Ebonics Essay, Research Paper
This is an English exam paper prepared for the EVU2-EDB course at
Niuernermik Ilinniarfik, Nuuk.
The main topic of this paper is the USA, and I have chosen to concentrate on a
fairly new issue, the language know as Ebonics. There have always been changes
in the English language. This is how the language came about and evolved from
standard British English to American English.
During the last few years, as the world has become more sensitive to the rights
of minorities, women, animals, etc. a new form of changes has taken place. These
changes have become known as Political Correctness.
Ebonics is the political correct version of Afro-American English. I intend to
show that ? and comment on how ? racialism and competition affects a society and
how this, in the case of Ebonics, is actually happening in today’s America.
Nuuk February 1997 Ral Fleischer
THE QUESTIONS ASKED I will attempt to answer the following questions about
Ebonics; – what is Ebonics? – what are the underlying reasons behind Ebonics? -
who is prospering from Ebonics?
What is Ebonics? Most people outside of America have at most but a vague idea of
what Ebonics is all about. Apart from being a buzzword in American media since
December 1996 what are the fundamental concepts behind this expression? Where,
how and when did it start, and who started it?
What are the underlying reasons behind Ebonics? To fully understand Ebonics,
some historical background is needed. One has to have some knowledge on how the
English language has developed in America. Furthermore one has to be aware how
the American society is loaded down with the influence of stereotypical thinking,
racialism and competition. In his autobiography, the famous black spokesman,
Minister Malcolm X, portrays the undisguised hostility that exists between white
and black people in America. He illustrates this conflict with the following
words: “?You cannot find one black man, I do not care who he is, who has not
been personally damaged in some way by the devilish acts of the ? white man!.
The greatest miracle ? in America is that the black ? has not grown
violent ? they would have been justified by all moral criteria, and even by the
democratic tradition” (The Autobiography of Malcolm X, page 371 & 349)
Is Ebonics simply the democratic consequence, a black non-violent upraise
against the “devilish acts of the white man” as as foreseen by Malcolm X?
Who is prospering from Ebonics? What advantages is meant to be attained ? and
for whom ? with Ebonics?
DESCRIPTION OF THE MATERIAL Although the introduction of Ebonics has excited
more debate than almost any other philosophical issue in recent years, only a
very small amount of written material ? apart from newspaper articles ? about
this subject has reached Greenland so far. This, because Ebonics is a rather new
and first and foremost an all American phenomenon.
Newspaper Articles The majority of the material collected for this paper
consists consequently of various newspaper articles. I was able to follow the
discussion about Ebonics in the American newspaper ‘the Washington Post’ via the
Internet and have as a result chosen the following articles as the basis of my
inquiry into the matter of Ebonics: – Ebonics: A Way to Close the Learning Gap?
- Among Linguists, Black English Gets Respect – Ebonics Debate Comes to Capitol
Magazine Articles All of the above listed articles are from the Washington Post.
I also managed to find a few articles in ‘Time Magazine’ and ‘Newsweek’ from
which I chose: – Hooked on Ebonics The contents of these articles have given me
an impression of how the American public “officially” interpret the concept of
Internet Web-sites Furthermore two Internet web-sites (computerised electronic
billboards) have been of incredible help, the first by providing me with the
original ‘Declaration of Ebonics’, the other by broadening my understanding of
the fundamental concepts of Ebonics together with giving the viewpoint on the
subject by a common American. These two Internet web-sites are: – Oakland
Unified School District Web Page – EBONICS Pseudo-Intellectualism for the masses
Interview An interview was performed via the Internet Chess-server “Caissa.com”
in the form of a correspondence with my good friend edfdo from New York. A
discussion about chess-ratings ended up becoming a cursory go trough on various
different subjects, in which edfdo revealed his very own personal reaction
Books Finally the following books have been of use: – Two Nations, Black and
White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal – The Autobiography of Malcolm X – Race,
Culture and Intelligence
The first two by giving an insight into the divided ’soul and heart’ of the
American society, and by presenting to me some of the historical background that
preceded Ebonics and allowed it to come into existence. The latter by further
deepening my understanding of the essential idea behind racialism and
competition among races.
