Saturday, August 8, 2015

A linguist in Wonderland...

So a couple days ago I had a brief chat with a reporter from the Jacksonville Time-Onion ("it stinks!"). It was about a thing going on here, wherein the parents of a young child are suing the school board because they don't want to provide speech therapy for their child. They think that because their child doesn't pronounce certain consonants at the ends of words, they need speech therapy. Someone at the school board has suggested that it might just be a dialectal thing; this angered the parents, who are African American. 
Plot twists to the story: The child is only about 3 years old; and the parents insist they don't talk like that.
I tried to provide a little perspective by pointing out:
  • It could be dialectal, since AAE often patterns to minimize word-final consonants, and also that it would be worthwhile to hear if the child pronounces the alleged missing consonants in other positions in words.
  • The pathologization of African American speech (and other) behaviors has a long, sorry, and racist history. 
  • Contrary to our folk model, peers and those a little older are more important to children's language development than are parents.
  • At only 3 years old, the child has barely had time to complete the process of language acquisition; chill out.
Here's what made it into the article:
However, Robert Kephart, a linguistic expert at University of North Florida, said the case raises a decades-old debate about dialect versus defect within the black community.
“There is a tendency that we have with labeling some of the things that African-American children deal with as pathology,” he said, pointing to the 1950s and 1960s when it was common practice for psychologists to label African-Americans as “cognitively deficient” for such things as speech.
Oh, and one more thing:  I don't know them, but I'm betting dollars to donuts these parents are over-achievers who are panic-stricken at the idea that their child just might grow up knowing some Ebonics.  We'll see how it plays out; I'll keep you posted.
Link to the Times-Union story here.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

August 6, 2015

It's that time of year again, but this time it's special: This is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima, followed a couple of days later by a similar bombing of Nagasaki.  As I'm sure I've mentioned before, this event resonates with me; perhaps a little more so this year, since I also turned 70 a month back.

And as before, I will state that I think these bombings represent the most egregious war crimes ever carried out by humans against other humans.  Of course whenever I do this, I get blowback from (usually) well-meaning friends who have learned over the years that these bombings saved many lives by bringing Japan more quickly to the point of surrender.

Most of what I have read about this suggests that this was not the case, and that in fact the main reason the bombings were carried out was to show the world, and especially the Soviet Union, that we had these weapons and we were crazy enough to use them.   Howard Zinn, the People's Historian, agrees with this, so I'll let him have the brief last word: