We’ve had some fun (don’t know about you, but we’ve enjoyed it) in the last few days discussing what kind of English should be the official English of the proposed law saying drivers license tests should be given in English only. We’re going to wrap up this exercise in another blog or two but we wanted to pass on another form of English because it’s an intriguing story we came across more than fifteen years ago. We think it is unlikely that the legislature will adopt this kind of English as the state’s Official English, but we wanted to include it in the mix because of its historical and cultural value. We have not put our tongue in our cheek today.
American English is an amalgam of Englishes, the product of multi-cultural dialects that interpret words and phrases differently. You don’t have to travel much to know that Ozarks English varies from Texas English varies from St. Louis English varies from Valley English varies from Minnesota English, varies from Georgia English.
Associated Press writer Bruce Smith wrote in 1994 that the American Bible Society had published the Gospel of Luke in “the language spoken by slaves and their descendants for centuries along the Southeast Coast.” He reported estimates that 250,000 people from North Carolina to Florida could speak this kind of English called Gullah, and that Gullah was the primary language of 20,000 of those people. The first complete volume to use Gullah was called DE GOOD NYEWS BOUT JEDUS CHRIST WA LUKE WRITE. Luke 2:7 reads:
“She habe boychile, e fusbon. E wrop um op een clothe wa been teah eenta leetle strip an lay un een a trough, de box weh feed de cow and oda animal. Cause Mary and Joseph beena stay weh de animal sleep. Dey ain’t been no room fa dem eeenside debodin house.”
This is one of those languages that has been spoken for hundreds of years but has not been put into written form. The researchers who compiled this volume worked with hundreds of Gullah speakers and then had the speakers carefully check the written versions of the words to make sure the record is accurate.
You and I are unlikely to know anyone who speaks that kind of English as their everyday tongue. But there are people who do, maybe more than speak the English of King James as their everyday communication and certainly more than use the English of Chaucer.
But is IS English. We’ll watch our legislators to see if any of those who want to stop using the ten or eleven “foreign” languages for drivers license examinations are interested in offering the tests in different, perhaps even “foreign” kinds of English.