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Ebonics: The Language Of African Slaves And Their Descendants Essay

Dr. Williams and a group of Black scholars first coined the terms Ebonics in 1973 when referring to the language spoken by African slaves and their descendants. Ebonics, which is derived from the word ebony, which means black, and phonetics, which means sound, was adopted as the new term for Black English and African-American Vernacular English. Mary Rhodes Hoover states, “Many who condemn Ebonics refer to it as “bad grammar,” “lazy pronunciation,” or “slang. ” However, linguist Dell Hymes notes that, viewed sociolinguistically, language is much more than characteristics such as grammar or pronunciation (phonology).

In fact Ebonics/African-American Language has a number of other characteristics, including semantics, notation, favored genres, sociolinguistic rules, speaking styles, learning and teaching style, and world view themes. ” Therefore, Ebonics is not slang but a dialect, which is governed by grammatical and phonetic rules, which makes it a legitimate language. In contrast, slang is terms or phrases that develop from popular trends of a particular time and become obsolete when that time period ends.

Unlike slang, Ebonics has maintained its purity and definition over hundreds of years because it was not formed out of popularity but from Africans attempting to learn English and teaching this adapted version of English to their children. Blacks’ patois was first distinguished in 1707 as “Nigger English” and by 1825 as “Nigger” (Flexner 56). Ebonics, often called the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), has many different features distinguishing it from Standard American English. The majority of linguists agree that Ebonics is a systematic form of speech with distinctive phonological and grammatical features.

Ebonics’grammatical and phonological features are identical to many West African languages’ rules of grammar and sentence structure. The West African rules of the repetition of noun subject with pronoun (My sister, she sings good), question patterns without the word do (what it come to? ), same form of noun in singular and plural (one boy/five boy), no tense indicated in the verb with an emphasis on manner or character of action (I know it good when he ask me), and the same verb for all subjects (I know, you know, he know we know they know) are features present in Ebonics.

Many studies show that the pronunciations of ay and oy as in ah for Standard English I and boah for Standard English boy, the realization of the syllable-initial str as skr preceding high front vowels like “ee”, for example skreet for Standard English street and deskroy for the Standard English equivalent for destroy, and the deletion of the initial d and g in certain tenses such as in “ah ‘on know” for the Standard English ” I don’t know.

Other noted features are the deletion of the letter l after a vowel, for example he’p for the Standard English help and toah for the Standard English toll, the absence of stressed medial and initial syllables as in ‘fraid for the afraid and sec’t’ry for secretary. Alongside phonological and grammatical features researchers have also observed more variations in intonations, the absence of auxiliary verbs is and are in the present tense, the verb be used for habitual actions, and the absence of possessive -s than used in American Standard English.

Some sound rules from West African languages are evident Ebonics such as no consonant pairs jus for the Standard English just, few long vowels or two part vowels rat or raht for the Standard English right, and no r sound as in mow for the Standard English more, dough for the Standard English door and flow for the Standard English floor. These characteristics separate Ebonics as an adapted version of English separate from American Standard English. Many scholars blame this adapted version of American Standard English on early colonist capturing West Africans and the damage caused by their enslavement.

People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate” Baldwin 5). This principle of Ebonics’ origin is similar to most psychologists’ theoretical origin of Ebonics. Psychologists reason that since slavery included West Africans from diverse tribes speaking several different languages, Black English was formed from these different tribes coming together in an effort to communicate with each other as well as to learn English.

Psychologists also believe that the use of the double negative was a deceptive tool to convince the slave masters of their ignorance. For example “I didn’t see nobody nowhere” could have literally meant to slaves listening that the slave speaking did see or know the location of the person in question. “Language yields insight to how individuals and groups view their social world from differing perspectives and, accordingly, how different language practices construct different interpretations of the world” (Wright 6).

Therefore, psychologists suggest that Black English was developed as a technique of survival, an instrument of separating slaves’ identity from whites, and a method for all slaves to express themselves freely among their peers. Slaves used Black English in music, folklore, and everyday conversation in order to convey ideas indirectly to slaves and unknowingly to whites. Slaves often used humor in the context of Black English to further deter whites from discovering the true meaning of the language.

Some examples are “Mule don’t see w’at his naber doin’,” “De old steer gits s’picious when dey feed him too high,” and “Old Satun mus’ be a silent pardner in de ownership o’ some folks. ” Another blatant possibility of Ebonics development was the denial of literacy skills, isolation, and intimidation of African slaves. In the past it was not uncommon for literacy to be a privilege of the upper class: since Blacks were considered livestock, they were deprived of literacy. Slaves’ oral narratives, often speak of a time when it was against the law to teach a slave how to read or write.