DISCUSSION What is Ebonics? Technically speaking, Ebonics is the vernacular
style of The English language spoken by Afro-Americans. The word Ebonics,
origins from the words “Ebony” and “Phonics”, the name referring to the colour
black and to the representation of sounds with symbols.
The word Ebonics was invented in 1973 as to describe an Afro-American speech
pattern with roots in West Africa, but it was not until 18 December 1997 ? when
the Californian Oakland School Board released its declaration on language
development policy ? Ebonics suddenly came into instant fame. An excerpt of the
revised declaration is enclosed in appendix 1.
In a formal statement, the Oakland School Board recognises Ebonics as the
primary language of many of its students and announces their intention of
teaching their students in this primary language, in order to help the student
to master standard English.
The statement included this controversial sentence “?African Language Systems
are genetically based and not a dialect of English”, a remark that immediately
raised a public outcry: The old confrontation of comparing race and intelligence
flared up in the American media once again.
The Oakland School Board accuse opponents of the Ebonics movement of ignorant
misrepresentation and corruption of concepts. But the uproar has since prompted
the Oakland school officials to retreat from parts of their resolution, even as
they argue that their intentions have been misinterpreted, and that their goal
with the Ebonics declaration is solely to promote standard English.
Yo Bro’, “name” edfdo! With various newspaper articles as the only source of
information, different people reading about Ebonics could end up with some very
different opinions on what the main concept really is about. In order to clarify
things, nothing is better than to discuss your opinion on the subject with
another person. The following excerpt from “edfdo on Ebonics, an Internet
Interview with edfdo from New York” provides us with a good firsthand impression
of Ebonics: “…lotsa talk ‘n stuff about chess deleted. Ral: It created a big
fuss (at least in the washington post, i’m reading it via the net) but it seems
like it [the idea] already is worn out?
edfdo: Probably. A lot of people were upset that school would be teaching “bad”
English. Not a lot of info about the decision was publicized. people reacted
emotionally, on both sides of the issue. It seems to have died down a bit.
Ral: I thought [that] the main issue was about a DIFFERENT English, that people
didn’t liked to accept the idea of a bi-lingual society? How do YOU feel about
edfdo: It’s not a different language, though, just a slang or dialect of English.
The problem isn’t people using both languages; it’s people only knowing
“ebonics” and being unable to read/speak “normal” English. Ebonics isn’t like
Spanish or French?a true second language.
Ral: I only know ebonics from movies and the post, is it so different from
normal english, that ebonic-speaking people don’t really understand it?
edfdo: Ebonics speakers understand normal English, and they use it’s vocabulary.
They just put sentences together diofferently (in some cases) and use slang
words. They would say “He be fraid” for example, instead of “He is afraid.”
Ral: So the main issue is/was really “bad” english. How many schools have
actually introduced ebonics, is it only that single one in california?
edfdo: Well, “bad” is judgmental. It’s certainly nonstandard. As far as I know,
it was only proposed by the school board in Oakland CA. It is, though, studiesd
by professional linguists because it has interesting patterns. ” (edfdo on
Ebonics, an Internet Interview with edfdo from New York; Tournament #D38)
According to edfdo, Ebonics is nothing but the politically correct term for a
slang dialect of standard English, a dialect being characteristic of not
conjugating the verb “to be”.
A dialect or a language? Much of the present discussion is concentrated on
whether to view Ebonics as a dialect of standard English or as different
language, a question long debated between linguists.
According to many Afro-American liberals Ebonics is solely the official name for
the “African Language Systems” or “Pan African Communications Behaviours”. A
distinct language with its own grammatical rules, and with a speech pattern to a
degree, influenced by African roots.
