This Am a Minstrel Stereotype, Right?
From New York City this is Lexicon Valley. A podcast about language I'm John Mc, water and this week you know what I'm going to do frankly what I usually do, which is just bring you in what was I thinking about over the past week or two? And it was a bunch of things but I happened to be revising an academic paper that I'm writing and that paper happens to be about black English I don't usually do those but I mean exception with this one because it's a topic that really grabs me and you know when deciding what to do the show about I thought you know I'm going to do what I'm thinking about I. Don't WanNa, do it about Comma Harris or something like that I'm not. Sure. What I could get out of that I wanNA do me and so I'm gonNA share with you some stuff about the always fascinating dialect of American English black. English. It's called by academics usually. African American vernacular English but I have a hard time saying that so we're just going to call it black English and we're GONNA, look at it from various angles that I have been sitting around laying around still in semi quarantine these days and one of the things is. GonNa be the lost. Am That's what my papers about, and this is something that I've brought up on this show before, and that is the question as to whether actual black. American people ever as linguists call it over generalized an in two persons and numbers beyond where it would go and standard English and so for example, I'll tell you I am a person but in characters of black speech back in the day, the idea was that black people used am with all. Pronouns, and so you am this he am that we and the other thing that's something associated with minstrel shows and comic strips, and you would think you would quite reasonably think that that's something that white performers made up as a way of making fun of black people. That's what I thought for a very long time. But after a while various indications seem to suggest to me that actually wait a minute black people did once us am in a different way than mainstream. English does, and of course, it wasn't all black people but there have always been different ways of speaking even here in America and it seemed to me that well, you know as I'm always telling all of you language always changes and black English is no exception and so it seemed to me maybe actually the minstrels overdid it they were characterizing but maybe there was that different usage of an because all these things seemed indicated and in a show that I did. Probably back in about nineteen forty seven remember when I used to be sponsored by kraft macaroni and cheese way back. Then I said that one evidence of this is that there are vernacular British dialects. The US am in just that way you am we am the black country in Britain is sometimes called the people who are the Yam yams and what they mean by that is that they say you am saw gave you some evidence of that but that was that was. Back right after the Second World War and so what about newer evidence? Well, first of all, what do I mean by this as you might call it over generalized am well, here is one of the latest examples of it in pop culture. This is a highly insignificant. Hollywood. Cartoon from the studio that gave us such indelible characterizations as Casper, the friendly ghost and Herman and Catnip who were about the closest thing in real life to itchy and scratchy on the simpsons in. Any case, one of their other indelible characters was buzzy the Crow Buzzy. The Crow was supposed to clearly supposed to be this this black American little character remember the Dumbo crows while Buzzy was an extension of that, and so buzzy uses reflections of the old minstrel dialect. This is a cartoon called no IFS ands or buts, but spelled with two t's it's about smoking and this is what buzzy says about a cat who seems to have a smoking addiction listened closely. Tobacco smoking. To know. That Cat am Am Can am smokin fiend. Okay. So that's the character. But what's interesting is how often you see black American people depicted as speaking that way in many sources that you might think of authoritative and I have something even better than this is going to build up to a big fine. We're we're circling in. We're we're about to find the real thing but some other stuff. That I've found. So for example, there is a novel written by a Black Man, very conscious as we used to say black man eighteen, ninety, nine it's called imperium in Imperio, and the guy's name is Sutton griggs and for whatever it's worth his father was a Georgia slave. So Sutton griggs eighteen nine, he's post emancipation but he would have heard authentic black speech, the speech of. People who were denied education and what's interesting is that in one of his novels he is writing in very serious vain. We would today call him a black nationalist and he has seen where there's a black mother who is being humiliated by a racist white schoolteacher and she's trying to present her child and defend her child and what she says, and this is a black. Writer of black nationalist stamp who grew up with a father who had been at slave and not in New York City but in Georgia so we're talking about wear black English really arose and I WANNA say throws but that's not the were because it's thrived and so he has the mother saying about her child her son, his name and Belton Piedmont arteries, granddaddy arteries after so. Not His name is built in Piedmont his name and Belton Piedmont and she's a character of dignity. His name in Belton Piedmont not is built in Piedmont am. Arteries. granddaddy. What's Ardour ardor is after and shows how authentic this depiction of speech is in that we know that not only black people but also again regional vernacular speaking British people used arter and explains that problem with Jack and Jill. So Jack and Jill went up the hill to get a pail of water jack fell down and broke his Crown Jill. Came Tumbling after what the Hell is. That is that the best they can do of course, not it was Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling out. After, because, after can become after. After that is the way many people in for example, Yorkshire still say after October it's dialectal after and so they're always many people who said after and he came here and often they were either slave owners or they worked alongside slaves and so early biking, which has