In addition to literacy being against the law for slaves, punishment for slaves learning to read and write was severe. In Bullwhip Days: The Slaves Remember: An Oral History, Tom Hawkins stated, “When Dr. Cannon found out dat his carriage driver had larned to read and write whilst he was takin’ de doctor’s chillun to and f’om school, he had dat nigger’s thumbs cut off, and put another boy to doin’ de drivin’ in his place. ” Slaves’ knowledge was to be limited as possible; training only including skills necessary to complete field and domestic labor.

White slave owners isolated slaves from any form of literature, direct contact from the world outside of the plantation, and conversation with others. The main purpose for doing so was to keep slaves from any form of independent learning, meaning that slave owners controlled all aspects of Blacks’ education. Religious education became an evasive manner of instruction taught by Whites to Blacks. “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh” (Holy Bible I Peter 2:18).

When teaching about religion Whites emphasized the supreme power of God, the ordination of slavery by God, and the promises of God were for slaves after death. Whites frequently taught slaves that Africa was a dark land, forsaken by God and that whites had rescued the slaves by bringing them to the safety of the plantation. A slave from Maryland, James Roberts recalled a statement from one of his master’s sermon: “O, how you should love the precious truths of the Lord, my servants; they are so wise and so adapted to your condition. For, by obeying your master you obey God.

White slave owners taught slaves that God had placed whites as leaders and protectors of slaves, to guide and direct them, and to discipline them when disobedient. Whites slave owners carefully selected scriptures from the Bible and in many instances gave a false interpretation in order to religiously support the institutuion of slavery. Slaves were only taught scriptures such as “Exhort bondservants to be obedient to their own masters, to be well pleasing in all things, not answering back, not pilfering, but showing all good fidelity, that they may adorn in the doctrine of God our Savior in all things” (Holy Bible Titus 2:19).

Devoted Christians were disturbed by this disgraceful use of the Bible and endeavored to reform the law that mandated it illegal to teach slaves to read. The most prevalent group in this struggle was the Quakers. The Quakers believed that every human being has a soul and, therefore, had the right to read the Bible for himself or herself. The Quakers supported their argument by statue of religious instruction being considered separate from government policies. In an attempt to counteract the effort of the Quakers, and uphold slavery, many Southern Churches dispatched missionaries to teach slaves about religion.

There mission, unlike the Quakers, was to keep their sermons simple, to avoid the subject of slavery, and to deliver salvation to the heathen slave. Even though most of the missionaries followed these instructions, others along with the Quakers secretly educated Blacks about the Bible by teaching them how to read. Teaching a slave to read was outlawed in both Virginia and South Carolina; however, some Christians believed that every human being deserved to discover salvation for him or herself.

In the 1840s William Henry Ruffner, founded a Sunday school in Lexington, Virginia, where hundreds of slaves were taught to read. In Charleston, South Carolina, John B. Adger, a slave owner, held a mission church for slaves, protested restrictions on literacy, and allowed his children to teach his own slaves to read. White children often taught slave children to read as a form of playing school, the slave acting as the student and white child performing as the teacher. Alice Green, whose mother was a slave, stated, “You’ll be s’prised at what Mammy told me ’bout how she got larnin’.

She said she kept a schoolbook hid in her bosom all de time, and when white chillun got home from school, she would axe ’em lots of questions all ’bout what dey had done larned dat day and ’cause she was proud of evvy little scrap of book larnin’ she could pick up, de white chillun larned her how to read, and write, too. All de larnin’ she ever got from de white chillun at de big house. ” Other times white children unknowingly taught slave children to read because they were playmates and the white children shared toys, books, and other belongings.

Once slaves began to read the Bible, they discovered that the majority of the information taught by their masters was fictitious. Jack White, a former slave, stated, “Since I’s got to readin’ an’ studyin’, I see some of de chu’ches is wrong, an’ de preachers don’ preach jis’ like de Bible say. ” Once more literate slaves began to secretly teach other slaves how to read and write. At night, more literate slaves would have school in the woods or in ditches and would write on dirt floors with sticks in order to educate illiterate slaves. “An’ dey had pit schools, in slaves days, too- way out in de woods.

Dey was woods den, an’ de slaves would slip out o’ de quarters at night an’ go to dese pits, an’ some niggah dat had some learnin’ would have school,” stated Mandy Jones, a former slave. Though many slaves were determined to learn to read, others became so intimidated and traumatized by the punishment associated with literacy that they did not aspire to learn to read or write. Fearful of being brutally beaten, having fingers amputated, and experiencing inhumane consequences, some slaves developed a negative attitude toward literacy that was maintained even after being freed.

