Gilyard, _Voices of the Self_

Gilyard, Keith. Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence. Wayne State UP, 1991. (175 pages)

Gilyard offers an auto-ethnographic narrative of his coming-into-being as a black young man, juggling between different discursive worlds in and outside of school. In the early part of his book, he looks at the ways Black English is intimately tied to racial hierarchies as well as defining his self through his participation within this sociolinguistic environment. He offers the concept of bidialectalism which describes the ways (often) African-Americans use language “as a way of adapting to situations and, to some extend, as a means of defining and controlling situations” (40). IN other words, people of color weave in and out of different discursive spheres in order to participate—and survive—in American culture.

Like other authors like Lyons, the education system was seen as, in Gilyard’s words, “a machine that exists to disable students, to remove them from the running for middle class status, thereby ensuring the maintenance of exploitive social structures” (62). He offers three approaches to instructing school, in light of the racial and identity politics involved in literacy education. Eradication is an approach where Black English is seen as a delimiting dialect to that of Standard English. The goal, then, is to only legitimize Standard English while simultaneously labeling Black English as inappropriate and Black English speakers as cognitively deficient. For Gilyard, this approach is obviously a non-starter. What he sees as the best approach to literacy education is Pluralism: “insit that the language of Blacks be left alone site it is as good as any other. While it is true, these critics assert, that Black English speakers suffer setbacks in the society at large, such setbacks are due to who they are—not what they speak” (72). Finally, he offers the idea of bidialectalists, where cultivating Black English is just as pragmatic as Standard English. Such an approach, as Gilyard points out, is beyond curriculum.

 

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