Is Ebonics” Black English” a bad influence for American English?

Romanian   Wednesday, April 06, 2005, 21:54 GMT
Is Ebonics” Black English” a bad influence for American English?

"Yo! Yo! Nigga
Got some "wool"?
Yea man, yea man,
Three dim bags done full;
One be fo da masta,
An one be fo yo mama,
An one be fo da litle homey
dat libs dow da screet. "

A Black American woman said<<“Black English as the inability of those descending from Western Africa to conjugate the verb "to be"and to pronounce certain sounds.Black English is a way of life. Those that speak it, speak this way all of the time. They do not realize that it is improper English. Neither can they correct themselves. by Kimberlea Rodney"(Black American )>>

P.S.I am not being racist or saying the Ebonics is vulgarity. I am completely neutral! Just asking your opinions…
Gabe   Wednesday, April 06, 2005, 22:08 GMT
Actually, no! BEV (Black English Vernacular, or Ebonics) is just as fully functional a language as SAM (Standard American English)

It's improper by our standards, but it's very richly constructed and has its own rules that the speakers are following. In some cases, even, it's *more* specific than SAM. For instance:

"He working" vs. "He be working."

In the former, it's only indicated that currently the man is working, whereas in the latter it further means that the man works *regularly* -- that he has a job or something. Both would be translated as "He's working" and so the distinction is lost.

It's not an inability to conjugate "to be" but rather a native system that conjugates it differently (as in above). They *can* learn to speak standard american english, but it would just be like someone else learning English, or maybe someone who speaks Italian learning Spanish. The inability to pronounce sounds is tougher, though, as BEV speakers use different methods of changing sounds: "with" -> "wif"; "mother" -> "mover"; "that" -> "dat." Whereas we use things like "I have seen" -> "I've seen" (BEV speakers don't do that). I'm not sure, though, if it's just hard for them because they're not used to it, and they don't know which words they need to change in order to pronounce it according to SAM standards, or if it's physically difficult to, like how I have trouble making certain sounds in Arabic.

In any case, no, Ebonics isn't vulgar or uneducated in anyway. It's just taken on that connotation because the people who speak it tend to be uneducated and poor. But one of my black friends here at MIT is brilliant and speaks like that just because that's what he was exposed to. And I asked him the "He working" "He be working" thing and he got it right off the bat.
Brennus   Wednesday, April 06, 2005, 22:22 GMT

My past experience has been that any discussion about Black English can be a touchy subject with some people no matter what way you approach it. Nevertheless, I'll try anyway.

Personally, I find a lot of the so-called Ebonics or Black English humorous and I don't have any objections to it at all short of making it the standard form of American English.

I still remember the time I saw a three legged dog walking around the Metro Bus Park n' Ride near Seattle and a Black guy with a white girl friend was walking by and he said to her "Ah toljuh duh dog only had three leg!" (I told you the dog had only three legs). This is almost just as much a Southern hillbilly-White way of saying it too except most peopole in Seattle, where I live, never meet many hillbillies.

Most Blacks (Afro-Americans) are bi-dialectal speaking both "Ebonics" and standard American English (albeit with southern inflections) . I don't see any evidence that knowing Ebonics interferes with there ability to speak and write standard English. Some White American groups have their own substandard forms of English too. There were the zoot-suiters in the 1940's, the beatniks in the 1950's and the teeny-boppers of the 1960's who all had their own lingos and now it's the surfers and valley girls.

To some extent, language is an expression of the way you feel and making everyone speak a standard cookie-cutter form of the language would deprive people of that privalege. Even the way a Polish or Romanian person feels is expressed in their language too.
Brennus   Wednesday, April 06, 2005, 22:24 GMT
there ability > their ability
Deborah   Wednesday, April 06, 2005, 23:15 GMT
My immediate supervisor at work (at a law firm) is black. She speaks perfect standard American English, with a general American English accent, on the job, but on the phone with her family, or with other Af-Am people at work who are so inclined, she tends to get into the vernacular a bit.

The head of my department is also black. She grew up in what used to be the main black ghetto neighborhood of San Francisco (the Western Addition), and she never speaks with a general American English accent. However, when work requires it, she does use standard American English grammar, and she certainly can spot non-standard English when she sees it.

