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Posts by John McWhorter:
James Fallows has been superintending an interesting discussion at the Atlantic about how strange early twentieth century American announcers sound to us today (There are five articles in the series so far, listed with links here). The comments on his articles suggest that we need make certain distinctions.
Some clarifications about my Wall Street Journal article, which seems to have led to some misunderstandings among Language Log’s readers (as well as over at Languagehat). Since the readers here are the most well-informed audience that piece will ever reach outside of professional linguists, I thought it’d be useful to clarify what I based the observations in that piece on.
Watching the new DVD release of the patriotic World War II musical This is the Army recently, when listening to champion boxer Joe Louis in a cameo delivering his one line, I found myself thinking of, of all people, Tina Fey.
Specifically, what came to mind was her movie of earlier this year, Baby Mama, whose title was one of assorted indications of late that baby mama, the black American inner-city term referring to a woman one has had children with but is not married to, has become mainstream. Further evidence was when Fox News used the term in a teaser graphic last summer in reference to Michelle Obama ("Outraged liberals: stop picking on Obama’s baby mama"). Graceless, but in its assumption that viewers were familiar with the term, indicative.
Hunt up the derivation of the term these days and even the OED has fallen for a tasty but mistaken idea that the source is Jamaican Creole ("patois"), in which there is a term "baby-mother". However, the chance that a random locution from Jamaican Creole becomes common coin across all of black America is small—a fluent speaker of Black English could go several years without uttering a single word born in Jamaican Creole. Plus, usually the Jamaican term doesn’t really mean what baby mama does, referring more generally to a pregnant woman.