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Black and White Styles of Communictaion in Conflict

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How Black and White Styles
of Communication Differ
Modified for US-1 from an original presentation by
Dr. Alan D. Desantis, University of Kentucky.
Brief History of English (1)
1) The British colonized North America
– They brought the English language and its
customs and settled the original 13 colonies
along America’s Eastern Coast.
2) The distances between the colonies
created sub-dialects that are still heard today
– New York vs. Boston vs. Appalachian “talk”
– Cf. the American Tongues videotape
– Differences in accent, pace, vocabulary, etc.
3) One of the most distinctive U.S. dialects
is Black English
A Brief History of English (2)
4) Over time, Black English developed its own
vocabulary, pronunciation, grammatical rules,
nonverbal cues, dress, walk, and distinctive
speech culture.
5) American dialects have different status
– Since political and economic power was
centered in the Northeast, the way those
people spoke became “Standard” English
A Brief History of English (3)
6) The Problem:
Those who spoke differently were stigmatized by
the majority speakers. Thus the Southern,
Appalachian and Black dialects, among others,
were considered to be “bad” English.
7) Most people know little about the Black
Dialect, which is also known as Black English,
Ebonics, AAVE and BEV, among others.
Communication Differences
1) BE is Different from SAE
Black English has its own specific rules for 1)
pronunciation (ax [ask], spoze), 2) vocabulary, 3)
syntax, 4) accent, and 5) grammar (“are = be”)
BE is not a bastardized version of SAE; it is its own linguistic
form with its own rules of “appropriateness.” However, nonblacks often view BE as being uneducated and unrefined, and
sometimes even threatening.
There is frequent misunderstanding, even conflict,
when BE and SAE speakers do not understand their
different modes of speaking and acting.
Communication Differences
2) Call and Response Communication
– Traced back to Africa
– The black church, jazz, movies, clubs, talk
• Cf. the Apollo theater in Harlem, black churches
(highly interactive), dance floor chanting,
interpersonal exchanges (overlapping)
– Blacks see SAE as uninvolved and removed
– Whites see BE as loud, aggressive and impolite
Communication Differences
3) BE Reflects a Personal “Style”
– A) BE speakers desire an individual style
• automobiles (personalized), sports celebration (Ali to
Deon), dress, names (Tashaun vs. Bob), dress modes
– B) The style differentiates BE speakers from the
speech and behavior norms of white culture
– Whites regard BE as showing off, cockiness, not being a
team player (cf. Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley, etc.)
– Blacks regard SAE behavior as boring and conformist
Communication Differences
4) BE Differs From SAE Emotionally
Blacks are more animated and expressive
• Anger & joy are openly expressed
For whites, being rational means to be calm
and quiet
White culture separates mind and emotion, and
masks one’s true feelings
Whites see animated black behavior as less
rational, unrefined and childish
Blacks regard white �rationality’ as cold,
dispassionate, and unemotional
Communication Differences
5) The Importance of Rhythm in BEV
– “Rhythm/groove permeates everything”
• Walking, dancing, worshipping, Black step shows,
marching bands, cheerleading
• Gospel, blues, R&B, jazz, rock, and rap all derived from
only 12% of the U.S. population
• Research shows that “black talk” is more rhythmic and
syncopated than white talk (there is a groove)
– Whites sense BE speech to be “out of sync”
– Blacks sense SAE speech to be “out of sync”
Communication Differences
6) BE vocabulary is more dynamic
– White vocabulary is more stable over time
– Black language is more dynamic
– Why?
• BE language illustrates personal style
• Whites appropriate BE, and thus force BE to keep
changing in order to remain more “individualistic”
• BE language is fun, not just a tool
Communication Differences
7) BE Nonverbal Cues Are Different
– Proxemics — Closer space
– Eye Contact — Reversed
• Greater while talking, less while listening
– Gestures — Greater use of body
• Handshakes, body movement, walk, etc...
– Touch — Higher touch culture (with each other)
– Volume of Speech — Loud = Honest
Whites sense BE as too emotional and child-like
Blacks sense SAE as cold, distant and non-feeling
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