Let’s Discuss Code Switching and Culture Series: Hallie Quinn Brown

code switching, dialects, family cultures

The term code switching gained prominence in the last few decades due to the work of theorist Lisa Delpit and other scholars of linguistics, rhetoric and literacy.  The concept, however, has existed in U.S. educational arenas for at least a century.
In the United States, Hallie Quinn Brown, an educator at Wilberforce University at the turn of the 20th century, was one pioneer of the acceptability of alternative English vernaculars. Brown is credited with infusing her work as an orator and elocutionist with the African-American vernacular.
Hallie Quinn Brown

Brown was an accomplished orator, elocutionist and educator, but she was also a preservationist of African-American history (Jackson & Brown Givens, 2006, p. 70).  A survey of articles about Hallie Quinn Brown shows that she is known for embodied rhetoric in her elocution (Jackson & Brown Givens, 2006, p. 70). That is, she featured African-American linguistic and cultural mores in her lesson plans and in her own presentations to communicate an emotional and cultural truth about her topics. 

Her writing, and her elocution, shows that she collected data that would celebrate others. For example, her book Homespun Heroines and Other Women of Distinction is dedicated to “the many mothers who were loyal in tense and trying times” (Dedication). In this book, Brown describes the accomplishments of African American women, such as Harriet Tubman and Isabella – Sojourner Truth. Recent admirers of Brown note that she was an early proponent of cultural diversity in education (Duchan & Hyter, 2008).

Judith Duchan and Yvette Hyder (2008) say that Brown “lobbied against the cultural prejudices of her times by incorporating her politics of social activism into her work and serving as a role model, especially for African Americans and other elocutionists. 
Brown edited eight books that were instructional texts or collections that depicted African-American achievement (Jackson & Brown Givens, 73). Some titles are Bits and Odds: A Choice Selection of Recitations for School, Lyceum, Parlor Entertainments, The Beautiful: A True Story of Slavery, and Pen Pictures of Pioneers of Wilberforce(Jackson & Brown Givens, p. 73). 
In Bits and Odds, Brown was careful to define elocution as something different than oratory.  Elocution was more than just giving a speech, it required an elocutionist to embody the text and to present it as a living force. Therefore, the respiratory and other systems of the body must be involved to bring full force and meaning to a text.  Her embodied rhetoric went beyond the standard topics used in the White community. She also used African-American stories and dialect in her work (Jackson & Brown Givens, 2006, p. 73).
While Brown’s work focused on the African-American vernacular, her work was a precursor of what was to come.  Today, while U.S. regional dialects continue to evolve, personal efficacy and agency is supported when individuals learn to write and speak in Standard American English.  However, those regional dialects, along with Ebonics (Black American English), Spanglish (a hybrid of English and Spanish)  and Arabizi (a hybrid of Arabic and English) are among new codes that are gaining validity among scholars of the arts, humanities and social science disciplines and among individuals in those related disciplinary professions.
Railroad Switches 
Frankfurt Central Station, Germany. 

Works Cited

Brown, H. Q. (1971). Dedication.  Homespun heroines and other women of distinction. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press.

Duchan, J. F. & Hyter, Y. D. (2008)  Elocutionist Hallie Quinn Brown. The Asha Leader, 20-21.

Jackson, R. L., & Brown Givens, S. M. (2006). Black pioneers in communication research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.
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