Chapter 5: African American English and the communities it influences
English 102, November 2019
My prospectus will be an examination of a subset dialect, found within American English, Ebonics. This prospectus will include an array of smaller focus’ to aid in the understanding of the three main points presented. The first point focusing on how the dialect plays a role in communication between persons who speak the dialect, as well as those who do not. Secondly, how young Ebonics speaking youth, are affected in everyday explorations such as classroom acquisitions of learning. Lastly, researching the origins of the dialect. I chose these to be my main points because I believe that these are an effective way of understanding the different variations of dialect that are present in the United States of America.
My research questions are listed as follows: What are the origins of Ebonics? Is Ebonics, in itself, a language? What effect does Ebonics have on groups who are not as familiar with the dialect? How are members who speak Ebonics perceived in the general public? Is the dialect displayed across different ethnicities? I am utilizing these questions to guide my research because I believe that these questions will provide insight into this topic.
I was not aware that Ebonics was a dialect. I knew that Ebonics was a way that members in my family and community spoke. Finding out that it is a widely researched concept is fascinating to me. I understand that I am not a person who is being studied, however, knowing that something that I have grown up listening to and encoding, gives me the feeling of being a fright-stricken animal, unprepared for scrutiny. My personal goal is to understand what members outside of this community think about Ebonics speakers and the dialect in general. When they hear someone speaking in the dialect, what do they think about them? Do they think that they are uneducated persons that are not that bright? Do they think of their social class and wonder if they came from an urban background? My hope is that the studies, and research that I find help shed light on to these burning questions. One thing is for sure, by the end of the prospectus, I will have my answers, and hopefully, plenty more.
State of the Question
As stated before, this prospectus will be an examination of African American Vernacular; otherwise known as Ebonics. The focus of this prospectus is centered around the question: Is Ebonics a language? This is my guiding question because in several sources that I found while researching the topic for a previous essay, I found that the authors of articles referred to Ebonics as if it is a concept that can be untaught to young speakers. These authors recognize that Ebonics is almost always a part of the young African American children’s initially learned language; also known as their primary discourse.
In addition to the main question, I will also examine how Ebonics compares to Standard American English. What sets Ebonics apart from Standard American English? There are very noticeable differences that persons who do not speak in Ebonics notice when they hear someone speaking in Ebonics; but why is Ebonics so different, that people who do not speak in it, notice the difference? To answer these questions, I will look into the syntax, grammar, sentence structure, and prefixes and suffixes. After examination, I will compare Standard American English and Ebonics to each other and ultimately discover an answer to question proposed above. To do this, I will ask a few family members, who speak in Ebonics, to read a few sentences in two different ways. First in their primary discourse, Ebonics, then in their secondary discourse, Standard American English. My goal is to provide an immediate example of how Ebonics compares to Standard American English.
Lastly, I want to investigate the perceptions that accompany Ebonics speakers. What do persons who do not speak in Ebonics think of those who do speak in Ebonics? I will utilize tools such as pathos and logos to find answers to this question. I will ask a few family members who speak in Ebonics and see what they think about the way that they talk and how they are perceived to others around them. I believe that they will be able to provide answers to questions that I cannot answer.
- Brennan, W. (2018, March 12). Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to RespectAfrican-American English. Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-code-switcher/554099/.
In the article, “Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English” by William Brennan, Washington, who earned her doctorate in speech-pathology, met a young girl who spoke in Ebonics. She recounts how she read the young girl the story “Are you My Mother?”, and how the little girl recounted the story back to Washington. It was from this encounter that Washington was enlightened to the concept of what she calls “code-switching”. Code-switching is switching from a primary discourse to a secondary discourse, and vice versa. From this encounter and new knowledge, Washington embarks on a journey of learning about the dialect that is Ebonics, and what steps educators can take to teach these speakers to effectively speak in secondary discourse. Brennan highlights that although the goal is to get youth to speak in more of a secondary discourse at school, they are not trying to entirely eradicate their primary discourses either. Their primary discourse is what makes them unique and gives them their individuality. I am utilizing this source because it provides an anecdote that is a perfect example of Ebonics in use and provides an answer to one of my proposed questions. By using this source, I can also use the term “code-switching”. Washington explains this concept in a way that is clear and easy to follow. Code-switching is one of the main things that I am basing my Prospectus from. It is a part of how people who speak in Ebonics take in information, understand, and relay it back when needed. I also enjoyed the way Brennan wrote about Washinton’s experiences and the quest that she and countless others took to figure out what would be the most effective way to have youth keep their primary dialect while also teaching them when it is appropriate to use a secondary dialect.
