Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Dead Racist Blogging: This Probably Doesn't Deserve My "Language" Tag Edition

It was common for racists to take anything they could conceivably associate with race and claim that this tenuous connection was certain. Race, for instance, defined not only skin color and other physical features, but also culture, civilization, thoughts, morality (or lack thereof), religion, etc. And for any of these, they also had to demonstrate (at least to their own satisfaction) that that of whites was superior to that of blacks.

So it was with language:
Another important influence came to the blacks through their contact with the English language. The peculiar richness of this speech, the call it institutes upon the mind for contextual thoughts makes it to the savage perhaps the most educative of tongues. It cannot be compassed by any lowly people without a decidedly developing effect. The negro has mastered this language in a very remarkable manner, and without deliberate instruction by any form of schooling, and by so doing has given better proof of his natural capacity than by any other of his accomplishments in this to him very new world. . . .

The struggle of the African with the difficulties of our incompleted [sic], open-structured English speech is one of the most interesting features of his history. His inherited habits of mind framed on a very limited language, where the terms were well tied together and where the thought found in the words a bridge of easy passage, gave him much trouble when he came to employ our speech where the words are like widely separated stepping-stones which require nimble wits in those who use them. It would require a separate essay to deal with this interesting subject, so I can only note a few of the most instructive examples of the devices to which the negroes have resorted in their difficult task. . . . Our verb with its imperfect denotation of time and number gives them at first much trouble; to help themselves they have adopted some new but imperfectly defined tenses; "gwine done," "gone done," "done gone," seem to me to be natural efforts to give clearness to our indices of action, which we are able to supply from our grasp of the context,--a mental habit to which the lower races with difficulty attain. . . .

--From Nathaniel Shaler, "The Nature of the Negro," Arena, Vol. III (December, 1890). Reprinted in I. A. Newby, The Development of Segregationist Thought, pp. 58-59. Ellipses are Newby's.

I also recall reading something about how black languages were inferior because they didn't have many words in them--not enough to properly translate the Bible into. I can't recall who said it, but I think it might have been Charles Carroll.

3 comments:

Mike said...

A more modern version of this is the claim that Ebonics (Black English) is illogical, ungrammatical, and inferior to standard English (rather than "different from" and "lower status than", both of which are accurate.)

Anonymous said...

I would say that this proves that blacks are superior to whites. The Bible is a work of fiction anywho!

Skemono said...

I also recall reading something about how black languages were inferior because they didn't have many words in them--not enough to properly translate the Bible into. I can't recall who said it, but I think it might have been Charles Carroll.
Ugh. Finally found it. It's in Ariel's Reply to the Rev. John A. Seiss, D.D., of Philadelphia, pp. 77-79.