Bailey, Beryl Loftman

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Bailey, Beryl Loftman

January 15, 1920
April 18, 1977

A native Jamaican and a bilingual speaker of Jamaican Creole (JC) and Standard English (SE), Beryl Loftman Bailey was the first linguist to describe JC as a coherent linguistic system and advocate the teaching of SE to JC speakers in a manner that takes its systematic nature into account. She also made seminal contributions to the description and analysis of African American English "as a systematic language variety rather than a dialect typified by error or randomness" (R. W. Bailey, 1992, p. 103). She was the first linguist to develop scholarly arguments concerning the relationship of African-American language to creole languages of the Caribbean.

Bailey pursued undergraduate and graduate studies at Columbia University and held faculty positions at Yeshiva University and Hunter College. At Hunter, she was the founding chair of the Black and Puerto Rican Studies Department. Her most important work was produced in the 1960s, when the peoples of the African diaspora were emerging politically and culturally from colonial domination, and when the theory of transformational-generative grammar was revolutionizing linguistics. In her dissertation, published as Jamaican Creole Syntax: A Transformational Approach (1966), Bailey describes an abstract system underlying the mixture of JC and SE elements observed in the everyday speech of Jamaicans. In 1968 she produced a Jamaican Creole training manual for use by Peace Corps volunteers.

The influence of transformational grammar is apparent in Bailey's analysis of African-American language. In an article calling for "a new perspective on Negro English dialectology," she calls attention to such distinctive features of African-American language as the absence of the copulative (linking) verb in sentences such as "She a big woman." Although she used a novel, The Cool World (1959) by Warren Miller, as a major source of data in addition to nonempirical methods of transformational grammar, her findings and conclusions have held up to subsequent work based on tape-recorded samples of empirical data. In a notable quote, she unapologetically defends her unorthodox methods: "This may sound like hocus-pocus, but indeed a good deal of linguistics is. A hocus-pocus procedure which yields the linguistic facts is surely preferable to a scientifically rigorous one which completely murders those facts" (Bailey, 1965).

The most important facts about Jamaican Creole, from Bailey's point of view, are those that support the contention that it is a rule-governed linguistic system worthy of recognition as a language in its own right. There is a coherent system of rules to be taken into account by educators in the design and delivery of instruction to Creole speakers in Standard English medium classrooms.

Bailey "grew up valuing education" (Wade-Lewis, 1993). Her mother was a schoolteacher, and Bailey herself served as an English teacher in Jamaica prior to moving to the United States. In the introduction to her thesis, she expresses the desire to "explode once and for all the notion which persists among teachers of English in Jamaica, that the 'dialect' is not a language: and further that it has no bearing on the problem of the teaching of English" (Labov, 1998, p. 111).

See also Creole Languages of the Americas; English, African-American


Bailey, Beryl Loftman. "Toward a New Perspective in Negro English Dialectology." American Speech 40 (1965): 171177.

Bailey, Beryl Loftman. Jamaican Creole Syntax: A Transformational Approach. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Bailey, Beryl Loftman. Jamaican Creole Language Course (for English-Speaking Students). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1968.

Bailey, R. W. "Bailey, Beryl Loftman." In The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Labov, William. "Co-existent Systems in African-American Vernacular English." In African-American English: Structure, History, and Use, edited by Salikoko Mufwene et al. London: Routledge, 1998.

Wade-Lewis, Margaret. "Bailey, Beryl Loftman." In African American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, edited by Dorothy C. Salem. New York: Garland, 1993.

charles e. debosem (2005)

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