Assignment: Talking Black in America

For this assignment, make sure you have read Morgan’s “Speech Communities” chapter and answered the study questions (they will really help you with this assignment). Then watch the video “Talking Black in America.” (directed by Neal Hutchinson and Danica Cullinan 2017, 66 mins). The film looks at the history of Black English (BE) and the African American speech community from its African origins, through the trans-Atlantic slave trade, to the present-day communities in the United States and the Caribbean. The film examines many aspects of Black English and other dimensions of the African American Speech Community and it includes interviews about the meanings of Black English with speakers, performers, linguists, and other experts. The film will help you gain an understanding of the social and cultural role of language in the life of the Black community and the historical roots of African American speech. It will also help you appreciate the the systematic patterning of Black English and learn about the language prejudice and stereotypes that dominant language ideologies have perpetuated about the speech of African Americans. The film shows the importance of language and verbal performance in the Black community. As Keith Cross observes early in the film, “They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but you know I feel like I grew up in an environment where a person could use a few words and it felt like a thousand pictures.”

Some questions to think about as you watch the film:

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What is “talking Black”? How do linguists and speakers define or describe it? What different kinds of definitions and defining characteristics are discussed?
How have expectations of “talking Black” impacted the lives of people included in the film?
What kinds of variation within “talking Black” does the film depict? What are the bases of these distinctions?
What does using different varieties such as BE and GE accomplish for speakers and why do they do it?
What is the reputation and the reality of the grammatical (phonological, morphological, and syntactic) features of BE? What examples are used in the film?
How does the way BE has been described and stereotyped represent a linguistic ideology as we have learned that term?
What was the “Ebonics controversy”?
What historical events have shaped the development of BE and its different forms, including Caribbean and rural southern forms?
“Talking Black in America” shows is that Black English is not simply a variety of English with a set of grammatical features, but rather a continuum of varieties that include regional, generational, and class-based differences, among others. Not every speaker uses all of the features associated with the continuum of varieties and speakers can codeswitch between BE and other varieties, including what Morgan calls General English.
For your assignment, write up a short, 500 word response paper applying the ideas in Morgan’s discussion of speech communities to the the information provided in the documentary. In your paper, please answer and address these questions:
What is the early definition of speech community? What did it emphasize?
Who were the scholars that later refocused the definition of speech community and how did the concept evolve? What are the current characteristics of speech communities as described by Morgan?
What is the nature of the African American speech community as depicted in “Talking Black in America?” Provide examples of the different elements discussed by Morgan using information, opinions, and quotes from interviews shown in the film.

Please note that it is the final bullet point that is really the focus of your paper and should account for most of the paper’s content.

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