Tuesday, November 27, 2007

? מי זה

This one's technically Someone Else's Field, but since it's showing up in newspapers, it's worth a mention here:

GASTON --"Who you is?"

That's how a student greeted me years ago in a Miami classroom. I waited to see how the teacher would respond to this insult against grammar, but she did the last thing I expected: She answered the question, as if it had been posed in English.

Um, news flash for Leonard Pitts and his editors (that includes all you folks at America's Newspapers who wrote heds for it, read the copy and slapped it on the page). "Who you is?" is English. We can rule out Hebrew, or Arabic, or Spanish, or anything else they teach on the upper floors. It may be nonstandard English, but that's a whole different beast from being not-English. And considering its appearance in a paper that routinely forms question heds without inversion or auxiliary support, this is the sort of cheap shot that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones at.

If that sort of slur had showed up under the byline of Walter Williams or Cal Thomas or someone else from the oppressed right-wing minority that somehow manages to dominate America's op-ed pages, you'd hope somebody would call it out. But Pitts is a well-better-than-average op-ed columnist, and he's trying to make a well-intentioned point. (As he notes none too modestly, "This, by the way, is the latest installment in What Works, my series about programs that are tackling the challenges faced by black kids. ") Should he get a free pass?

I'd like to think not. It's easy to single out nonstandard features for ridicule, but it's a short skid from there to some pretty ugly territory (and depending on who gets to determine which dialect is dominant and which features are worser'n others, me and Pitts might find ourselves on the same unheated train to Siberia). It's already too easy for dialect to become a game of Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others. I'd prefer it if journalism was trying to fix that, rather than making it worse.


Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...


What probably doesn't work is teachers responding to formulaic greetings as if they were insults.

8:51 PM, November 27, 2007  

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