-only speakers may find it difficult to participate in a multicultural society” (Cited in Hybels & Weaver, pg. 119).
Culture provides a window to the world. People compose a world view with the language they use reflecting their culture. (Hybels & Weaver). One of the authors reviewed in Wilson’s essay described AAL as more than a language. “It represents a people’s identity, culture, and history…language is power” (Cited in Wilson, 2008). Campbell and Richardson both add to this, with accusations against the white majority, and using SAE as a source of power or dominance. With this in mind, it cannot be possible for young African Americans to develop an unbiased world view. They will always be fighting against “Whitey”. According to Wilson, Hiphop Literacies urges American academia to “advance their pedagogies according” to “the wealth of knowledge about the world around them, [which African American] students have” (Wilson, pg.539).
Since language is a person’s main tool to compose their world view, looking at the structures of the AAL will aid in determining whether or not it should be considered valid. Alim and Campbell both work to advance scholarship in this area. Wilson asserts that Campbell’s work is a pioneering effort to build on existing scholarship and expand the knowledge (Wilson, pg. 542). He works to trace the roots of the language and urge further research on the area of artists and other public users of the language. Wilson continues with Alim’s work, which explores the politics and co-culture spaces of the language, and attempts to break the idea of language supremacy. He also analyzes literary content based on all the same factors used in analyzing great American Literature. The factors he uses are “alliteration, wordplay, metaphor, narrativity, and a variety of rhyming pattern” (Wilson, pg. 543).
Since African American Language utilizes the same bases and formats as Standard American English. There is no reason it shouldn’t be included as a second language. Wilson sums up her article much the same as this essay closes. There has to be more substantive research done in this field to validate it. Then, maybe America can move on and become a truly harmonious and diverse society; without prejudice and dominance.
Hybels, S. & Weaver, R. L., (2008). Communicating Effectively (eighth edition). McGraw Hill Companies Inc.: New York.
Wilson, N. E., (2008). Review Essay: The Literacies of Hip-Hop, College Composition and Communication; Feb. 2008; 59, 3: Retrieved from ProQuest Education Journals, Feb.14, 2009.