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Course Hero. "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Study Guide." February 18, 2021. Accessed June 5, 2023. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-Black-English-Isnt-a-Language-Then-Tell-Me-What-Is/.
Course Hero, "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Study Guide," February 18, 2021, accessed June 5, 2023, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-Black-English-Isnt-a-Language-Then-Tell-Me-What-Is/.
James Baldwin wrote "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" to respond to controversy in the United States regarding the use of black English. He argues that black English and other languages developed by marginalized people or those who exist outside of the cultural mainstream deserve full recognition as languages. Instead these languages are suppressed. Those who speak suppressed languages are not allowed to do so and must use the language of the group that is in power. The dominant language of the group that is in power then becomes a political weapon against speakers of suppressed languages. This attempt at suppression is why black English is referred to as a "dialect" rather than categorized as a language. Baldwin states the issue has less to do with the languages themselves and more to do with a disdain for marginalized people. He uses examples from around the world of the tensions that result when marginalized groups are thwarted as they try to assert themselves using language to solidify his point.
Decades after Baldwin wrote the essay, black people are still fighting prejudice in America. Some people are still trying to gain recognition for black English which is now more formally known as African American Vernacular English or AAVE.
"If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" presents an argument by a first-person narrator that explains why black English is a language and not a dialect or other subcategory of spoken communication. The first-person perspective is important because Baldwin is personally connected to the issue. The present tense communicates the timeliness and timelessness of the argument.
James Baldwin was a prolific American writer living in France when the legitimacy of black English as a language was being debated in the United States in the late 1970s. A specific point of contention was the use of and possible recognition of black English in schools. Baldwin did not have his own children, but he had a great affection for his nieces and nephews and an overall concern for the future of black people in America.
This study guide for James Baldwin's If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? offers summary and analysis on themes, symbols, and other literary devices found in the text. Explore Course Hero's library of literature materials, including documents and Q&A pairs.