Ebonics

Dr. David Mertz mertz at gnosis.cx
Thu Dec 27 12:40:56 MST 2001


Carrol Cox <cbcox at ilstu.edu> wrote:
|Since somewhat unlettered sneers at ebonics have appeared on a few
|lists, which do not invite further discussion of the topic...

I'm not sure what sneers have appeared, or on what lists, since I have
not received any such things myself.  Moreover, the Oakland thing is
pretty old now, so it's probably not a big thing to worry about.

That said, reaching back into memory, I think there was a point to a
certain eye-rolling at the actual Oakland resolution.  Certainly it is
true that AAVE is a grammatical and rule-governed speech variant.  And
politically us leftists should certainly not make negative bias
judgements against its speakers, as popular prejudice and caricature
often does.

But the actual Oakland thing went farther than this.  The name "ebonics"
itself was perhaps slightly silly.  But that's fine.  More to the point,
the resolution contained some nonsense like claiming the Ebonics was
grammatically based on African languages rather than on English.  But
that belief, while having a certain cultural cache, is not at all how
pidgin/creolization operates.  In syntax, AAVE is an Anglo-Saxon
dialect; the African influences are in lexical and phonetic features.
Every ALA member knows this much (and I do also).

I think there were some spurious examples suggested of Bantu
word-origins too, but clearly there are genuine African roots of a
number of AAVE (and SAE) words, so a reverse formation or two isn't such
an egregious error.  As I recall, the Oakland statment--or maybe only
board member statements (memory dims)--also proposed a Sapir-Whorf
reading of the alleged grammatical differences.  As one of comparatively
few remaining Whorfians, the general sentiment warms my heart, but the
claims rested on misunderstanding of the grammar, and also went way to
far in magnifying small dialect differences into large conceptual ones.

Wheat, chaffe, YMMV...

Yours, Lulu...

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