Ebonics

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Thu Dec 27 12:19:59 MST 2001


Since somewhat unlettered sneers at ebonics have appeared on a few
lists, which do not invite further discussion of the topic, I though
perhaps the official statement of the LInguistics Society of America
might be worth circulating to a larger group of leftists.

There are two reasons to respect ebonics. 1) Simple adherence to the
best available technical knowledge of linguists and specialists in
language education 2) A left movement in the U.S. which lightly sneers
at Ebonics is apt to be a deadend. The topic is not in the headlines
now, but for a short time attacks on ebonics formed the core of overt
racism in the U.S. I would not be surprised that such sneers will arise
again sooner or later. Racist themes seem to be rotated somewhat as
different genres on TV.

Carrol

LSA RESOLUTION ON THE OAKLAND "EBONICS"
                                          ISSUE

Whereas there has been a great deal of discussion in the media and among
the American public about the
l8 December l996 decision of the Oakland School Board to recognize the
language variety spoken by
many African American students and to take it into account in teaching
Standard English, the Linguistic
Society of America, as a society of scholars engaged in the scientific
study of language, hereby resolves
to make it known that:

a. The variety known as "Ebonics," "African American Vernacular English"
(AAVE), and "Vernacular
Black English" and by other names is systematic and rule-governed like
all natural speech varieties. In
fact, all human linguistic systems--spoken, signed, and written -- are
fundamentally regular. The
systematic and expressive nature of the grammar and pronunciation
patterns of the African American
vernacular has been established by numerous scientific studies over the
past thirty years.
Characterizations of Ebonics as "slang," "mutant," " lazy," "defective,"
"ungrammatical," or "broken
English" are incorrect and demeaning.

b. The distinction between "languages" and "dialects" is usually made
more on social and political
grounds than on purely linguistic ones. For example, different varieties
of Chinese are popularly regarded
as "dialects," though their speakers cannot understand each other, but
speakers of Swedish and
Norwegian, which are regarded as separate "languages," generally
understand each other. What is
important from a linguistic and educational point of view is not whether
AAVE is called a "language" or a
"dialect" but rather that its systematicity be recognized.

c. As affirmed in the LSA Statement of Language Rights (June l996),
there are individual and group
benefits to maintaining vernacular speech varieties and there are
scientific and human advantages to
linguistic diversity. For those living in the United States there are
also benefits in acquiring Standard
English and resources should be made available to all who aspire to
mastery of Standard English. The
Oakland School Board's commitment to helping students master Standard
English is commendable.

d. There is evidence from Sweden, the US, and other countries that
speakers of other varieties can be
aided in their learning of the standard variety by pedagogical
approaches which recognize the legitimacy
of the other varieties of a language. From this perspective, the Oakland
School Board's decision to
recognize the vernacular of African American students in teaching them
Standard English is linguistically
and pedagogically sound.

Chicago, Illinois
January l997

                                Selected References (books only)

Baratz, Joan C., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1969.
     Teaching Black Children to Read.
     Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Baugh, John. 1983.
     Black street speech: Its History, Structure and Survival.
     Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bloome, David, and J. Lemke, eds. 1995.
     Special Issue: Africanized English and Education.
     Linguistics and Education 7.
Burling, Robbins. 1973.
     English in Black and White.
     New York: Holt.
Butters, Ron. 1989.
     The Death of Black English: Convergence and Divergence in American
English.
     Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
Dandy, Evelyn. 1991.
     Black Communications: Breaking Down the Barriers.
     Chicago: African American Images.
DeStephano, Johanna 1973, ed.
     Language, Society and Education: A Profile of Black English.
     Worthington, OH: Charles A. Jones.
Dillard, J. L. 1972.
     Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States.
     New York: Random House.
Fasold, Ralph W., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1970.
     Teaching Standard English in the Inner City.
     Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Gadsden, V. and D. Wagner, eds. 1995.
     Literacy among African American Youth.
     Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
Jones, Regina, ed. 1996.
     Handbook of Tests and Measurements.
     Hampton, VA; Cobbs.
Kochman, Thomas. 1981.
     Black and White Styles in Conflict.
     NY: Holt Rinehart.
Kochman, Thomas, ed. 1972.
     Rappin' and Stylin' Out.
     Urbana: University of Illinois Press.
Labov, William 1972.
     Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English
Vernacular.
     Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Lippi-Green, Rosina. To appear.
     English with an Accent.
     London: Routledge.
Mufwene, Salikoko S., John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey and John Baugh, eds.
To appear.
     African American English.
     London: Routledge.
Rickford, John R., and Lisa Green. To appear.
     African American Vernacular English.
     Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Shuy, Roger W., ed. 1965 .
     Social Dialects and Language Learning.
     Champaign, Ill., National Council of Teachers of English.
Simpkins, G., G. Holt, and C. Simpkins. 1977.
     Bridge: A Cross-Cultural Reading Program.
     Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Smith, Ernie A. 1994.
     The Historical Development of African American Language.
     Los Angeles: Watts College Press.
Smitherman, Geneva. 1986.
     Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America.
     Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
_____ 1994
     Black Talk.
     Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
_____, ed. 1981.
     Black English and the Education of Black Children and Youth.
     Detroit: Center for Black Studies, Wayne State University Press.
Taylor, Hanni U. 1989.
     Standard English, Black English, and Bidialectalism: A Controversy.
     NY: Peter Lang.
Williams, Robert L. 1975
     Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks.
     St Louis: Institute of Black Studies.
Wolfram, Walt 1969.
     A Linguistic Description of Detroit Negro Speech.
     Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
_____ 1991.
     Dialects and American English.
     Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall and Center for Applied
Linguistics.
Wolfram, Walter A., and Donna Christian 1989.
     Dialects and Education: Issues and Answers.
     Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Wolfram, Walter A. and Nona Clarke, eds. 1971.
     Black-White Speech Relationships.
     Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.

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