“Among Linguists, Black English Gets Respect” discusses how variations in language and how people use them as a means to discriminate, even though language itself cannot be inherently good or bad. This is then related to the events in Oakland where it was decided that teachers would learn Ebonics in order to better help the students. Ebonics used to be considered a type of slang, or a bad form of English, but after it has been studied it has been found that it is a structured language variation with its own set of rules. Even so, because people hear it and think it sounds a certain way, they make unnecessary judgements. Black English is then compared to other English dialects that are (or have been) also judged harshly, solely because of the way the listener thinks they sound. At the very end, it brings up an argument from linguists that if it had been Africans who had colonized America with white slaves, it would be white English that would be looked down upon.
“Dispute Over Ebonics Reflects a Volatile Mix Thar Roils Urban Education” discusses more of the fallout that occurred as a result of the Oakland School Board’s decision to train its teachers in ebonics. This decision became widely discussed nation-wide. It focuses on Oakland rather than language, going over Oakland’s controversial history in regards to trying to match ethnicity with education. They have a history of trying to make sure their teaching material matches and is relevant to their multi-cultural students – the article gives some statistics about the ethnic/racial makeup of the student population for the district. The recent decision was just another part of that, where Oakland saw a problem with the performance of their black students and was trying to decide how best they could address that problem. The ebonics decision was part of that, though unlike other recommendations the ebonics decision was pushed through without a lot of opportunity for debate.
“Views of linguists and anthropologists on the Ebonics issue (Part 1)” takes expert testimony from linguists and linguistic anthropologists on the Oakland controversy, where the Oakland school board made their December 18, 1996 decision regarding ebonics. Within the paper itself, ebonics are referred to (for the most part) as African American Vernacular English (AAVE). These experts discuss what AAVE is, in that it is its own dialect with its own phonological and syntatctic rules that are similar to other such dialects (with a section on some of the rules, as well as referring to prior research on AAVE). Others discuss the social issues surrounding AAVE, in that there is a sense that any nonstandard English is considered to be automatically bad. There is also discussion about how AAVE is only part of the issue of why black children do poorly in school. It is pointed out that education systems should take care that black students are not considered to be stupid, as if they can’t understand the slight variations between AAVE and standard English. The final expert recounted an experiment he did where having children have their own dialect be part of the curriculum helped them to feel more excited about the subject matter, and more connected with the schoolwork as a result.
The validation of ebonics by linguists is like the validation of any subject by experts: until it is displayed on media and brought into the heart of public consciousness, it is not guaranteed to change anything. In the case of ebonics itself, I think a lot of the time peoples’ reactions towards how someone sounds is a largely personal preference. In the day to day interactions between different socio-economic groups of people, it won’t make a large difference in the sense of people not liking the way ebonics sounds, or thinking negatively of the person who speaks ebonics. It is an expression of racism, and just because an expert validates ebonics as a legitimate dialect will not change the way that people feel about it.
(though this video is not about ebonics itself, I included it because I feel that it contains many of the same issues of feeling alienated, dismissed, scorned, or found funny because of the way you look and sound)
As with many of the other blog posts and activities we’ve had, it is another measure of how people deal with racist thoughts and leanings. Those with entrenched feelings on the matter won’t change without some form of extensive self-thought or a willingness to change. For (what I believe to be) the majority of people who are racist without meaning to, while expert testimonial will help, it still needs to reach a point of social acceptance. Being seen in the media, popular culture, people respected in the community are the filters necessary for ebonics to become accepted enough to the point that it affects the lived experience of race.
However, I also believe that people will remain uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. If all you ever hear is your own accent and dialect, you are unlikely to associate another’s heavy dialect with positivity unless it accompanies a positive experience.
The acceptance of ebonics in the education system is a step towards validating disenfranchised students, in my opinion. It’s a way to attempt to bridge a socio-economic gap that poor students cannot help and never asked for. While some of the experts felt it was looking down on students (or making them out to be stupid), to me it’s a way to try to connect with children who might feel that their home culture or values are not in turn valued by the school system. When a child’s learned way of speaking, or the things they value are devalued (especially by those who are supposed to be looking out for them, or are considered to be authority figures they’re supposed to respect), it becomes an issue where they might disconnect. Even so, this does not solve the entirety of the problem; in the articles it was stated numerous times that the schools they are required to attend are awful. Numerous factors in the schools are in play here; language itself matters as it forms part of how we think of ourselves.
If using a dialect that has been linguistically validated is a racial marker, than acceptance of that dialect should, over time, impact discrimination. Just as we judge people on how they look or how they act (in terms of mannerisms), we judge people on how they speak or sound. If people were to accept ebonics as a natural extension of English rather than just the way black people talk, I think it would decrease racially based discrimination. However, this does not mean that people wouldn’t still judge the sound or use of ebonics. People judge the way people from Boston speak, or the way southern people speak; I’ve had a friend from Australia make fun of my northwestern accent: but those aren’t racially motivated judgments, and we view them as legitimate accents and ways of speaking.
So yes, I do believe that by standardizing, speaking about, and validating ebonics, over time it will filter into public consciousness as something completely normal and part of American dialect and accents – but it will not happen any time soon, and it will not happen without incorporation into things people learn at a young age (the same way most children or young adults learn about other accents or dialects as just being part of the country).