Alternate terms: Black English; African American Vernacular English.
The form of English spoken by many black Americans, especially those living in urban, inner-city neighborhoods.
Ebonics (derived from "ebony" and "phonics") gained nationwide attention at the end of 1996, when the Oakland, California, school board passed a controversial resolution recognizing it as a separate language distinct from standard English. The school board's action, taken in response to declining academic performance by the district's black students, was aimed at improving the quality of teaching by offering special workshops to ensure that teachers understood Ebonics and respected its African linguistic roots. There was also speculation that by classifying its black students as speakers of a second language, Oakland might qualify to receive Federal funds for bilingual education programs, such as those offered to Hispanic and Asian students. However, the United States Department of Education has continued to maintain that Ebonics is a dialect of English rather than a distinct language.
Linguists have traced the grammar and syntax patterns of black English to West African and Niger-Congo languages. Distinctive elements of black speech include the use of "to be" in place of "is" and "are" ("He be home today.") or its omission altogether ("He not coming."). The "s" is commonly omitted from third-person singular verbs ("He play football every day.") and may be dropped from other words as well ("Sometime he be too busy."). It can also be added to words where it would not appear in standard English ("That candy mines."). A final "th" in a word is often replaced by an "f' sound ("I going wif you."). Other features include the double subject ("My sister she went to the store.") and the pronunciation of "ask" as "ax."
The formal recognition of Ebonics by the Oakland school board ignited a nationwide controversy involving issues of education and race. Some African Americans considered the Oakland measure a gesture of respect toward their cultural and linguistic heritage; others were offended by the perceived implication that blacks were incapable of speaking their native language without special assistance. Still other critics held that the recognition accorded to Ebonics would further disenfranchise blacks by endorsing their linguistic isolation from mainstream white culture.
Baugh, John. Black Street Speech: Its History, Structure, and Survival. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
Orr, Eleanor Wilson. Twice as Less: Black English and the Performance of Black Students in Mathematics and Science. New York: Norton, 1987.
Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986.
Taylor, Hanni U. Standard English, Black English, and Bidialectism: A Controversy. New York: P. Lang, 1989.
Baron, Dennis. "Ebonics Is Not a Panacea for Students At Risk." The Chronicle of Higher Education 43, January 24, 1997, p. B4+.
Gibbs, W. Wayt. "A Matter of Language." Scientific American 276, March 1997, pp. 25+.
Title: McMillen, Liz. "Linguists Find the Debate Over 'Ebonics' Uninformed." The Chronicle of Higher Education 43, January 17, 1997, pp. A16+.