Opponents on the other hand, often people with a different ideological opinion,
believe that Ebonics is not a language . Although standard English speakers
unfamiliar with ebonics may have trouble understanding some Ebonic words or
phrases, the similarity far outweighs the differences.
Recently linguistic researchers have shown Ebonics to be very similar to Old
English, Irish and Welsh dialects, and have chosen to classify Ebonics as a
Social Dialect. A dialect of a language, spoken by minorities, often
discriminated cultural or social groups.
Some quite contrasting views on the concept of Ebonics, often dividing along
ideological lines, which provides us with a most disturbing message; The opinion
lies in the skin colour of the beholder.
What are the underlying reasons behind Ebonics? In a racially complex and
volatile society like The United States of America, opportunities for different
groups to impose their own kind of justice, to send a message, happen all the
time. Yet the Oakland School board resolution, sparked an unfamiliar discussion
Ever since the abolition of slavery, separatist Caucasian-American society have
discriminated a large number of its Afro-American population, forced them into
living in poverty, in a separate culture, both social and language wise. Given
the current distribution of wealth in the American society, and the fact that
the foundation of this wealth is mainly due to the work of black slaves ? who
are the ancestors to the remaining Afro-American population in America ? today’s
American society is fundamentally unfair.
There is a similar inequality in the distribution of the “intellectual wealth”.
In a 1963 study, Caucasian-American scientists measured a difference in average
IQ of 21,1 points, between Afro-American and Caucasian-American children. It is
no wonder that many Afro-American citizens feel themselves vulnerable to
humiliation and seek ways to distinguish themselves from their oppressors, the
The Caucasian-Americans means’ to distinguish themselves from the descendants of
the slaves ? today’s’ Afro-Americans ? can be summed up in a single word. That
word of course, is “nigger” . Its persistence reminds the Afro-Americans that
they are still perceived as a degraded species of humanity, a level to which
Caucasian-Americans can never descend.
Some view Ebonics as black liberals’ attempt to counterattack the language based
discrimination of Afro-Americans. One person puts it this way: “The cancer of
Afro-centrism has once again reached a new low ?in Oakland California ?instead
of educating its children has?.voted to institutionalise the legitimacy of
gutter language and slang.
?The underlying ?motivations are ? largely based upon the typical paranoid
delusions which self-proclaimed black community leaders have claimed before.
Specifically it appears to come from a resentment towards Asian immigrants in
California who learn English from federally funded programs” (Ebonics Pseudo-
Intellectualism for the masses, 1997)
The issue about federal funds, is by many seen as one of the primary reason
behind the Oakland School Boards decision. Even some of the Oakland school
officials says they wanted to use the Ebonics resolution as a license to seek
and receive federal and state funds for bilingual education .
One could say that the Afro-American liberal leaders have learned to fight back.
Mimicking the economical oppression of former days, they are now turning the
weapons back on their oppressors, using the most sacred American dollar in a
democratic upraise against the reigning competitors, the Caucasian-Americans.
Who is prospering from Ebonics? Racial issues are finally making it to the top
of the American consciousness. Attention have been focused where it has not been
and where in this case it badly needs to be.
Different groups with different ideologies get a chance to discuss their
opinions, and the American society will definitely prosper from this exchange of
views. Both Afro-American liberal groups as well as Caucasian-American racialist
groups feel that they gain benefit from this discussion. The liberals because
they believe that the claim of a separate and equal Afro-American culture with
its own original language is being taken serious at last. The racialists because
they like to show that Afro-Americans are dumb and unable to learn proper
But the really important question in this case is this: Will the students end up
more proficient in English?
The children in Oakland Unified School District are challenged indeed. As of in
the summer of 1996 ; – 71 % of the students enrolled in Special Education were
Afro-American. – 19 % of the 12th grade Afro-American students did not graduate
- 80% of all suspended students were Afro-American
The evidence about the effectiveness of Ebonics ? taking care to respect the
different use of the English language among certain groups of Afro-Americans,
usually the poor and uneducated, is still limited .
