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Vernacular English Essay

2000 words - 8 pages

Rhetoric II
3/31/06

EBONICS:

LANGUAGE OR DIALECT?

Ebonics is often defined as a vernacular form of the English language. This highly controversial title also known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE) by Encyclopedia Britannica, reflects the dialect of American English spoken by a large portion of the African American population. Many scholars hold that the term Ebonics developed from contacts between nonstandard versions of English and various African languages. It is commonly used among low income, undereducated African American youth. The exact origin of the term has been greatly debated. It is believed that the emergence of Ebonics originated with the ...view middle of the document...

Ebonics can be defined as a form of communication of feelings, thoughts and ideas often being used by students in school to express themselves. It is used so commonly that it has been recognized and believed that the principles of Ebonics should be incorporated into our educational system. The structure, laws and application would actually help African American students learn correct Standard English.
In order to better understand Ebonics as a language, we must explore the cultural value of this linguistic system. According to Geneva Smitherman, a linguist who studies Black English, there are four main categories of Black modes of discourse. African derived communication is a process of call and response. In this type of spontaneous verbal and nonverbal communication, statements by the speaker are responded with expressions from the listener. It is not considered discourteous to holler and whoop while someone is speaking in order to show approval of what has been said. Signification is also a large part of Black communication. This is the "verbal art of insult," as the speaker humorously puts down the listener (Smitherman 318). This is a socially accepted way to talk about people, and through the use of humor, the insult is easier to accept. If the receiver cannot think of an insult as a reply, they can just laugh along with the group. Ebonics is also a language that values sounds, and therefore tonal semantics, the rhythm and inflection of the language, are extremely important; for this reason, talk-singing is used in any situation where people feel good. Another cultural quality of Ebonics is the use of highly detailed narratives. The speaker may use a story to explain a point or persuade listeners to agree with his/her argument. "Though highly applauded by blacks, this narrative linguistic style is exasperating to whites who wish you’d be direct and hurry up and get to the point" (Durkin 324). This misinterpretation of African-American culture leads to teaching environments that do not help Black students to excel. This is where the Oakland School Board decision becomes relevant.
Although the debate over the legitimacy of Ebonics as a language had been burning out, the Oakland school board decision in 1996 re-sparked this debate. Every marking period, in the Oakland school district, many African-American students brought home report cards singed with bad grades. In a school district where 53% of the student population is African-American, what concerned the school board was that these black students accounted for 71 percent of "special needs" students and received an average GPA of 1.8, compared to the average of 2.4 for all other students. It was time to correct that problem. The school board of Oakland, California organized a task force to do just this. The Ebonics Resolution, as the plan was called, recognized Ebonics as a legitimate language that deserved respect within the classroom. This plan called for the use of...

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