Hi Guys,

I'm a new member to this forum, but I'm already excited to be a part of it. Anyhow, I'll tell you alittle about myself. I'm a second year journalism major at Michigan State University with aspirations of becoming a NewYork Times writer. One day I hope to publish my own magazines, but that dream is still in the making.

Below is an essay I wrote on the subject "Ebonics." Basicaly, I would like any feedback on the article. Was it persuasive? Was it clear? Was it enjoyable? Any critical mistakes that I should have noticed? Any and all advice would be appreciated, and please do not worry about huring my feelings; after all, only honest criticism will help. The essay is also avaliable here: http://politicalessays.blogspot.com /, where the essay is accompanied by pictures and colorful borders and tables.

Hope you enjoy it!

An Error in “Black English”

"The basis of shame is not some personal mistake of ours, but the ignominy, the humiliation we feel that we must be what we are without any choice in the matter, and that this humiliation is seen by everyone" (Kundar 125). Milan Kundar, a skilled, prolific writer, highlights here an ageless truism: that a person need not be guilty of some transgression to feel ashamed of it. This applies to individuals as well as an entire people.

In America, it has been widely accepted that the "everyday speech" of African Americans, which is often referred to as “Black English” or Ebonics, is an inferior form of Standard English. Many consider it to be little more than a collection of grammatical mistakes and slang phrases. Even our own Secretary of Education once publicly warned Americans about the dangers of "elevating black English to the status of a language" (qtd. in Fillmore 13).

Unfortunately, current beliefs about “Black English” are enormously flawed; even worse, these beliefs have produced terrible consequences for African Americans, who sometimes feel angry and humiliated by the insinuations that their speech is the result of poor schooling and a low intelligence. Worst of all, these misconceptions are contributing to the continuation of social disharmony and racial polarization. The basis for these beliefs is that “Black English” is somehow an illegitimate form of English. In reality, however, “Black English” is a very legitimate dialect of the American English language, no more error-ridden or slang filled than any other dialect.

Many misunderstandings, half-truths, and stereotypes spring up when attempting to define “Black English,” due to the number of words and catchphrases used to describe it. However, to understand what “Black English” really is, we first need to decide what it is not.

Contrary to popular belief, “Black English” is not Ebonics. Many people think of Ebonics as the specific language used by some African Americans. At “Da Ebonics Page,” a popular Ebonics joke site, a translator will translate Standard English sentences into “Ebonocized” English at the click of a button. Type, “Ebonics is misunderstood,” and the translator will return, “Ebonics iz misunderstood Ya' dig?”( Da Ebonics Page). The result is not surprising, but neither is it Ebonics.

Formed by combining the words “ebony” and “phonics,” the term “Ebonics” was coined in 1973 by Dr. William Roberts, an African American social psychologist, during a conference sponsored by the National Institutes of health. It was during this conference that Dr. Williams defined Ebonics as, “the linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric continuum represent the communicative competence of the West African, Caribbean, and United States slave descendent of African origin” (Baugh par. 4). In other words, Ebonics is a scientific study of the linguistic aptitude of African slave descendents. It is not the proper term for the way that some African Americans speak.

Another misconception about “Black English” is that it is simply slang. The Oxford English dictionary defines slang as (1) Language of a highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense (“slang”). Slang is not particular to one group or culture, but is used by many different groups and cultures. Words like “homey,” “peeps,” and “Cuz,” words often considered to be “black" words, are certainly all slang phrases; however, words like “bunk,” “canoogle,” and “milf” are also slang words, but these are words used most often by white suburban teenagers. Now, just because some people in a larger group of people use slang words does not mean that the entire "language" is a slang language. In America, however, some people feel perfectly justified calling "Black English" slang, even though the actual slang associated is used mainly by younger people in the community. But Perhaps this is why in 1996, Jessie Jackson responded to a school board’s decision to use “Black English” in the classroom by saying, “You don't have to go to school to learn to talk garbage” (Fillmore par. 25). Could it be that he assumed that the school board meant to teach children using slang?

Now, if “Black English” is not slang, and if “Black English” is not Ebonics, then what is “Black English”? Well, most importantly, “Black English” is a dialect of the American English language, similar in style and structure to the Southern American dialect. To demonstrate this point, let’s turn to a fictional conversation between Sally and Rashonnda. Sally grew up in the suburbs of Michigan and speaks in a standard Michigan dialect, while Rashawn grew up in Detroit and speaks with a thick “Black English” dialect.

Sally: Can I see that Magazine?

Rashawn: Which one, girl, the one I just bought?

Sally: Yeah, are you done with it?

Rashawn: Yeah, it ain’t nothin' good in it anyway.

In this conversation, there are two word constructions, “ain’t” and “nothing,” that some people might consider “black English,” but these words are not unique to “black English.” On the contrary, they are used widely in the south and in many rural areas throughout the U.S. Let’s return to the fictional conversation, but this time let’s replace Rashonnda with Mary Joe, a woman from the Deep South who speaks with a heavy southern accent. Both women are white.

Sally: Can I see that magazine?

Mary Joe: Which one, Honey, the one I just got today?

Sally: Uh huh, are you done with it?

Mary Joe: Yeah, it ain’t nothin’ good in it anyway.

In this second transcript, the same two incorrect forms of “Is not” and “Nothing” are used. All that has changed is the race and regional background of the second speaker.

It is highly unlikely that most people would consider Mary Joe’s language inferior; more than likely, they would probably consider it the result of the region that she grew up in. Likewise, the likelihood that someone would scorn Mary Joe by accusing her of speaking Ebonics is rare. Why then is it so widely accepted that the dialect spoken by many African Americans, a dialect so similar to the southern dialect, is inferior? Why has the language of African Americans become the target of so much ridicule and scorn? Perhaps it is because, as Linguist John Baugh claimed, “the distinction between “languages” and “dialects” is usually made more on social and political grounds than on purely linguistic ones” (Baugh 9). In other words, “Black English” is considered inferior by some because it is associated with black people, who themselves have been wrongly considered inferior. And while it is true that since the civil rights revolution, Americans have made strides toward eradicating that perceived inferiority, the old, historical stereotypes of the uneducated, dim-witted African American still exist and pervade some Americans' thinking.

American has been called the land of equality, but until simple stereotypes like the ones about “Black English” are eradicated, our cultural progress toward racial harmony will be stalled. To avoid this, we need to stop calling the way that black people speak “Black English” and “Ebonics” and instead call it what is: English. Perhaps then we can move one step further.

Works Cited

Baugh, John. “Ebony and Phonics.” Public Broadcast Company. 2005. 14 Feb. 2005

Da Ebonics Page. Ed. Joel Thoms. 2005. 18 Apr. 2005

Fasold, Ralph. “Ebonic Need Not Be English.” Center for Applied Linguistics. Dec. 1999: 23 pars. 14 Feb. 2005. http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/ebonic.htm> ;

Fillmore, Charles. “A Linguist Looks At the Ebonics Debate.” Center for Applied Linguistics. Jan. 1997: 36 pars. 13 Feb. 2005

“Slang.” The Oxford English Dictionary. 2004.
Any replies would be very helpful
Dear dranfu,
I have read your paper carefully for the purpose to improve my english. in my opinion, if you put the fictional conversation between Sally and Rashonnda at the begin of paper, it would be more attractive like an interesting story. I hope I can read your paper in NewYork Times someday.
good wish
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Thanks, Liu, for your compliment. And I like your Idea; I might change the introduction and place the fictional conversations near there.
In reply to your essay, first, don't be politically correct, african americans are people who have come from africa, and are now americans. When I was growing up in california, I only heard black people or negroes along with their white girl friends or wives talk this way. I might sound racist, although I am not, I am just going by experience. I have never heard caucasion people talk this way. Contrary to what some people might say about ebonics being a slang. You have to include the black accent, which in my experience generally speaking, is only done by black or the negro person. An example of black english would be: They went to the sto in they car. Now what is wrong in that sentence. You would not hear that from a caucasion person per se. Sometimes it is so hard to understand negros or people that talk in that manner, that I can not understand their message. Actually, there was a time at cal expo in sacto that was from england or britain and she spoke in british accent, that it completely surprised me.When I here language like this, I have to wonder about their education and their refinement. Now, I am not picking on black people, per se, they are nice people. I just happen to think that they need to refine their communication and language skills. I know that I am going to receive some hate feed back, but we are in a country where you can express your point of view.
Hi, maybe it's too late to post this reply...

I am an expert on this topic by no means but I happened by this website by accident and I thought I could give you a couple of my thoughts on your essay.

Maybe you should use the name that linguists have given the dialect, AAVE (African American Vernacular English). This will give more legitamacy to the dialect in your paper.

There are a lot of interesting things in African American English that most other speakers of English don't really understand or they just immediately write off as being substandard and incorrect or as being "unrefined" as one person said in this thread. Why don't you go into why it's interesting more? And also why linguists say that it isn't substandard or incorrect English?

I found this website rather on the internet after searching for AAVE and thought it might help you with your paper and help you understand AAVE better. I didn't search very extensively so you can probably find something better.

I do agree that AAVE is a lot like southern american english in sound and grammar, but there are number of differences that exist, too.


Good luck
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