Ebonics and Education
A Persuasive Research Paper on the Why Education Should Pave Way for Ebonics All a person needs to do is turn on the television or browse the Internet to see the proof that there are very important changes in the society. Among those changes is how the use of language increased and how its forms have greatly grown. With much slang, dialects and language transformation and combinations, the number of languages all over the world and not just in the United States, have significantly grown larger and bigger.
However, the question of whether this continuous dynamic change in languages is for the better remains to be seen. This is because, though languages have changed and grown, problems caused by miscommunication and misunderstandings are still rampant and present. Although language and all its combinations with other languages aimed to bridge the gap between nations and cultures, different people with different origins and speech are still unable to bridge that gap. There are still many issues concerning the cropping up and usage of new languages.
Most common among those is the problem that languages which are combined or which undergo a linguistic blend tends to be disruptive of formal, correct and grammatical language. A simple example would be those music videos which feature artists that combine and contract structure of words to make the song more likeable or even more attuned to the rhythm of the song. However, this has a negative effect as people, most especially young adults and children, become familiar with such language usage to the point that they begin to emulate them.
Such debate has long been the topic in educational boards and institutions of whether they should correct and put stop to such language usage or encourage such exchange of words since clearly, the young are affected. In fact, Ebonics or Black English or African American English has become such a heated topic when it was quite obvious that there is a problem among the academics of African American students because they have such low grades and low performance levels that could be attributed to the usage of Ebonics.
Many people sided against and for the encouragement of Ebonics. Study after study ensued to prove that Ebonics was an important and integral part of the many pupils and students since that is the language they actually use while others also discouraged its usage. Through this paper, it can be argued that Ebonics is not a mere slang which African American students can do without and that it is not something which should be corrected just because it is seen as ungrammatical.
Instead, what the educational boards and institutions should do is cater to their learners and use Ebonics to implement knowledge transfer among their pupils and students and eventually make them learn and use Standard English. Ebonics is formally known as African American English or AAE according to the Center for Applied Linguistics (n. p. ). It is a kind of sociolect or social dialect where it is often used by people who are of African American origins in particular surroundings or situations.
The difference of Ebonics with American English is its structure wherein African dialects and sounds are combined, blended, mixed with American English. American English is also sometimes contracted with African dialects or sounds to be inserted within the contractions. Such example is presented by John R. Rickford in his discussion of Ebonics as presented in the Website of the Stanford University. In the example, Rickford uses a simple sentence which is grammatically correct: “I asked Alvin if he could go” (n. p. ).
He then conveys the example to a student known to use Ebonics and the student gives his own version of the sentence: “I as’ Alvin could he–could he go” (Rickford, n. p. ). Ebonics is not the mere transformation of structure of words to ungrammatically correct versions. In fact, though not completely grammatically acceptable, Ebonics is still considered a structured and coherent dialect. As what the Center for Applied Linguistics or CAL states, “AAE (or Ebonics) is a regular, systematic language variety that contrasts with other dialects in terms of its grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary” (n.
p. ). Thus, Ebonics is not wrong or incorrect, it is merely different and a contradiction with other languages, in this case, the language of American English or Standard English. The origin of Ebonics is unclear but the origins of why it became a topic of heated arguments and debate is quite known. Because nations cater to other nations, and migration and immigration (and even simple leisure travel) are inevitable, it is also natural that the language which people of different cultures use would also be transferred and assimilated by other people with other languages.
According to Ladonna Lewis Rush’s argumentative paper on the Ebonics debate titled The Ebonics Debate, the origins of Ebonics can be explained by Smitherman who wrote in Talking and Testifyin: Black English and the Black Experience that: Black English contains elements of Standard English, elements of West African languages, and elements unique to African-Americans. The structure of speech in Ebonics can be analyzed and related to African language structures as well as to the black experience in America. (as cited by Rush, n. p. )
Thus, Ebonic came about because the African Americans needed the language which they could adapt to and use while in America who used American English for their communication. Like what the CAL stated, Smitherman and Rush also believe that Ebonics is not mere slang which is featured and used by African American music artists but it is considered as a distinct dialect all on its own. The concept of Ebonics must have been unknown to most people before the year 1996 but because of a certain state in America, Ebonics and everything related to the dialect and term suddenly exploded to the point that it became a topic of debate.
According to Tracey L. Weldon in her write up titled Reflections on the Ebonics Controversy which appeared in American Speech, the Oakland Unified School District in California passed a resolution on the month of December year 2006 that “recognized the legitimacy of Ebonics” and it called “for teachers in the district to be better educated about the rules governing the variety (Ebonics)” with the aim that the teachers would be able to improve “the teaching of standard English to Ebonics speakers” (275).
