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Linguistic Profiling, AfricanAmerican English Origin, Gullah

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Published on Apr 27, 2008

Discusses the linguistic profiling research of John Baugh. Linguistic profiling is when are discriminated against on the basis of perceived dialect (see also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAZMIC..., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3KCL97...).

Also discusses one theory on the origins of African American English. The theory here is the creolist view. Other views include (1) substratist view, (2) dialectologist (or Anglicist) view, (3) settler principle view, (4) founder principle view.

Also briefly mentions Gullah, a creole language spoken by the descendents of slaves off the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia.
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Transcript

In the 1960s Detroit was the home of Motown. Today there's a thriving hip hop scence. Even the white cross-over rapper Eminem comes from the area called 8-mile. Inner city Detroit is 82% African American. But language can define you just as much as the color of your skin. At the main bus station we meet John Baugh, a professor of linguistics from Stanford University in California. John joins us in Detroit to demonstrate an experiment he's been conducting for years about how American react to different accents. It's called linguistic profiling. First, he checks the rental housing section in the city paper. Then, he calls properties that are advertised for rent. He calls first using an African American accent.

Realtor: May I help you?

JB: Yes, my name is Michael Davis. I was calling to see if you might have any houses for rent that might be available?

RM: Then, he calls again speaking with a Latino accent.

JB: Hello. This is Juan Ramirez. I'm calling about the apartment you have advertised in the paper. Yes.

RM: Finally, he calls in a perfectly neutral American accent, which is, in fact, how he reall talks.

RM: What kind of results have you been getting today?

JB: I've actually been getting some mixed results today, but generally speaking the minority dialects do not fair as well and particularly in the affluent communities.

RM: Is that race or economic class?

JB: It's both. Race in and of itself will not be the factor that excludes one from a particular neighbourhood or a house for sale in an affluent community.

RM: Linguists like Baugh believe the racism behind such prejudice shows ignorance of black history and language. That history is celebrated in this African American museum. The stories of slavery and black english are inextricably linked. It's often assumed by blacks as well as whites that African Americans speak bad or lazy English. In fact, black English has roots as deep and a grammar as consistent as Scottish, Irish, or any other of the Englishes spoken around the world. It was the dreadful traffic in human lives that brought English to the coast of Africa. British and American slavers trading up river introduced the English language to the African middlemen from who they bought the slaves. 20 years ago when we filmed our TV series The Story of English, we went to an upriver trading post in Sierra Leone. 300 years ago blacks and whites communicated with a simplified English known as pidgin.

JB: The contemporary African American dialects all grew from the trade languages that evolved from slavery. The language mixing that took place between the African languages and English on the West Coast of Africa for trading purposes still function today.

RM: This Anglo-African mixture is still the lingua franca on this river. River trade carried it down to the coast and slave depots. This is Bunce Island. The ruins of an old slave fort still stand here. To prevent revolts, trades made sure the slaves penned up here spoke different languages. To talk to each other, the slaves created their own pidgin. So, even before they left Africa, they were speaking an English that was all their own.

JB: And so the slave factories and these trading languages that you've illustrated here are the very origins of contemporary African American English.

RM: 20 years ago, when we filmed off the coast of South Carolina, you could still hear the faint whispers of slave English. On the islands of Kiowah, Edisto, Daufuskie, and Wadamalaw, older people like Benjamin Bligen and his sister Janie Hunter still spoke Gullah and Geechy.

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