Why don’t I like the word genetically based? I sense a inner aversion when I
read the sentence “genetically-based language”, hatred and stupidity have long
enough ruled this world. As an individual brought up in a culture different from
that of my racial heritage, I have come to realise that ones’ language
proficiency is, apparently NOT linked to racial ancestry. The Ebonics movement
is worthwhile in many ways, and I must say that I fully back up the meant
intention behind the movement. But the one-track minded focus on genetically-
based language is creating a reverse effect of ridicule that does not serve the
original purpose of Ebonics.
Most of the arguments against Ebonics boil down to the main belief that the
English language is being totally ruined by people with linguistically
inadequate abilities. This fear of a repulsive “Bad English” cover up ? in my
opinion ? an unspoken repressed racialism that is threatening the American
valuable freedom of speech. Not in such a way that some people are afraid of
what they say, but how they say it, or rather that they are afraid of being
insensitive to others’ opinions. An old saying reads “One should prefer a good
enemy to a bad friend”. Although it is my deepest hope that the aim for a just
and equal society can be reached with the mentioned approach of repressing “bad”
feelings, I sincerely doubt this can be accomplished.
As I see it, that kind of “reverse discrimination” is a key element of the
Ebonics movement, strengthening the anti-achievement, anti-self mentality in
poor Afro-American communities, consequently encouraging people to accept
themselves as members of oppressed and aggrieved groups, rather than as
individuals who have the power to improve their own lives.
CONCLUSION As it turns out, Ebonics is nothing but an old problem, given a new
name. We all like to believe that we have the freedom to choose what to think.
But the very system behind language occurrences like Ebonics seems to be a kind
of naturally working social regularity in any given society at any given time. A
social regularity that we just recently have become aware of. The occurrence of
separatism in societies seems inevitable.
What caused Ebonics seems to be the fact that a large number of the Afro-
American population, by being kept isolated and discriminated, have been forced
into living in a separate language culture, a culture elsewhere since long time
The underlying idea behind Ebonics, that Afro-American citizens in all ways need
to distinguish themselves from their oppressors ? the Caucasian-Americans ? has
evolved from a larger movement to distinguish ethic and moral diseases,
Political Correctness. And the resemblance in character of the Political Correct
and the Ebonics movements is revealing. Both movements are based on a genuine
desire to induce an awareness of respect, to make a more dignified world. There
is a need for movements and organisations who is willing to fight for respect
and justice among races and societies. Sadly, the Afro-American movement’s
odious means to obtain recognition and respect seem to have undermined its goals.
The wanted respect is not gained by marking children speaking a dialect as
I have, in my discussion of this topic, felt it necessary to disclose my honest
point of view in this matter. And YES, I have cherished my ‘demagogue’ role. If
I have revealed any meaningful truth that will help to destroy the ignorance
that is causing the lamentable situations haunting this earthly world, then all
the credit is due to my friend, Jesus. Only the mistakes have been mine.
LIST OF LITERATURE
Fleischer, Ral; edfdo on Ebonics, an Internet Interview with edfdo from New
York; Correspondence Interview via the Internet, Nuuk/New York, 6-10 march 1997
Hacker, Andrew; Two Nations Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal;
Ballantine Books, New York; 1992
Leeland, John et al.; Hooked on Ebonics; Newsweek, page 50-51, 13 January 1997
Oakland Unified School District Board of education; SYNOPSIS OF THE ADOPTED
POLICY ON STANDARD AMERICAN ENGLISH LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT; link from
http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3070/ebonics.html; 08 January 1997
Richardson, Ken et al.; Race, Culture and Intelligence; Penguin Books,
Sanchez, Rene; Ebonics: A way to Close the Learning Gap?; The Washington Post,
page A01, 06 January 1997
Ebonics Debate Comes to Capitol Hill; The Washington Post, page A15, 24 January
Shkirenko, Alexander; Ebonics Pseudo-Intellectualism for the masses;
http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3070/ebonics.html; 08 January 1997
Weiss, Rick; Among linguists, Black English Gets Respect; The Washington Post,
page A10, 06 January 1997
X, Malcolm; The Autobiography of Malcolm X; Penguin Books, Harmondsworth; 196
APPENDIX : Excerpt from the original ‘Declaration of Ebonics’:
OAKLAND UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT SYNOPSIS OF THE ADOPTED POLICY ON STANDARD
AMERICAN ENGLISH LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT
On December 18, 1996 the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education
approved a policy affirming Standard American English language development for
all students. This policy mandates that effective instructional strategies must
be utilized in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve
English language proficiency. Language development for African American students,
who comprise 53% of the students in the Oakland schools, will be enhanced with
the recognition and understanding of the language structures unique to African
American students. This language has been studied for several decades and is
variously referred to as Ebonics (literally “Black sounds”), or “Pan-African
Communication Behaviors,” or “African Language Systems.”
