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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Ebonics Emerges

Ebonics Emerges

African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) — sometimes known as Black English or Ebonics — is used by many African Americans, particularly those from working-class or inner-city areas. Black English clearly differs from other varieties of English in its vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, but simply attaching it to one population group oversimplifies a complex situation.

Many African Americans do not speak Black English; many non-African Americans who live in inner cities do. Complicating matters further, African American influence — music, fashion, language — on American culture is very strong. As a result, some white American teenagers from the suburbs consciously imitate Black language features, to express their own group identity and shared opposition to mainstream culture.

Many people — African American or not — look down on Black English as an undesirable or ignorant form of the language. Others see it as a proud and positive symbol of the African-American experience. A few political activists or Afro-centrists insist that Ebonics isn’t a dialect of English at all but rather a separate language with roots in Africa. And many people accept Black English as an important social dialect but argue that its speakers must also master standard English in order to succeed in America today.

The debate illustrates a larger sociolinguistic point. We all master several different varieties of our language, standard and less so, that we deploy depending upon social contexts. In unfamiliar social situations, we feel linguistically inadequate and “don’t know the right thing to say.” Yet we can pick up the lingo of a new context if we are exposed to it long enough.

[The text above is lifted from PBS, Do you speak American, Language & Society,


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