Ebonics black English

Ebonics has been derived from the words ebony and phonics. Ebony refers to black while phonics - to sounds, hence Ebonics is black speech. It has been known as Black English or African American English by most linguists who, when emphasizing on its usage not to be considered standard, call it African American Vernacular English (AAVE). It was perceived by many to be used by the illiterate and the ignorant. The paper aims to decipher the controversy that ensued on the recognition and adoption of Ebonics in school while addressing the challenges that came along with it and showing its literal beauty.

Ebonics was created in 1973 by scholars who felt that the Nonstandard Negro English term had been connoted negatively in the 1960s at the start of the modern linguistic studies of African American communities. Dr. Ernie Smith, a linguist, defined Ebonics as linguistic and paralinguistic features which on a concentric continuum represent the communicative competence of the West African, Caribbean and the United States slave descendants of the African region. It includes the idiolects and social dialects of black people (Smith & Crozier 109).

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Many linguists did not consider it much until December 1996. It was when the Oakland (CA) School Board that had a majority of its students to be African American, whose primary language was the vernacular, passed a resolution regarding its use in teaching the students. One notable approach for teaching language is to embrace the origin of learners. This was a commendable approach and act aimed at helping students master Standard English quickly and efficiently to benefit too from its mastery. It was also as a way of maintaining the richness and legitimacy of Ebonics while facilitating the knowledge and acquisition of the English language skills. The approach, according to the instructors, was helpful to African American children in mastering English as a first language. However, at the time, most people misinterpreted this integration. This was not to be taken kindly by the media fraternity who had misinterpreted Oaklands resolution. The media focused on the negative effect of the approach rather than on the positive outlook. Oaklands actual resolve was to teach Standard English using ways that valued the native language on realizing that African Americans scored the lowest in standardized languages and that most of those in Special Needs classes were black. It was put as a strategy to help blacks transit effectively from home language to the Standard one. The transition needed to be clear to the learners. English, like any other language, was foreign to the native speakers. Media saw this as a root to teaching Ebonics instead of Standard English and that the school had not been approved to bridge codes (Ebonics and Standard English) to improve students performance. The main goal of teaching Ebonics in these schools was to help facilitate the teaching of English language to African-American students.
As expected, the resolution led to research on the language and its impacts on English teaching in these schools. Following this resolution, the Linguistic Society of America, a body of scholars, researched the same issue and made several findings. One notable finding was that the language was found to be systematic and governed by rules like any other but could not be categorized as a dialect or language since that did not matter very much. Students were found to learn best when their tutors respected their primary language. According to the findings, there was a great connection between instructors respect for the learners appreciation of their native language and mastery of the English language. The tutors had to use the primary language to teach the languages of the entire school based on the report by Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (Rickford 73).

Controversy and media criticism that ensued after the Oaklands Resolution exposed the beliefs, ideas, and opinions that people had in the languages. Prior to the case, few sectors gave little thought on the essence of language, English, or the native languages spoken in America. It also exposed their diversities of the need to inform and teach the roles that played in education and public life circles rising. Enlightening and supporting those who had found themselves in meeting educational demands of a cross-cultural setting had to be met (Meier 107).

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar was a famous African American poet and writer. He composed some of the best poetry in the Negro age. In his book The Book of American Negro Poetry, James Weldon Johnson highly praised him, noting that his poetry stood out from the rest in the history of the USA. He produced high performance and literary distinction levels.

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He was a fantastic poet whose work was rich and full of dialects. He chose a very brilliant tone for his works that drew a listener to him, captivating one to his arguments and discourse. Being an African American, Dunbar wrote poetry had two voices - the Standard English and the primary language of the black community in America. He lived among his black community. Several of his works were from the daily challenges and hardships experienced by his people in their fight for equality. He was a great champion of the African American Vernacular and had used it majorly in his poem of Little Brown Baby. He composed the poem "Little Brown Baby" using Standard English and African American Vernacular whose features comprised the grammatical, lexical and phonological characteristics (William 212).
His choice of the language to use in his poetry was not from the mere level of his education or time when he lived. Rather, it was by an urge to show his character and to be a voice of his people, the African Americans. It was his kinship and family that had drawn him to write the Little Brown Baby. Some say this poem was a voice of the slaves who had transited from a period when their families were one and now were separated. The hardships they undergo during these moments are what has been captured in the poem. Here one sees that the speaker seems to be talking to a little child wishing they could stay together forever since he/she fears being separated from the child. This depicts a moment of dialog between a father and child, loving tone employed by the speaker.

Adoption of Ebonics and the Challenges it Poses

Recognition and approval of Ebonics is not an easy task yet it has been found to be very urgent especially in the schools of America where most African American students study. The controversy around it has exposed how the state educates its children. The criticism that ensued after that opened up the world to how various stakeholders could participate in improving the Ebonics movement with teachers roles in developing the students life and the power structure of society. The primary aim is to be visions of the success for poor children and children of color as Lisa Delpit, the author, puts it (Delpit 106).


From Oaklands Resolution to the research done by several scholars, Ebonics is a separate, unique language from the Standard English and is a mother language for all African Americans. Students need to be supported in both languages to understand and use. Secondly, Ebonics is an English dialect that has cultural background that needs teachers who are sensitive to this to teach the students how to switch from home to a standard language gradually.

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