Ebonics Essay Research Paper EbonicsINTRODUCTIONThis is an

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

towards Ebonics.

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

about race.

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

Caucasian Americans.

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.


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


http://www.geocities.com/CapitolHill/3070/ebonics.html; 08 January 1997

Richardson, Ken et al.; Race, Culture and Intelligence; Penguin Books,

Harmondsworth; 1972

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’:



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 District.

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

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