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American Speech 79.2 (2004) 201-207

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Response to Kirk Hazen's Review of Sonja L. Lanehart's Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English

Michigan State University
City University Of New York

Normally, we would not write a response to a book review, but Kirk Hazen's (2003) review so distorts what the book is about that we feel compelled to respond.1 Moreover, a number of troubling issues are raised by the review that we do not treat below. Instead, we refer interested readers to Makoni et al. (2003) and Spears (1999), especially the introductions, for discussions of related issues. Due to space limitations, we restrict the following remarks to only a few of the review's significant misrepresentations.

Sociocultural and Historical Contexts of African American English (Lanehart 2001) is a collection of papers from a two-day conference held in 1998 that preceded the 28th Annual Meeting on New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV 28). The intent of the conference was to answer certain questions Lanehart posed in framing the conference and book, including the fundamental question of what African American English (AAE) is. Nine additional questions were posed and responded to in the chapters by the conference participants whose names follow in parentheses:

  1. How can recent research advance the discussion of the AAE/creole relationship? (Sutcliffe)
  2. What is the relationship between AAE and other American English dialects? (Bailey and Cukor-Avila)
  3. What is the role of AAE in Hip Hop? (Morgan)
  4. What can we say about gender and AAE? (Troutman)
  5. What is the role of AAE in the African American community? (Morgan, Mufwene, Spears, Troutman, and Zeigler)
  6. What is the role of AAE in education? (Baugh, Foster, Labov, and Spears)
  7. What can we say about the acquisition and maintenance of AAE? (Baugh, Morgan, and Wyatt)
  8. How does AAE serve as a resource for the African American community? (Morgan, Spears, and Zeigler)
  9. How can we conceptualize the study of AAE in broader terms? (Mufwene and Wolfram) [End Page 201]

Hazen's review, unfortunately, does not adequately reflect the intent, content, or scope of Lanehart (2001). Worse, at several points it misrepresents what is stated. For example, he contends that "Sutcliffe claims that AAE is a tone language, a typological claim unattested in the phonological account of AAE in the chapter by Guy Bailey" (103). What Sutcliffe actually suggests, not claims, is that "AAE can usefully be regarded as a tone language (or perhaps post-tone language)" (141).2 All the significant work on relative pitch, phonemic pitch, or tone (depending on the terms one prefers in light of the baggage that each carries) has appeared quite recently. There is still so much to be sorted out that it is quite understandable that Bailey (probably) chose not to treat this topic. Thus, Hazen's remark that reference to tone is "unattested" in Bailey's chapter is beside the point.

On the first page of his chapter, Sutcliffe refers to the "creole-like grammar seen to be operative in modern African American English" (129). Hazen criticizes this because "creole-like," he states, is undefined. He also presents a thinly veiled criticism of Sutcliffe's statement, noting that it is in "sharp contrast to the previous chapter [Cukor-Avila's], which emphasizes how AAVE had a similar grammatical system to other English varieties early in the twentieth century" (Hazen, 106).

Creole-like, a straightforward term, refers to grammatical features that are like those in the group of distinctive grammatical features commonly found in Atlantic creoles. True, individual features in the set can be found in noncreole languages—this has often been noted, but the set is a trait of Atlantic creoles. (See Holm 2000.) Some of the features in that set are found in AAE today and, we have every reason to assume, in nineteenth-century AAE, e.g., associative them, the complementizer say, and unstressed been. (See Spears forthcoming for further discussion.) This does not imply that AAE...


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