The issue sparked up debate after debate because linguists approved the resolution stating it was correct and adequate while Ebonics speakers and family members of African American origins complained that it was an obvious tactic of discrimination and identification of who were the students that does not have the ability to speak the “proper English” (Weldon 276). Ebonics and the usage of the dialect is quite obvious in the society as it can be heard from people in most social gatherings, informal meetings and even in the media.
According to Rickford, many terms and structures in Ebonics are used by common people because of what they have learned from “rap, hip hop” and other means of “popular Black culture” (n. p. ). As what Rickford uses to describe this massive usage of Ebonics in popular Black culture, it becomes “an icon of youth culture itself” wherein young African Americans are immediately identified as being users of Ebonics. Since Ebonics is a mere means of communication among African Americans, then it should not be a great deal of a problem.
However, unfortunately, the usage of the sociolect has become increasingly an issue most especially in educational institutions wherein grammatically correct and linguistically sound structure and vocabulary should be used and encouraged. Rush points out the case why Ebonics has become a problem among pupils and students in schools and this is because they manage to have poor academic standing and it was revealed that because of this dialect that the students have such appalling results. Rush writes in her paper that “language skills are directly related to success in academics” (n. p. ).
This is obviously true since language is used to communicate and interact with other people. Poor language skills or inability to produce and understand the language would make it for one’s self and for other people to have a clear conversation and communication. It is also Rush who pointed out that African American students have a high rate of being suspended (around 80%) and that the students are “lagging behind in measures of academic success” (n. p. ). There was also an article which appeared on NEA Today that interviewed Lisa Delpit who is a professor an author that focused on Ebonics.
In the interview, Delpit mentioned the reason why Ebonics is important and why the resolution passed by the school district was commendable: Most of the African-American children in Oakland were performing miserably. But one school, the Prescott School, consistently performed near the top of the district. Its students were all low-income African-American children. And it adopted a program called the Standard English Proficiency, which uses the children’s home language and culture to teach them Standard English. (17).
If Ebonics will be used to relate to the students and slowly pave their learning for Standard English, then there is a high possibility that African Americans’ percentage of academically challenged students would significantly decrease. The question then is how does one go on solving such problem to ensure a fool proof way of solving the issue? This of course lies with the educational board and teachers. Teachers in formal schools teach Standard English because it something which society and the rest of the English speakers use.
There is no problem with using Ebonics if it is outside professional and academic grounds; it is after all part of the African American culture. However, Standard English should be the language that is encouraged by the teachers to be used by their students because it would help them in the long run. Based on different discussions on the resolution passed by the school district of Oakland, the debate on whether Ebonics should be studied by the district’s teachers and used to pave the way to teach Standard English should not even be a topic of debate.
This is because the debate started because of a mere misunderstanding about the resolution, another proof that language does not only bridge gaps it also creates them, when people saw Standard English as the only form of English that linguists identified as “proper English”. Linguistically speaking, there is indeed a Standard English as what Weldon has stated but the term “proper English” is incorrect since there is no wrong or right English. If it can be remembered, Ebonics is even identified as being a dialect that is structured thus, it is very much acceptable.
In conclusion, the issue that Ebonics be used to gap and slowly push the learners toward Standard English (as aimed by the resolution) is created by the definition and need of the Standard English. Standard English is not the only English nor is it the only form of the language which is encouraged to be used; instead, Standard English is something which is needed to make all forms of English languages coherent and uniform in the sense that there would be no linguistically and communicatively wrongly structured words.
It is the same case of having a one school uniform designated to students of a school to identify who are the members of that school or the generally approved legal age for drinking or voting or driving. There is a common factor which envelopes the entities of a school, a state or a nation. Standard English therefore is needed by the Ebonics speakers if they are desirous of being successful in society which is also the language used by the many. Ebonics is not slang, wrong nor should it be discouraged.
However, the Ebonics speakers should be able to understand that learning the Standard English is important since it would make them socially adept at communicating with other people. With all the turmoil and misunderstandings that society is currently under, it needs all the unity and harmony it can get—even if it just comes from having a language they can all understand and speak. Works Cited “A New Take on Ebonics and Teaching. ” NEA Today 17. 2 (1998): 17.
Academic Search Complete. EBSCO. Web. 26 July 2010. Center for Applied Linguistics. 2010. “Dialects – African American English”. Cal. org. Web. 26 July 2010. Rickford, John R. 1996. “Ebonics Notes and Discussion”. Stanford. edu. Web. 26 July 2010. Rush, Ladonna Lewis. “The Ebonics Debate”. Princeton. edu. College of Wooster. 1997. Web. 26 July 2010. Weldon, Tracey L. “Reflections on the Ebonics Controversy”. American Speech 75. 3 ( 2000): 275-277. Project MUSE. Web. 26 July 2010.