- Cunningham, V. (2019, July 9). The Case for Black English. Retrieved fromhttps://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/05/15/the-case-for-black-english.
In this article, published on the New Yorker Website, the author, disusses Ebonics and what they believe to be one of the best examples of Ebonics. The author uses Bernie Mac’s stand-up comedy and his approach to comedy as an example of Ebonics. My plan is to use this example in conjunction with my other sources, to provide examples of how Ebonics is used, and how it is generally interpreted. These interpretations will be based off of stresses of syllables, prefixes and suffixes. As well as minor grammatical “errors” that help speakers denote what tense they are speaking in.
- Gee, James Paul. “What is literacy.”Negotiating academic literacies: Teaching and learning across languages and cultures (1998): 51-59.
James Gee, who is a Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy at Arizona State University, wrote an article entitled “What is Literacy?”; in which he explains what literacy is by employing his knowledge of linguistics. To describe what literacy is, he explains what a discourse is, and what a primary and secondary discourse is. He states that in general, when referring to discourses, he is saying that a discourse is a “socially accepted association among ways of using language, of thinking, and of acting that can be used to identify oneself as a member of a socially meaningful group” (Gee 51). Discourses aid members in certain groups, in finding others that may be a part of their group simply by the way in which they may speak or act. This would be what Gee calls a Primary discourse, which are mannerisms and speech that originate from the home. It is the things that people learn from observation, from when they were children. Secondary discourses are learned outside of one’s group that may better fit social Standards. So, regarding literacy, discourses, especially those found in English such as African American English, can be employed to help people from different social groups understand different forms of dialect, and ultimately, how to establish a universal understanding of the secondary discourse, that is mainly taught in schools, Standard English.
I am using this article because discourses perfectly explain what Ebonics and Standard American English is. One is a primary discourse while the other is a secondary discourse. In the prospectus, whenever I refer to Ebonics, I may employ the term Primary discourse or vice versa. I think that discourses are a good way to explain how people who speak in the dialect of Ebonics communicate and which may ultimately affect the way that they take in new information learned in classrooms. If it is not encoded and taught to children at a younger age, then they are more heavily influenced by their primary discourse and therefore use it more than their secondary discourse. Children are using what they see and hear other people understand. Gee’s article changed the way that I thought about Ebonics. Learning about discourses has made me think more critically about language and how there are an infinite amount of ways to communicate in English. It’s just about learning which dialect fits best with the situation that is presented to you.
- Harper, F., Braithwaite, K., & LaGrange, R. (1998). Ebonics and Academic Achievement: The Role of the Counselor.The Journal of Negro Education, 67(1), 25-34. doi:10.2307/2668237
The article found in the Journal of Negro Education Vol. 67, no. 1 entitled, “Ebonics and Academic Achievement: The Role of the Counselor”, written by Fredrick Harper, et al., addresses the different aspects that counselors or educators need to think about when dealing with a student, whose main form of communication, is in the dialect Ebonics. As well as understanding what educators could do to help Ebonics’ speaking students understand how to take their primary discourse of language and apply that knowledge towards Standard English. The goal in doing so would be to aid these students in understanding Standard American English. To achieve this task, Harper et. al. stated that their a few important concepts of Ebonics that educators need to effectively grasp, so that when they are teaching an Ebonics’ speaking youth, the teachers aid can be more effective. Harper et. al. discusses the topic of Ebonics in an objective way. They utilize logos, a rhetorical appeals tool, to aid in describing what educators can do to help students. There are little to no biases present in the article that deters the reader or the authors from the main point. The authors are not flashing, in bright bold lights, to the reader that their point is more valuable than anyone else’s. By taking an objective stance on the topic, the author is essentially leaving the door wide open for readers and audiences to interpret and take from the article what they need. This source is helpful to me because the authors paved a clear and concise path that links one topic, Ebonics, to another topic, Education. By doing so, I can effectively answer the questions that I am using as a guide in my essay.
- Murphy, R. S. (1998).Abbin’ Ain’t Raw: Ebonics in the Classroom. Undergraduate Review, 11(1), 2.
