Take Home 1
“Administrators tell teachers that they should not allow their students to use Ebonics (also known as African American Vernacular English and Black English) in the classroom, that the students need to use real English.”
1. Why is Ebonics not considered “real English”?
2. What are the linguistic origins of Ebonics?
3. What makes a language or dialect suitable to be taught in American schools?
According to the Linguistic Society of America, the word “Ebonics” was coined by “a group of black scholars who disliked the negative connotations of terms like ‘Nonstandard Negro English’” that had become standard among linguists when the first real studies into African American speech began in the 1960s (Rickford). The term is used to describe “African roots of African American speech and its connections with languages spoken elsewhere in the Black Diaspora, e.g. Jamaica or Nigeria.”
Pronunciation seems to be characterized by the omission of the last sounds in words (‘jus’ for ‘just’ and ‘shoo’ for ‘shoot’), replacing the long /I/ sound with /a/, (‘Frahday’ for “Friday”), or replacing the –th sound with –f (‘maf’ for math), among other methods. There are also some distinct grammatical differences, including leaving out present tense ‘is’ and leaving the rest of the sentence untouched (‘He leaving,” for example), and in some cases switching axillary verbs with “be” (“He be leaving early).
In the period following the Civil Rights Movement, there was a large push from black scholars for public schools to utilize Ebonics in their predominantly African American classrooms in order to assist black students in gaining a fuller understanding of standard English and raising their educational scoring statistics. This push, culminating in the 1996 Oakland Resolution, was met by staunch opposition by critics claiming that these scholars were “promoting ‘laziness of speech’…‘disorders of language’, as well as ‘sidestepping [the schools’] incompetence in teaching correct grammar.” (Ronkin & Karn)
I would venture to hypothesize that the reason behind the Ebonics-as-a-language debate lies in English-speakers’ general tendency to not want to accept certain grammatical revisions and terms not deemed elevated enough by societal standards.
Academic articles seem to delve into greater detail about the origins of Ebonics itself. According to Black Issues in Higher Education, the term was officially coined by a Missourian psychologist named Robert L. Williams in 1973. Williams supported the claims above, believing that that Ebonics “has both grammatical and lexicological base,” referring not only the differences in grammar that were previously stated, but also to terms such as ‘fixing to’ and ‘ama’ (a sort of abbreviated “I’m going to”). Linguist Dr. Carol Blackshire-Belay states that Ebonics began to develop the second that the first slave ship left Africa. She asserts that the coded system has deep roots in “West African languages of Ibo, Yoruba, Ewe, Wolof, Fante and Mandinka,” and maintained that Ebonics is very much so a language. However, there are other experts who disagree. Dr. Anna F. Vaughn-Cooke stated there just is not enough research to support a definitive link between modern Ebonics to West African languages. She viewed the coded system as more of a dialect, asserting that “Black English is not a separate language from English.” (Fields) Though Dr. Vaughn-Cooke would not call Ebonics a language, she never negated its place in American society or within the black community. Ronkin and Karn explain the “Anti-Ebonics Ideology” that sprung up around the time of the Oakland Resolution; it promotes the “belief that Ebonics is ‘bad grammar”, ‘slang”, and a ‘pseudo-language’” and even attributed these attitudes to “linguistic racism” on the part of authors who published such sentiments. Their article, Mock Ebonics: Linguistic racism in…