Black English and Chinese
14 Dec 2008
I was helping a Chinese friend with her English, and was very interested to read the following dialogue in her book. (I have preserved the grammar and punctuation of the original, but I didn’t feel like writing “[sic]” everywhere.)
> A: Your English is not like American English.
> B: Oh, I see. What I speak is true American English, but it is not standard American English.
> A: What kind of English is it?
> B: It is Black English.
> A: What is Black English?
> B: Black English is as perfect as Standard American English, and in sounds it is equally distinctive.
> A: Can you tell me the difference between Black English and Standard American English?
> B: Black English is similar to Chinese in a way.
> A: Is it like Chinese?
> B: Yes. For example, a Chinese said, “我有5分钱”, there is no -s behind “钱”; an English or an American said, “I have five cents.” After “cent” there is -s; the Black English is “I have five cent”, no -s after “cent”. Another example, a Chinese said, “花红”, an American said, “the flower is red”, but the Black English is “The flower red”.
> A: Oh, I see.
The textbook is called 衣食住行生活英语900句. If I remember correctly, this was Dialogue 1 of five in a chapter called “Learning a Language.”
What a bizarre topic to cover in a book supposedly focused on “useful English.” You only have so much content you can cover in the book, and only a small fraction of that is devoted to talking about language, but you kick off the chapter with a discussion of (morpho-)syntactic similarities between AAVE and Mandarin Chinese??
I’m well beyond being outraged about inferior English textbooks, though. In this case, I have to admit that it’s kind of cool from a cultural standpoint. I’d imagine that the average Chinese person is seldom exposed to such egalitarian linguistic concepts.