Advertisement

Letters to the Editor: Who says African American English can’t be understood? Try listening better

Zora Neale Hurston
African American English is common in the novels of Zora Neale Hurston, seen here at a book fair in New York in 1937.
(Getty Images)

To the editor: The thought-provoking op-ed article, “Bias against African American English speakers is a pillar of systemic racism,” has raised several questions for me.

First, who has the right to label a language or a race? As a former linguistics and anthropology major with advanced degrees, and a former teacher of English pronunciation to nonnative English speakers, I was asked by students why it was acceptable for members of a race or ethnicity to sometimes use a term for themselves that would be unacceptable if used by someone not of that group.

My answer was intent. The term could foster a sense of community for those of that community, but it was often used as a pejorative by outsiders.

Second, I told my students that the ability to understand a dialect or accent is often not an issue of the speaker’s ability but rather the attitude of the listener. Speakers who are perfectly understandable to me have often been rudely told by listeners, sometimes in my presence, that they could not be understood, although no attempt was made to understand them.

Advertisement

Barbara Luther, Orange

..

To the editor: I could not agree more with this piece, although as a 60-something Caucasian woman (and a former teacher), I may see it from another perspective.

Communication is a huge factor to a person’s perceived intelligence. The purpose of language is to communicate, and if you can only be understood within your own community, you are indeed limiting your chances of being understood, making friends and obtaining a job.

Advertisement

If we are going to “understand” each other and solve this racial divide, we must be able to fully communicate.

I remember well the testimony of Rachel Jeantel in the George Zimmerman murder trial. I so wanted to understand what she was saying, but it was difficult. I found myself asking if this was indicative of the education given to people in Florida.

It is wonderful to retain your culture and celebrate it, but we must be able to make use of “standard English” for those occasions when we need to communicate to the outside world.

Retain your cultural identity, but don’t let it limit your future. We are a global community, and we must also value our place in the broader world.

Advertisement

Sandra Ippolito, Huntington Beach


Advertisement