Freed slave families often became sharecroppers and field hands in an effort to survive. Thus, education was not a priority and their children were taught work yields better living results for the family. This attitude of fearing literacy that was developed in slaves has transformed into an attitude of education not being important today. Even in the year 2005, some people ages twenty to twenty-five have knowledge of great aunts and uncles who dropped out of school between the third and sixth grades, primarily supporting their families from domestic and physical labor.

Many low-income families in the black community do not emphasize to their children the importance of academic achievement. There are two distinctive attitudes among Blacks that mirror the same attitudes that were developed in slavery. Some slaves were determined to be educated, as some African-Americans today and other slaves refused to advance academically, as some African-Americans today. This refusal to be educated, despite the opportunity, is presently evident in the Black community.

Bill Cosby expressed his disgust of African-Americans in the lower socioeconomic status that perpetuates the idea that education is not important. “People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an education, and now we’ve got these knuckleheads walking around… The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting,” stated Cosby. Unfortunately, educated slaves that attempted to encourage illiterate slaves to become educated shared these same feelings hundreds of years ago.

We got to take the neighborhood back… They are standing on the corner and they can’t speak English,” Cosby stated. Cosby is accurate that these individuals are not speaking Standard English; they are continuing the tradition of speaking the Black English, Ebonics. This is primarily because the low-income families are still suffering from a cycle of inherited poverty because education is not deemed important or is a financial encumbrance. This same financial burden was felt strongly by newly freed African-American slaves when survival, not advancement, was essential.

Both Blacks in the past and today are financially segregated from the majority of White America. For a long period of time the majority of Blacks populated slums and ghettos, never achieving financial stability. Education has not been an affordable privilege prioritized above daily needs. “Not Every African American speaks AAVE, and no one uses all of the features [in every situation and] 100 percent of the time. Although it is often said that 80 percent of African Americans speak AAVE.

In general, the phonological and grammatical features [noted] are used most often by younger lower and working-class speakers in urban areas and in informal styles… ” (Rickford 9). The lower socioeconomic class uses the constant cluster reduction feature 84 percent of the time and the plural -s absence 6 percent of the time. Children learn language before entering school and if the child is born into a low economic status family then the chance is greater that their language will be Ebonics. This dilemma has proven to researchers as well as linguists that the children born into poverty will unlikely speak Standard English.

This behavior of inherited poverty and traditional ignorance has caused many concerns in the Black community. The majority of Black children score less academically than whites and other minorities. ” A major goal of public education is to increase a child’s social mobility and vocational success. In this it has failed with black children. And it has failed both because it has refused to see nonstandard Black English as a legitimate form and because it has not developed methods to teach black children standard English” (Haskins/Butts 45).

The authors further discuss that when a black child enters a white dominated school system and are told that they are unable to use their native language it can damage the African-American child’s self-esteem and his or her desire to attend school. “In essence, many African American children speak Ebonics at home, and take it to school. They’ve learned it from their families and communities. Unfortunately, at school peers tease and teachers often scold, correct and admonish African American students not to “talk like that.

As a result, African American Ebonics speakers feel degraded and inadequate” (Johnson 4). These authors contest that teachers and school systems need to view AAVE as a component that represents a piece African-American children’s identity and the dismal of the language is an insult to their culture. I live in a predominantly black neighborhood where the public schools greatest complaint is poor attendance. I was informed at a primary school’s PTA meeting that the Kindergarten classes have the most absences. This is significant because at this tender age parents are not sending their children to school.

If parents do not make attending school a priority in their children’s lives at an early age, children will develop the idea that education has no importance. This negative attitude towards education was understandable for newly freed slaves that sharecropped to survive. However, this attitude should not prevail among African Americans today. “Overall, Latino17-year olds performed a little better than blacks on almost all these test- by an average of 4 percentile points in reading, 5 in math, and 7 in science” (Thernstrom 22).

This is disturbing because children who speech English as a second language are performing better than African-American children on standardized test. Some low-income Blacks have maintained a slave mentality; despite Blacks have been freed for many years and have successfully acquired educational and political opportunities. Low-income Blacks, like slaves, have remained primarily segregated from White Americans for so long that many of the African characteristics in their English have not been weakened by the influence of mainstream society’s use of Standard English.