This policy is based on the work of a broad-based Task Force, convened six
months ago to review the district-wide achievement data (see Appendix 1) and to
make recommendations regarding effective practices that would enhance the
opportunity for all students to successfully achieve the standards of the core
curriculum (see Appendix 2). The data show low levels of student performance,
disproportionately high representation in special education, and under-
representation in Advanced Placement courses and in the Gifted and Talented
Education Program. The recommendations (see Appendix 3), based on academic
research, focus on te unique language stature of African American pupils, the
direct connection of English language proficiency to student achievement, and
the education of parents and the community to support academic achievement (see
bibliography in Appendix 4).
One of the programs recommended is the Standard English Proficiency Program
(S.E.P.), a State of California model program, which promotes English-language
development for African-American students. The S.E.P. training enables teachers
and administrators to respect and acknowledge the history, culture, and language
that the African American student brings to school. Recently a “Superliteracy”
component was added to ensure the development of high levels of reading, writing,
and speaking skills. The policy further requires strengthening pre-school
education and parent and community participation in the educational processes of
The recommendations of the Task Force establish English language proficiency as
the foundation for competency in all academic areas. Passage of this policy is a
clear demonstration that te Oakland Unified School District is committed to take
significant actions to turn around the educational attainment of its African-
American students. The Board of Education adopted a policy on teaching English,
not Ebonics. Unfortunately, because of misconceptions in the resulting press
stories, the actions of the Board of Education have been publically
misunderstood. Misconceptions include:
Oakland School District has decided to teach Ebonics in place of English. The
District is trying to classify Ebonics (i.e. “Black English,”) speaking students
as Bilingual. OUSD is only attempting to pilfer federal and state funds. OUSD is
trying to create a system of perverse incentives that reward failure and lower
standards. Oakland is condoning the use of Slang. Oakland has gone too far.
Ebonics further segregates an already racially divided school district. There is
no statistical evidence to support this approach or that this approach will
improve student achievement. Nothing could be further from the truth. 1). The
Oakland Unified School District is not replacing the teaching of Standard
American English with any other language. The District is not teaching Ebonics.
The District emphasizes teaching Standard American English and has set a high
standard of excellence for all its students. 2). Oakland Unified School District
is providing its teachers and parents with the tools to address the diverse
languages the children bring into the classroom. 3). The District’s objective is
to build on the language skills that African-American students bring to the
classroom without devaluing students and their diversity. We have directly
connected English language proficiency to student achievement. 4). The term
“genetically-based” is synonymous with genesis. In the clause, “African Language
Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English,” the term
“genetically based” is used according to the standard dictionary definition of
“has origins in.” It is not used to refer to human biology.
Hooked on Ebonics, p. 50
Ebonics: A Way to Close the Learning Gap?, p. A01
Among Linguists, Black English Gets Respect, p. A10
Race, Culture and Intelligence, p. 104
Two Nations, Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, p.42
Ebonics: A Way to Close the Learning Gap?, p. A01
Synopsis of the adopted policy on standard American English Language
development, appendix 1
Ebonics: A Way to Close the Learning Gap?, p. A01