I don't see that it's doing American English any harm.
Deborah   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 00:02 GMT
The real question is, is American English doing Ebonics any harm?
Kirk   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 00:41 GMT
Interesting point, Deborah. I think it's also important to consider that neither non-AAVE American English nor AAVE is some homogenous monolithic variety spoken exactly the same everywhere. Also, for speakers of AAVE there is often a continuum between it and non-AAVE, with speakers falling anywhere on the extremes or in between and in many cases able to move towards either extreme when necessary (this doesn't just happen with AAVE, either, and is a relatively common phenomenon worldwide and certainly with various varieties of English).

I would definitely disagree with the quote Romanian cited (no matter the ethnicity of the person who said it)--AAVE is a perfectly valid native form of English and just because it doesn't always have the same features as other varieties doesn't mean its speakers are lazy or speaking improperly (despite what America's favorite jello-peddler funnyman Bill Cosby says). That being said, I do realize that we don't live in a perfect linguistically enlightened world and that sociolinguistic reality is such that, for the most part, to progress in many areas of business and education a mastery of non-AAVE may be necessary for AAVE speakers to use in the appropriate contexts (which is maybe what Bill Cosby was really aiming at saying).
Cro Magnon   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 01:39 GMT
Ebonics is not "real" English! Yes, when they're in the "hood" they can speak however they want, but in the business world they'd better speak the "white man's" English.
Tyrone   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 02:05 GMT
Cro Magnon, I'm going to ignore your racist and offensive manner of speaking, because it is simply incendiary and not woth my time.

As for AAEV/BEV, I am a multiracial American living in San Diego (actually, I'm roommates with Kirk, who posted above, strangely enough). My mother is Caucasian (Irish) and my dad is African-American. I grew up speaking standard English, but I can also slip rather easily into BEV when I'm in a particular context. I was raised to view AAEV as "improper" or "wrong" English, but I've since learned that it is a perfectly valid form of speech, and one that signifies a specific cultural context. I learned to speak BEV from my dad's family while growing up, and find that to this day, it can be an effective tool for communication with certain people groups. I think most people would agree that AAEV would not be the desired high written form of English, but it is perfectly valid as a spoken word form.
Travis   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 02:10 GMT
AAVE is just as "real" as any other set of English dialects, it's being rather divergent compared to many North American English dialects being irrelevant. Just because the "high" register of NAE is preferred in speech in business environments does not matter at all from a linguistic standpoint here, and makes AAVE no less of a group of English dialects in itself, AAVE's divergence relative to much of NAE aside.

That said, I myself find AAVE, at least the varieties of AAVE that I've heard here in Wisconsin, to be sufficiently divergent in speech that I often have trouble understanding it well when spoken to in it, and find myself just automatically codeswitching from "low" to "high" registers often in response to being spoken in it, which I often do when I have trouble understanding anyone's speech due to dialect differences or due to them being a non-native English speaker. Of course, lack of familiarity with AAVE is likely a major factor here, and is most likely a consequence of the social structures here, where black populations are strongly separated from the rest of society, to say the very least, which is very European as a whole, East/Southeast Asians aside. Even still, it seems to me, when I'm being spoken to in AAVE, that from my point of view, I could very well be spoken to in, say, Scots proper (not Scottish English), and I'd probably have a roughly equal level of understanding, even though I find written transcriptions of things in AAVE to be far more intelligable as a whole.
greg   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 06:51 GMT
Romanian : what does <wool> mean in <Got some "wool"> ?
Gabe   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 07:26 GMT
Maybe... wool? It sounds similar to the "baa-baa-baa blacksheep" nursery rhyme, or whatever. I don't remember it, something like:

Baa... baa... blacksheep have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.
One for ....

I don't know if that's right, but it seems like it's something like that, and what I remember matches up with the OP pretty well.
Tyrone   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 07:44 GMT
In the original post, Romanian included an 'adapted' version of a nursery rhyme. The original is below.

"Baa, baa black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, Yes sir,
3 bags full.

One for my master,
One for my dame,
One for the little boy
who lives down the lane."

The modified version is thus:

Yo! Yo! Nigga
Got some "wool"?
Yea man, yea man,
Three dim bags done full;
One be fo da masta,
An one be fo yo mama,
An one be fo da litle homey
dat libs dow da screet. "

However, it seems that 'wool' here is an implied street drug, with it being carried in bags. The quotations on wool imply that.
Vytenis   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 19:17 GMT
I think the question is not whether Ebonics, Hilbilly accent, Siauliai accent or any opther accent for that matter is inherently bad or good. The questions is WHO speaks it...
american nic   Thursday, April 07, 2005, 21:46 GMT
Hence, the Texan accent is bad. :)