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Ebonics has been an issue in the field of sociolinguistics for quite a long time. It was previously labeled as Negro-standard English, Black English, Black English Vernacular, and African American English Vernacular. It is known to have historical influences from West African and Niger-Congo languages. Researches focused on its similarities and differences with that of the Standard American English to provide explanations to whether it is should be considered as a separate language or at least a dialect of standard American English (Blommeart, 1999).
The term Ebonics was coined by Robert Williams in 1973. It referred to the unique variety of language used by African Americans. However, it was not widely used until the proposal of Oakland Schools in 1996. yet, up to this day, experts prefer the term African American to make it consistent with that of other varieties of English like British English, Southern English and among others (http://www. cal. org/topics/dialects/aae. html). One of the differences pointed by Collins (1999) are the phonological processes like consonant cluster simplification and word-final position.
For example, words like cold, test, and desk are spelled as col’, tess, and deks in Ebonics. The habitual BE verb of Ebonics may also be confused if will be read as standard English. The debate mainly focused on the issue as whether Ebonics should be a separate language or at least a dialect. It was not a major issue until Ebonics was proposed as a medium for instruction. The sociolinguistic debate was replaced by a more encompassing issue of education, language, culture, and perhaps, politics too.
The Ebonics Controversy
In December 18, 1996, the Oakland School Board proposed to recognize Ebonics as “primary language of African American children” and be treated as a subject for Language Art apart from the standard American English (Rickford, 1999). More specifically, the proposal claimed, “Ebonics was a language that should be recognized, tolerated, and accounted for is instruction of the district’s predominantly African-American student body” (Blommeart, 1999). It would have affected more than 52, 000 students in the district.
The aim of this proposed project was improve the educational performance of the urban student body (Blommeart, 1999). The proposal started a debate not just among sociolinguists, but also among educators and politicians. Many of the critics of the proposal argued that the real cause of poor performance of the students was not a question of language but rather the “lack of effort, motivation, and commitment on the part of the students and their families. ” (Blommeart, 1999).
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