Resolution On The Oakland "Ebonics"
Unanimously Adopted at the Annual Meeting
Chicago, Illinois January 3, l997
Whereas there has been a great deal of discussion in the media and
among the American public about the l8 December l996 decision of the
Oakland School Board to recognize the language variety spoken by many
African American students and to take it into account in teaching
Standard English, the Linguistic Society of America, as a society of
scholars engaged in the scientific study of language, hereby resolves
to make it known that:
- The variety known as "Ebonics," "African American Vernacular
English" (AAVE), and "Vernacular Black English" and by other names
is systematic and rule-governed like all natural speech varieties.
In fact, all human linguistic systems -- spoken, signed, and written
-- are fundamentally regular. The systematic and expressive nature
of the grammar and pronunciation patterns of the African American
vernacular has been established by numerous scientific studies over
the past thirty years. Characterizations of Ebonics as "slang,"
"mutant," "lazy," "defective," "ungrammatical," or "broken English"
are incorrect and demeaning.
- The distinction between "languages" and "dialects" is usually made
more on social and political grounds than on purely linguistic ones.
For example, different varieties of Chinese are popularly regarded
as "dialects," though their speakers cannot understand each other,
but speakers of Swedish and Norwegian, which are regarded as
separate "languages," generally understand each other. What is
important from a linguistic and educational point of view is not
whether AAVE is called a "language" or a "dialect" but rather that
its systematicity be recognized.
- As affirmed in the LSA Statement
of Language Rights (June l996),
there are individual and group benefits to maintaining vernacular
speech varieties and there are scientific and human advantages to
linguistic diversity. For those living in the United States there
are also benefits in acquiring Standard English and resources should
be made available to all who aspire to mastery of Standard English.
The Oakland School Board's commitment to helping students master
Standard English is commendable.
- There is evidence from Sweden, the US, and other countries that
speakers of other varieties can be aided in their learning of the
standard variety by pedagogical approaches which recognize the
legitimacy of the other varieties of a language. From this
perspective, the Oakland School Board's decision to recognize the
vernacular of African American students in teaching them Standard
English is linguistically and pedagogically sound.
Selected references (books only)
- Baratz, Joan C., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1969.
- Teaching Black Children
- Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
- Baugh, John. 1983.
- Black street speech: Its History, Structure and
- Austin: University of Texas Press.
- Bloome, David, and J. Lemke, eds. 1995.
- Special Issue: Africanized
English and Education.
- Linguistics and Education 7.
- Burling, Robbins. 1973.
- English in Black and White.
- New York: Holt.
- Butters, Ron. 1989.
- The Death of Black English: Convergence and
Divergence in American English.
- Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
- Dandy, Evelyn. 1991.
- Black Communications: Breaking Down the
- Chicago: African American Images.
- DeStephano, Johanna 1973, ed.
- Language, Society and Education: A
Profile of Black English.
- Worthington, OH: Charles A. Jones.
- Dillard, J. L. 1972.
- Black English: Its History and Usage in the
- New York: Random House.
- Fasold, Ralph W., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1970.
- Teaching Standard
English in the Inner City.
- Washington, DC: Center for Applied
- Gadsden, V. and D. Wagner, eds. 1995.
- Literacy among
African American Youth.
- Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
- Jones, Regina, ed. 1996.
- Handbook of Tests and Measurements.
- Kochman, Thomas. 1981.
- Black and White Styles in Conflict.
- NY: Holt
- Kochman, Thomas, ed. 1972.
- Rappin' and Stylin' Out.
University of Illinois Press.
- Language in the Inner City: Studies in the
Black English Vernacular.
- Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
with an Accent.
- Mufwene, Salikoko S., John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey and John Baugh, eds.
- London: Routledge.
- Rickford, John R.,
and Lisa Green. 1999.
- Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Shuy, Roger W., ed. 1965 .
- Social Dialects and Language Learning.
Champaign, Ill., National Council of Teachers of English.
- Simpkins, G., G. Holt, and C. Simpkins. 1977.
- Bridge: A
Cross-Cultural Reading Program.
- Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- Smith, Ernie A. 1994.
- The Historical Development of African American
- Los Angeles: Watts College Press.
- Smitherman, Geneva. 1986.
and Testifyin: The Language of Black
- Detroit: Wayne State University Press.
- _____ 1994
Talk: Words and Phrases from the
Hood to the Amen Corner.
- Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
- _____, ed. 1981.
- Black English and the Education of Black Children and
- Detroit: Center for Black Studies, Wayne State University
- Taylor, Hanni U. 1989.
- Standard English, Black English, and
Bidialectalism: A Controversy.
- NY: Peter Lang.
- Williams, Robert L. 1975
- Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks.
St Louis: Institute of Black Studies.
- Wolfram, Walt 1969.
- A Linguistic Description of Detroit Negro Speech.
Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.
- _____ 1991.
- Dialects and American English.
- Englewood Cliffs, NJ;
Prentice Hall and Center for Applied Linguistics.
- Wolfram, Walter A., Carolyn Temple Adger, and Donna Christian 1999.
- Dialects in Schools and Communities.
- Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
- Wolfram, Walter A., and Donna Christian 1989.
- Dialects and Education:
Issues and Answers.
- Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Wolfram, Walter A. and Nona Clarke, eds. 1971.
- Black-White Speech
- Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.
Links on Ebonics:
John Rickford's Ebonics Page
LINGUIST Ebonics Page
on the Ebonics Flap
Labov's testimony on "Ebonics" in the U.S. Senate
Center for Applied Linguistics Ebonics Page
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