Between the seventeen and nineteen hundreds racism defined rigid boundaries of segregation; now in the twenty-first century economic injustices implement the boundaries of Blacks isolation from main stream America. Richard Wright, a black writer, states: “[It was] during the 1960s that sociolinguistists, ostensibly responding to the expressed frustrations of mainstream White teachers working with Black youth in recently desegregated urban classrooms, began to undertake the systematic, empirical study of characteristic speech and language patterns of African Americans.

The separation of African-Americans from White Americans, after slavery days, allowed African-Americans to continue Ebonics in every aspect of their lives including education. On the contrary, many argue, that in order for African- American children to be successful in America, Standard English needs to be taught in the home. “Test that assess vocabulary and reading skills pose a more complicated question, since some black students come from homes in which “black English” rather than standard English is spoken,” stated by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom.

In Oakland, California public schools, where African-American underachievement was devastating, a “compromising 53 percent of the students enrolled in the only predominantly Black school district in the state of California, African American children accounted for 80 percent of the school system’s suspensions and 71 percent of students classified as having special needs. Their grade point average was a D+,” stated by Theresa Perry in her article “I ‘on know why they Be Trippin’: Reflections on the Ebonics Debate”.

This painful reality called for action on December 18, 1997, the Oakland School Board passed a resolution to treat Ebonics as a second language. Many educated African-Americans were outraged by this decision. Jesse Jackson stated that the decision was “an unacceptable surrender border lining on disgrace. ” I cannot say that I disagree with Jackson because African-Americans have many opportunities available to learn to speak, read, and write Standard English. NAACP president Kweisi Mfume described the decision as “a cruel joke.

A similar problem has surfaced in Mississippi were many students attending public school systems are considered illiterate by state educational standards. Despite the battle of determining whether Ebonics is a separate language or a dialect of the English language African-American children are being penalized for speaking Ebonics. The debate of whether Ebonics was a form of language was settled twenty years earlier in 1977 when Black English was found to be a legitimate language in a federal court. Also in the case Martin Luther King Jr.

Elementary School Children v. Ann Arbor School District Board, the court ruled to consider Black English in the educational process. Regardless of the stance society takes on the issue, the palpable crisis is the majority of low-income or urban African-American children speak Ebonics. Ebonics has been noted as early as 1707, later George P. Krapp published an article and book discussing Black English in 1924 and 1925, and William Labov has written books documenting linguistic studies published in the 1970s.

African slaves and their descendants should not be held accountable for speaking Ebonics because they refused the privilege of being taught literacy in a correct manner. “The brutal truth is that the bulk of white people in America never had any interest in educating black people, except at this could serve white purposes,” stated James Baldwin. Ebonics leaves a long trail of evidence of African-Americans present educational status may be a result of the struggle of their predecessors.

Homi K. Bhabha explains that Ebonics is no difference between other dialects of English that have been formed by other non- African-American populations that have immigrated into America and the dialect spoken by African-Americans. “Reesle, the great-granddaughter of slaves; Pushpa T. S. , the stepchild of the postcolonial state: What do they have in common? As their divergent “colonial histories- of American slavery and British imperialism- circumnavigate the globe in opposite directions, they meet on the margins of nonstandard “vernaculars” or hybriridized order of speech.

These are twisted versions of the language of the master alienating the syntactical “eloquence” and intonational “elegance’ through which “standard’ English naturalizes itself as a national cultural norm” (Bhabha 3). The main concern is the African-American children, who the majority are born into the lower-economic class and separated from mainstream society, are speaking Ebonics and are performing poorly academically. Public education institutions need to confront this problem because all U. S. itizens are entitled to an equal educational opportunity.

America’s school systems evading this entitlement by ignoring African America Vernacular English spoken by African-American children and refusing to fund programs to aid in their comprehension of Standard English. Several linguistic studies have proven that Ebonics is a form of communication defined by grammatical rules and demands validation as a language, rather than continuing to be reduced as slang, broken English, and street language. The Oakland resolution leaves no doubt that speakers of Ebonics should be viewed as speakers of a language other than English and simply not as speakers of non standard variety within English,” states Richard Wright.

The government needs to fund programs, according to the need of African-American students that teach them how to integrate Ebonics into Standard English. Society needs to realize that Ebonics, a dialect of English, is equally as justified as American English, which is a dialect of England’s English. The truth is that this Black speech pattern, its pronunciations, syntax, grammar, tones, and rhythms, goes back to African languages and the slave patios: it’s a true dialect, a speaking of English with an African “accent”,” states Stuart B. Flexner in his book I hear America Talking. Ebonics is apart of American history forming out of African slaves and the denial of their descendants to acquire proper literacy skills. African slaves and their descendants have passed down Ebonics, not only as a language, but also as a component of cultural identity.

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