Monday, July 28, 2008

Topic: Black Culture and Communication

10-Second Review: Black speech patterns can interfere in communication with Whites.

Title: “Soul ‘n Style.” Geneva Smitherman. English Journal (April 1974), 16-17. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

Summary: In a two-page essay, Smitherman uses Black speech patterns to make some points about the usefulness of appreciating the patterns of Black speech. She particularly points out the Black habit of “call-response,” most familiarly heard in church services. She points out that Whites will misunderstand the same pattern in conversation to mean that the Black persons aren’t listening because they are always interrupting. The very opposite is true.

NOTE: Smitherman in her essay capitalizes “Black,” but does not do the same for Whites. Therefore, in the following quotes, I am capitalizing both Black and White when referring to race. RayS.

Quote: “Call-response—a dynamic interplay between speaker and audience. As Black communication is a two-way street, shot through with action and interaction, the listener is expected to respond verbally or non-verbally, giving approval, even direction to the route of the speaker’s rap. The best immediate ritualistic example is the church.”

“On the other hand, when the White is speaking, the Black typically responds according to the Black call-response pattern. Thus the White person gets the feeling that the Black person isn’t listening to him because he ‘keeps interrupting.’ Similarly, note that in the classroom, rich verbal response from Black kids—rather than the often-demanded quiet passive—should inflate and excite a teacher, ‘cause it mean they diggin’ on what you sayin’.”

Comment: Believe me, the whole essay is worth reading. RayS.

The purpose of this blog is to summarize articles on teaching English/language arts, from kindergarten through college, published in English education journals from the past.

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