March 22, 2006

Today's Linguistics 101 essay assignment

From a letter to the editor in today's (3/22/06) New York Times (p. A26), from Darwin L. Brown of Atlanta, reacting to a story on the deepening plight of black men in the U.S.  (Brown describes himself as "a married, hard-working black man who is a devoted father of two"):

    Opportunities for black men have never been greater.  It is incumbent upon all of us, regardless of racial background, to take advantage of them.
    Unfortunately, thousands of our black men have failed at this and subsequently descend into being absent fathers, poorly educated, poorly trained and unproductive workers.
    Contrary to what many would have us believe, the people responsible for this are not whites, President Bush or the Republican Party.
    Actually, it is those black men who value conception over fatherhood, Ebonics over proper English language and pocket money over building wealth who are to blame for their own downfall.

Your assignment:

Write an essay (of no more than 200 words) either (a) explaining why Ebonics appears on this list (along with sexual promiscuity and lack of thrift), or (b) arguing that it probably doesn't belong there.  For extra credit, do both.  If this is the sort of thing that entertains you, for a little bit of extra credit, explain why that last sentence might make you long for the serial comma.

Do not send your essays to me; submit them to your section instructor.  I am merely a magisterial presence, writing from a suite in the ivory tower of Language Log Plaza.

[Addendum: In e-mail on 3/24/06, Chuck Smith notes that the letter-writer appears to be saying that we should all take advantage of opportunities for black men.  This can't be what he meant; presumably he meant that we should all take advantage of the opportunities available to us.]

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 22, 2006 06:50 PM