Rebecca S. Murphy, who is an author for the article “Abbin’ Ain’t Raw: Ebonics in the Classroom”, discusses Ebonics speaking youth and how educators should go about acquisition of teaching Standard American English to them. I plan to use this source to discuss Ebonics speaking youth and education; as well as answer how Ebonics communication and grammar compare to the communication and grammar found in Standard English. Murphy also briefly touches on the topic of whether Ebonics is a dialect or a language. I think that this is an important question because the answer could be a difference of how educators go about teaching Ebonics speaking youth, how to use and speak Standard American English. Much like others who look into Ebonics education, Murphy also highlights the importance of remaining respectful of African American culture.
- Palacas, A. (2001). Liberating American Ebonics from Euro-English.College English, 63(3), 326-352. doi:10.2307/378997
In the article, “Liberating American Ebonics from Euro-English”, by Arthur L. Palacas, who is an English Professor at the University of Akron, Ebonics is examined. Palacas investigates what makes Ebonics unique and eventually answering the question: “Is Ebonics a different language from English?” (326). It also addresses other questions related to Ebonics possibly being a language on its own. Palacas also provides some vies on Ebonics that are found within the general population. He uses these views to guide his research and to show people who do not speak in Ebonics that the dialect (or language) is not much different than the Standard English that is generally heard and spoken. I am using this source because there is a lot of information that I can use to answer my main question on whether Ebonics is its’ own language. Palacas explains the information found in his article very well, and I think that it will benefit my argument.
- Rickford, J. R. (1997, September 17). The Creole Origins of African American Vernacular English: Evidence from copula absence. Retrieved November 3, 2019, from http://220.127.116.11:8099/sociolinguistics/creoles/The Creole Origins of African American Vernacular English.htm.
In the article, “The Creole Origins of African American Vernacular English: Evidence from copula absence”, written by John R. Rickford, African American Vernacular, also known as Ebonics, is examined. Rickford starts of the article by digging into the past of the dialect and finding what could possibly be its true origins. Rickford defines terms such as Pidgin and Creole, to help readers have a better understanding on what Ebonics’ origins are. Without these terms, readers and those studying Ebonics, may not understand what Ebonics is. This article, in conjunction with the article (also written by Rickford), “What is Ebonics (African American English)”? will aid me in answering the question “What are the origins of Ebonics?” and How what effect does the dialect have on its users with outside perception?
- Rickford, John R. “What Is Ebonics (African American English)? .”Linguistic Society of America, 2019, https://www.linguisticsociety.org/content/what-ebonics-african-american-english.
In the article written by John R. Rickford entitled, “What Is Ebonics (African American English)?”, Ebonics is given a definition. Rickford describes it as a blend of phonics that is primarily spoken by African Americans. Its’ origins found primarily from “the nonStandard dialects of English indentured servants and other workers with whom African slaves interacted”. With its roots embedded deep within a group, it poses the question how educators who encounter Ebonics speaking youth, should teach a secondary discourse when their primary discourse is heavily embedded within their speech. Rickford’s definition of Ebonics made me think about where the dialect originated from and how it still lives on after so many years. It made me think about questions such as: Is Ebonics a language? What are the Origins of Ebonics? These questions became the starting point for research.
- Ronkin, M., & Karn, H. E. (2002). Mock Ebonics: Linguistic racism in parodies of Ebonics on the Internet.Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3(3), 360–380. doi: 10.1111/1467-9481.00083
This study is looking into “racism in parodies of Ebonics (‘Mock Ebonics’) that appeared on the internet in the wake of the December 18, 1996 resolution of the board of Education of the Oakland (California) United School District on improving the English-language skills of African-American students” (360). However, I will be using this source primarily for its explanation of grammar and syntax of African American Vernacular which is found under the section “The Data and Strategies” with the subtitle “Graphemic representation of phonetic segments” (364). The information found within this section will aid me in comparing the grammar of Standard American English to Ebonics.
- Smitherman, G. (1998). “Dat Teacher Be Hollin at Us”: What Is Ebonics?TESOL Quarterly, 32(1), 139-143. doi:10.2307/3587911
The article highlights personal and nonpersonal examples of Ebonics. She discusses different schools’ boards acquisition to teaching Ebonics speaking youth and what things she has encountered first-hand; seeing as she speaks in Ebonics herself. Smitherman begins her article by talking about the relationship she has had with Standard American English and Ebonics (or United States Ebonics) throughout her life. I plan on using this article to provide some insight about perception of Ebonics as well as how the education system has treated Ebonics speakers. I think that Smitherman’s article provides great insight into what Ebonics sounds like, and how it differs from Standard American English.