Thursday, August 30, 2018


     Any discussion of African languages would be unacceptable without a discussion of the African origin of African American vernacular Black English (VBE). Many sociolinguists believe that VBE is derived from a Creole language spoken in the Deep South before emancipation (Dillard 1972). Sociolinguists that adhere to this view believe that VBE is derived from an earlier British dialect.
      Other linguist believe that VBE is really the result of the social isolation of African Americans during slavery which forced them to learn English words, but allowed them to live in communities separated from SAE speakers. This separation of the Euro-Americans generally, and African American slaves made it possible for an African deep structure to remain constant among this people. We call this African American language Ebonics.
     Ebonics is a dialect made up of an English vocabulary and an African structure/ grammar. Dr. Ernie Smith of the California State University at Fullerton noted that Ebonics: "follows the African deep structure in every respect when it is different from English, and there is solid empirical linguistic evidence of identical deep structure or syntactical patterns in West African  languages". (Clegg 1980, 16)

     Many linguists argue that Ebonics has its own rules and grammar.(Rickford 1986)  This is absolutely true. (Clegg 1980)
The grammar of Ebonics is analogous to the grammars of the Niger-Kordofanian family of languages. Niger-Kordofanian languages are spoken in West Africa.
     Social separation of racial groups in America has led to the continuity of Niger-Kordofanian linguistic features among African Americans.  The ethnolingistic theory of Ebonics is a more accurate description of African American speech patterns than VBE, which suggest that the speech of many African Americans is wholly a dialect of SAE.
    Traditionally Ebonics is seen as a form of Standard American English (SAE) with a transformed phonology or surface structure pursuant to the transformational theory of linguistics. For example, SAE 'Do you understand English'; in Ebonics 'D'ya dig black talk'; and Wolof (an African language) 'Dege nga Olof' ('Do you understand Wolof').
    But Ebonics speakers use an African 1) morphology and 2) syntax, with an English vocabulary as observed above. As a result Ebonics and SAE are mutually intelligible, but like German and Norwegian they are distinct languages.
    The pronunciation of Ebonics words show NK influences in two broad categories: 1) consonant clustering avoidance and 2) absent phonics.(Fretz 1985) Both NK and Ebonics speakers avoid the pro-
enunciation of consonant clusters:
      SAE             Ebonics
    left                 lef

   object                objek
   desk                   dess
   fast                    fas
Certain SAE sounds are not found in Ebonics and NK, as a result we have absent phonics:
SAE              Ebonics
think               tink
then                 den
arithmetic        arifmetic
yours              yohz
drift              drif
build              bil
     The morphology and phonology of Ebonics causes many African American children to have reading problems. This difficulty may results from the differences between the pronunciation and spelling of words in  Ebonics, and the pronunciation and spelling of words in  SAE. Goodacre (1971, 80) noted that "Even more difficulties occur in the pronunciation of vowels and end sounds. One study found that of the 220 words in Dolch's list of basic words in the English language, Negro dialect of this type changed 158". This dropping of certain phonemes or letters by some Ebonics speakers while reading create difficulty for the child trying to attack new words and sound them out. Fasold (1969) has made it clear that among many readers whose language show an above average  importance of vowels, while reading the words will not change them to won't; and do not to don't.

     In conclusion, Ebonics is not just a dialect of English, it is a "different" speech analogous to African languages in structure and some vocabulary. This genetically encoded linguistic principle was reinforced in the African community as a result of the social isolation of many African Americans and Euro-Americans since slavery.
     This isolation of blacks, allowed environmental stimuli to trigger and reinforce NK syntactical patterns among Ebonics speakers .The SAE pattern would probably have erased NK grammatical structures if African Americans  and Euro-Americans would have been fully assimilated rather than live in separate worlds, in the same country.
     Given the information outlined above, Ebonics is a foreign language, and under Federal law, bilingual education should be provided Ebonics speakers. The allocation of federal dollars to support SAE instruction among African Americans, may enable many more Ebonics speakers to not only  finally learn SAE, and many of them to perform better academically in the area of reading.
     This linguistic reality makes it clear that some speakers of Ebonics might be prone to reading difficulties because of the  syntactical differences between Ebonics and SAE  at the deep structural level.  This view is supported by the research of Baratz (1969 and Labov (1965).
      This suggest that African American children could benefit from learning English as a Second Language. The teaching of ESL might help African Americans become better learners by learning SAE, rather than assuming that Ebonics is just non-standard English.


Lo said...

Thank you for this clear explanation. Seeing the comparison between the NK and the Ebonic expressions opens up my thinking about our preservation of culture.

Unknown said...

Thank you for this narrative. I would if possible request that you share some of their Afrikan words that links direct to the West Afrikan dialect. That will enable us to know where they were originally from. Whether they came before Colombus or not. I'm missing something in your narration. Thanks