This podcast is going to explore the use of slang in children’s books and how certain slang can be linked to right here in DC. I will refrain from using the term Black Vernacular English, as there are many versions of informal English used throughout many different communities in the United States. For my own purposes I don’t have a need the need to attribute it to one group or another.
When I think of the term “slang”, I tend to think of it in terms of oral discourses only; but when specifically considering slang in literature, I could barely see slang’s usefulness, limiting it to dialogues between characters.
One day while exploring Borders, I came across a children’s book entitled, Queen of the Scene by Queen Latifiah. I was immediately excited because Queen Latifah has always been a very positive female hip hop icon. I counted on the book’s theme to be positive and realistic, however, as I read it I became increasingly disappointed by the use frequent use slang terms.
As a first grade teacher, I spend a good part of my day correcting my student’s grammar because I believe it is important to speak Standard English not only on an interpersonal level but academically as well. Habitually, students write in the same manner with which they speak. If Standard English isn’t familiar, then mechanics of writing will be incorrect and perpetually misunderstood. So as I read the text of “Queen of the Scene”, I was distressed to the see in print, exactly what I have been battling in the classroom.
But why is it so distressing? Growing up, I only used what we call “standard English” -slang wasn’t a discourse I was allowed to use; although I had heard it used by other family members, and I certainly wasn’t allowed to write it! My parent associated and regarded good grammar with what Dr. Ruby Payne, author of A Framework for Understanding Poverty calls “negotiating” and “networking” skills, or plainly stated, success and accessibility in the future. But just as I thought Standard English was the best option for my students, Dr. Ruby Payne “hipped” me to a few things about “casual vs. formal registers”. The quick and dirty of my enlightenment is this: every context has its own discourse. A discourse for talking with peers, a discourse to use at school, at home, on the playground, in talking to elders or to our boss at work, and so on- and each discourse is to be respected and valued for its own benefits and origin. The best way to think about is like this: a formal or standard register would not be effective and perhaps even dangerous if Dakwan used it to get his toy back from the neighborhood bully on the playground. Equally ineffective would be the use of the casual register or slang while seeking employment. The key though is to make children aware of the differences in environments and the discourses appropriate for each.
Reevaluating slang in children’s literature through a different lens, I came across another picture book who’s title reminded me of the District. The book is entitled “Yo! Jo!” and explores the different ways people say hello in different communities. I thought this would be a great way to examine communal and cultural differences. The use of the word “Jo” immediately screamed DC because I’ve heard soo many young Washingtonians refer to their friends as Jo.
Like other cities, Washington D.C. is home to many different groups of people; each with landmarks, symbols and music that, like discourse, have remained constant representations. For the African American population two D.C. landmarks stick out amongst many: The Big Chair, located in Southeast which has been a longstanding neighborhood symbol for 50 years and Ben’s Chili Bowl located in NW a prominent image of community, prosperity and at one time a beacon of light and hope during one of the darkest periods in our country’s history. But what about the music? D.C. wouldn’t be the same without Go-Go music, a genre born more than 30 years ago by Chuck Brown, has grown into a widely accepted form of music throughout the DC Maryland Virginia area. What’s that, you haven’t heard it? Well you’re in luck, click the link below enjoy pictures of DC landmarks set to Go-Go’s daddy, Chuck Brown’s “Party Roll”.