Understanding the Dialect of Ebonics

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Understanding the Dialect of Ebonics

What exactly is Ebonics? No one can tell you what exactly it is. It is part English, but at the same time there is a lot more to it than English. There are certain structures that dignify Ebonics, or AAVE (African American Vernacular English), as it’s own niche in the English language. It is considered a dialect of English and not a separate language. In this essay, I will try to explain and show examples of what Proper Ebonics are, history of Ebonics, and current issues of Ebonics.

I have found in my research of Ebonics that there are many types of English. This is why Ebonics is thought to be slang when it is really a dialect. It works much like English language but with little differences. The biggest difference is that of the sound th, in Ebonics the th sound is d. So words like those are pronounced dose. Ebonics has many patterns that signify that it is Ebonics. Here are some examples of Ebonics:

Standard English Ebonics

-He walks -He walk

-He is walking -He be walkin’

As you can see from my example, Ebonics seems to be what would be considered bad English, but because of its structure, we can’t say that it is (McWhorter 1998.)

There are many words in Ebonics that are exclusive to the dialect. The word be is used frequently in Ebonics. This word is also frequently used in standard English. In fact, the English language itself would not work without the word be. Sometimes the word be is taken out of a sentence for example “ He your father”. Another common word is the word done. It is a simple and a complex word at the same time, for example “I done see her yesterday.” The word done helps to intensify a past action where in standard English the verb have (equal to done) does not intensify the action (McWhorter 1998.)

Now that I have helped you understand a little of Ebonics, I would like to tell you the history of Ebonics. Many linguists trace the development of Black English back to the time of slavery and the slave trade. Thus, the history of Black English must date back to about 1619 when a Dutch vessel landed in Jamestown with a cargo of twenty Africans.(Smitherman, 5) During the slave trade, ships collected slaves from several different nations rather than just trading with one nation. The rationale that justified this action was simple; Africans from different nations spoke different languages and could not communicate with each other, and thus were incapable of uniting to overthrow the ships crew. In 1744 slave ship Captain William Smith wrote: "...the safest way to trade is to trade with the different Nations, on either Side the River, and having some of every sort on board, there will be no more Likelihood of their succeeding in a Plot, than of finishing the Tower of Babel," (Stoller, 19). Upon arriving in America, all the slaves had to be able to communicate with their masters in some way. Thus, all the slaves had to learn at least some degree of English vocabulary. This established English as a common language among slaves and the one language that all the slaves had in common. Linguists propose that Africans developed a pidgin language with the English language providing the vocabulary.

Another subject related to Ebonics is its use in school. Regardless of what the schools decide to do in the future concerning teaching students who speak Black English, the fact remains that a crisis exists. Those students who do speak Black English are falling by the wayside in America's educational system. Of course, Black English is not the sole reason for this crisis. Blacks who speak the vernacular tend to be those who live in impoverished, inner city neighborhoods filled with violence. Because all of these issues cannot be tackled, there is no reason to address none of them. The charts that were listed on the previous page suggest that the traditional method is failing speakers of Black English. The reasons for this could be numerous, however, its adherence to the language deprivation theory of Bereiter and others is particularly alarming. If Black English is a legitimate, structured system of communication, which linguists contend that it is, then it is not logical to call that language "incorrect" or "bad." Massey and Denton claim that because of such teaching methods "their (students) confidence and self-esteem are threatened, thereby undermining the entire learning process," (Massey, 164). However, the new and innovative methods that some teachers and school districts are beginning to use adhere to the theory of the linguists that Black English is a legitimate and intelligent form of communication. By treating Black English as a separate language, it allows teachers to demand standard English in the classroom without damaging the self-esteem of their students.

With the research of the linguists, it appears obvious that Black English is indeed a language with an enriched and developmental history like Spanish or any other language. There is no doubt that Black English has not been adequately addressed in our nation's school system. Recognition and appreciation of the language, especially in education circles, would only serve to enrich the education of all Americans.

You may Call Ebonics slang or what have you but I hope I have enlightened you to what is. Hopefully you will think twice next time you say it is nothing more than slang. It is a part of the English language and should be treated with just as much respect as the English language.


McWhorter, John. “The Word On the Street: Fact and Fable About American English,” Plenum Publishing Corporation, 1998

Bernstein, Basil. "Social Class and Linguistic Development: A Theory of Social Learning," Education, Economy, and Society, A. H. Halsey, ed., Glencoe: The Free Press, 1961, 288-314.

Black Americans: A Statistical Sourcebook. Edited by Alfred Garwood. Boulder, CO: Numbers & Concepts, 1992.

Cross, Theodore, "Suppose There Was No Affirmative Action at the Most Prestigious Colleges and Graduate Schools," The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 3 (Spring 1994):44-51.

Dillard, J.L. Black English. New York: Random House, 1972.

Duneier, Mitchell. "Earning Another Chance," The Chicago Tribune, 29 December 1994, p1.

Hale, Janice E. Black Children: Their Roots, Culture, and Learning Styles. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1982.

Lee, Felicia R. "Lingering Conflict in the Schools: Black Dialect vs. Standard Speech," The New York Times, 5 January 1994, pA1.

Massey, D.S. and N.A. Denton. American Apartheid. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard, 1993.

Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin and Testifyin: The Language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986.

Stoller, Paul, ed. Black American English. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1975.

Article name: Understanding the Dialect of Ebonics essay, research paper, dissertation