Tag Archives: language

The Way Black Folks Talked in the 70’s


So I sat in my house late this evening, mimicking the voices I heard in “Sanford and Son,” “Good Times,” “The Jefferson’s,” and all the other 70’s television shows I remember watching (don’t judge me). I found it interesting how men and women alike seemed to hold out their vowels in their nasal cavities until the sound pierced and scattered the air. Even men with the deepest voices somehow found a pitch in the lower register that could cut. From my couch, I spoke like this lady I remember hearing speak in some court case on television. I’m not sure what it was about. I just remember that whatever I was watching had that old seventies haze about it. I emphasized my Iiiiiii’s and e’s in reeeeeeally. And when I said all, I remembered how Louise Jefferson called her husband, Geoooooorge, and my all came out something like auuuuuwl. And after several like exercises, I realized that the vernacular of Blacks in the seventies required much more investment from the mouth’s muscles than does our current one.

One day, I will be old, and people will be puzzled by the way I used to speak. In fact, I know that there are some linguists and anthropologists studying the dialect of Black-twenty-something-single-American-women right now.

I marvel how often we study yet do not fully grasp
. .

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Bows, Bowels, Vows, and Vowels

When I was younger, I guess between Kindergarten and 2nd grade, I had this amusing confusion of the words bows, bowels, vows, and vowels. I had no idea what people were talking about; I thought people were renewing their vowels and making bow movements. It was so absurd! I wasn’t alone though. I remember a childhood friend of mine (we’ll call her Toya) pulled me aside and told me “I know how people renew their vows! They sit on the toilet!.” I thought Toya was brilliant! It all made sense. And since I went to a private school, we girls were always being forced to curtsy at assemblies and dances, so bow movements were simply what the boys did.

I don’t actually remember when I clarified the differences between these four words, but thoughts of the time spent in ignorance make me chuckle.

Americans are always looking for ways to make their babies smarter than the last generation of babies. One of the more recent devices claiming to guarantee genius offspring was the Baby Einstein DVD set. But in an article in Time, Alice Park debunks the product’s effectiveness, citing research that stated, “the more videos they watched, the fewer words they knew. These babies scored about 10% lower on language skills than infants who had not watched these videos.”

I’ll be honest. As an educator, I am not certain that the children I serve are any smarter than the generation I came up in or the ones before mine. They do have access to more, but many of them refuse to apply diligence in solving problems. Often, I have to scold children for trying to take pictures of their homework directions instead of simply writing them down. I love my students, and I know many of them will do great things eventually, but if these are products of the most sophisticated technologies and ideas, I don’t have much confidence in the next wave of advancements.

At seven years old, I couldn’t conjugate verbs, speak four languages, or distinguish between bowel, bow, vowel, and vow, but I worked hard and had a lot of fun. And I don’t think I turned out so bad.

I marvel at our tendency to fix what isn’t broken.

Time article cited featured here: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1650352,00.html#ixzz1rpy6OFmI

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