Cover image for Sista, speak! : Black women kinfolk talk about language and literacy
Title:
Sista, speak! : Black women kinfolk talk about language and literacy
Author:
Lanehart, Sonja L.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
Austin : University of Texas Press, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
x, 252 pages ; 24 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780292747289

9780292747296
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

The demand of white, affluent society that all Americans should speak, read, and write proper English causes many people who are not white and/or middle class to attempt to talk in a way that feel peculiar to their] mind, as a character in Alice Walker's The Color Purple puts it. In this book, Sonja Lanehart explores how this valorization of proper English has affected the language, literacy, educational achievements, and self-image of five African American women - her grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, and herself. Through interviews and written statements by each woman, Lanehart draws out the life stories of these women and their attitudes toward and use of language. Making comparisons and contrasts among them, she shows how, even within a single family, differences in age, educational opportunities, and social circumstances can lead to widely different abilities and comfort in using language to navigate daily life. Her research also adds a new dimension to our understanding of African American English, which has been little studied in relation to women.


Summary

Honorable Mention, Myers Outstanding Book Award, The Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America, 2003

The demand of white, affluent society that all Americans should speak, read, and write "proper" English causes many people who are not white and/or middle class to attempt to "talk in a way that feel peculiar to [their] mind," as a character in Alice Walker's The Color Purple puts it. In this book, Sonja Lanehart explores how this valorization of "proper" English has affected the language, literacy, educational achievements, and self-image of five African American women--her grandmother, mother, aunt, sister, and herself.

Through interviews and written statements by each woman, Lanehart draws out the life stories of these women and their attitudes toward and use of language. Making comparisons and contrasts among them, she shows how, even within a single family, differences in age, educational opportunities, and social circumstances can lead to widely different abilities and comfort in using language to navigate daily life. Her research also adds a new dimension to our understanding of African American English, which has been little studied in relation to women.


Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Lanehart interviewed her grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister and included herself as a subject in this look at speaking black English versus standard English and how that ability influences perceptions of self. Lanehart allows the women to speak in their own voices, then explores the deeper meaning behind their concerns and attitudes. In her family, Lanehart is both admired and derided for speaking "proper." The other women have varying degrees of proficiency in speaking standard English, and their attitudes about their proficiency range from indifference to grave concern about their prospects in life. Lanehart posits that literacy and the ability to speak standard English are linked in our culture but that there is no causal relationship between literacy and opportunity. Lanehart also observes that literacy is a social construction, and she explores the cultural biases that reward the ability to speak standard English, but she notes that such proficiency doesn't get a person beyond the other social disadvantages tied to race and ethnicity, and social and economic status. A perceptive exploration of language and identity across generations. --Vanessa Bush


Choice Review

An ethnographic study of language use and attitudes toward language among African American women has long been needed. Some of the contributors to Diane J. Johnson's edited volume Proud Sisters: The Wisdom & Wit of African-American Women (1995) broached the topic, as did, less directly, some contributors to African-American English: Structure, History, and Use, edited by Salikoko Mufwene et al. (1998). Lanehart (English and linguistics, Univ. of Georgia) offers an in-depth presentation of how five African American women (including Lanehart) use and view language. Her sample, admittedly small, encompasses a broad educational and generational range among its five subjects, which includes her grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister. The first half of the book contains narratives from these subjects. The second half presents detailed analyses of each narrative. Lanehart doubts that "standard" English exists, contending that acceptable ("standard") usage is arbitrary: the usage of those in power. Those who, like her, gain an education and adopt an educated English usage may alienate themselves from their communities and their roots. This book, provocative and carefully reasoned, is recommended for linguists, sociologists, and others interested in language, race, and gender. Serviceable index, extensive bibliography. All levels and collections. R. B. Shuman emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Booklist Review

Lanehart interviewed her grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister and included herself as a subject in this look at speaking black English versus standard English and how that ability influences perceptions of self. Lanehart allows the women to speak in their own voices, then explores the deeper meaning behind their concerns and attitudes. In her family, Lanehart is both admired and derided for speaking "proper." The other women have varying degrees of proficiency in speaking standard English, and their attitudes about their proficiency range from indifference to grave concern about their prospects in life. Lanehart posits that literacy and the ability to speak standard English are linked in our culture but that there is no causal relationship between literacy and opportunity. Lanehart also observes that literacy is a social construction, and she explores the cultural biases that reward the ability to speak standard English, but she notes that such proficiency doesn't get a person beyond the other social disadvantages tied to race and ethnicity, and social and economic status. A perceptive exploration of language and identity across generations. --Vanessa Bush


Choice Review

An ethnographic study of language use and attitudes toward language among African American women has long been needed. Some of the contributors to Diane J. Johnson's edited volume Proud Sisters: The Wisdom & Wit of African-American Women (1995) broached the topic, as did, less directly, some contributors to African-American English: Structure, History, and Use, edited by Salikoko Mufwene et al. (1998). Lanehart (English and linguistics, Univ. of Georgia) offers an in-depth presentation of how five African American women (including Lanehart) use and view language. Her sample, admittedly small, encompasses a broad educational and generational range among its five subjects, which includes her grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister. The first half of the book contains narratives from these subjects. The second half presents detailed analyses of each narrative. Lanehart doubts that "standard" English exists, contending that acceptable ("standard") usage is arbitrary: the usage of those in power. Those who, like her, gain an education and adopt an educated English usage may alienate themselves from their communities and their roots. This book, provocative and carefully reasoned, is recommended for linguists, sociologists, and others interested in language, race, and gender. Serviceable index, extensive bibliography. All levels and collections. R. B. Shuman emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Table of Contents

Introduction
Part 1 The Narratives: Peculiar to Your MindOur Languages, Our Selves
Maya: It Doesn't Bother Me
Grace: I Always Wondered If My Life Would Have Been Different If
Reia: Searching for My Place
Deidra: A Mother's Love Is the Greatest Love of All
Sonja: I Had to Do What I Wanted to Do
Part 2 The Analyses: SurrealityMaya: I'm Comfortable Like I Am
Grace: If I Could've Gotten into a Trade School
Reia: I Am Proud of Myself
Deidra: I Was Hiding. I Didn't Know. I Was Scared
Sonja: I Had a Positive Experience
The Rest of the Story
Appendix 1 Participants' Possible Selves Data
Appendix 1 Participants' Speech Samples Data
Appendix 1 Participants' Language and Literacy Ideologies Data
Bibliography
Introduction
Part 1 The Narratives: Peculiar to Your MindOur Languages, Our Selves
Maya: It Doesn't Bother Me
Grace: I Always Wondered If My Life Would Have Been Different If
Reia: Searching for My Place
Deidra: A Mother's Love Is the Greatest Love of All
Sonja: I Had to Do What I Wanted to Do
Part 2 The Analyses: SurrealityMaya: I'm Comfortable Like I Am
Grace: If I Could've Gotten into a Trade School
Reia: I Am Proud of Myself
Deidra: I Was Hiding. I Didn't Know. I Was Scared
Sonja: I Had a Positive Experience
The Rest of the Story
Appendix 1 Participants' Possible Selves Data
Appendix 1 Participants' Speech Samples Data
Appendix 1 Participants' Language and Literacy Ideologies Data
Bibliography