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Monday, May 21, 2012

Ebonics


AA English
          In this film clip, Professor Mary Zeigler of Georgia University discussed  the influence  African American's have had on the development of American English.  The three black female students featured in the clip not only defended, but also embraced a different “dialect” for blacks and whites in America. The students appeared to be very well educated and well versed on the history and roots of Ebonics. Professor Zeigler expressed her relief and joy at the academic communities acceptance of Ebonics, and commented that her students prefer to speak to one another in the language or “variety” of language that they identify with. Three things stood out to me in this clip: a well articulated point about the perceived dichotomy of Ebonics and American English (and the need for that to change); a weak and unsupported claim that the reason for the preponderance of Ebonics amongst African Americans is a lack of available teachers and examples of American English; and the great pride the students took in “owning” their language and  their heritage while accepting these beautiful things as a part of their identity. 
There were some very thought-provoking arguments in this clip.  More specifically, the comment by the student in the orange blouse: “It’s not about this is bad and this is good...  It’s not bad and good, its about teaching our kids about what will make them more successful in life but not sacrificing what they already know.”  This student expressed need for change in the way Americans place Ebonics and American English as polar opposites.  This dichotomy needs to be recognized as unsupportive and destructive, and then an active effort needs to take place to facilitate a positive change.
At the very beginning of the film, one of the students made clear that the reason for the differences in black and white English, is both the lack of time Africans have had access to education in this country (the 1960’s) and the few numbers of examples young blacks have had to model English instead of Ebonics. I disagree with this student, and find her argument to be very unsupported.  If we are to agree that equal education was not made available to blacks in this country until 1970, we can safely assume that a minimum of 3 generations of African Americans should, in the American public school systems, have been taught to read and write American English by now. Most immigrants who come to the Unites States have (first generation) children who are fluent in the language of the new country and speak the native language in appropriate cultural and familial settings.  It is unclear to me why African Americans do not approach assimilation of American English in this same manner.
Overall, the film clip exuded the pride and joy the students feel about their cultural heritage and their unique Ebonics dialect.  This reminded me very much of Asante’s description of language as one of the African cultural “experiences”  that remain with African Americans in place of African cultural artifacts.  These women are as far away from an 18th century Slave Ship as can be, yet they still find a sense of sisterhood, pride and identity in their African linguistic similarities.  What a beautiful thing.

Black English Panel
            This film is a recording of a panel discussion about the politics of language and culture and was held at the 11th annual Harlem Book Fair in New York City in 2009.   Titled "We Be, You Are, They Is: Black English, Language, and Culture", the panelists in the film discussed if a nonstandard language such as "Black English" should be deemed inferior, and the problems of transferring between languages. The discussion highlighted three main features of language: the concept that language provides a sense of identity and defines ones sense of placement within society and time; the difference between the style of language we use in personal and intimate relationships vs. the language used in more formal academic or workplace environments; and the great variety of English spoken across this country and this world, of which Ebonics is but one.
            The major points of this panel presentation were very consistent with the writings and theories of Asante, in that the panelists agreed in the importance of the connection that Ebonics provides to blacks, both with their African past, and with each other.  Speakers of African English, according to the panelists, are no different than any other American who speaks English as a second language.  The strongest argument that was made by the panel was the need for black children to learn when to use Ebonics or what they referred to as “rap culture English” and when to use Standard English. Exemplified in the discussion were the differences between home language and culture, and school language and culture, as well as the media and the lack of respect for Africa, and African American people in this country.
            This film presented many theories and opinions but few solutions.  The topics discussed were merely the outer frosting on a multi level cake of issues within politics, education, urban areas, vast socioeconomic differences, linguistics, cultural awareness and biases.  Sadly, no real proposals for solutions were given.
             
             

Ink Spot: Ebonics in the age of Obama
            In this montage of clips from “The Ink Spot”, Dr. Garrard Mcclendon moderated a conversation between the Ink Spot panel as they reviewed the book Beyond Ebonics and debated whether the use of Ebonics is “dumbing down the English Language”, or a dialect of the English Language.  Also addressed were issues the panel had with the concept of “universal black culture.”  Two of the panelist felt that while people who speak Ebonics are most certainly not “dumb”, Ebonics itself is most definitely a “dumbing down” of Standard English.  Once again, as in the prior films, the argument was made that real change for black children lies in the use of standardized English at home, and by the teachers at schools.
            The female member of the panel was in definite disagreement with the other panelists.  It was clear that she did not accept Ebonics as a cultural continuity amongst African Americans, but rather as a result of a poor education.  While it may be easy to dismiss her as unaware of the linguistic research that has been done, I feel she has a valid point for some of the African American population.  Many African American children are receiving a substandard education, especially here in metro Detroit.  While these children may hear only Ebonics at home, there are black speakers of standardized English on all of the local news channels, on television shows, and even serving as our President. If these black children have been exposed to standardized English via the media, then why are they not reading and writing standardized English? The answer to that lies in the very argument that the female member of the panel was making: they have received a poor education.  I was nauseated when I heard the man in the clip quote a teacher in a school who said “come here baby give me your feets so I can tie your shoes.”   Given this model of English from a person of supposed authority, how and when would any child learn to speak standardized English? It is so important to recognize that while a substandard education may be the reason some African Americans speak Ebonics; it is definitely not the case for others, who choose Ebonics as a clear cultural identity marker.
           

Black English
            Linguistic Discrimination in School: African American English is a short clip of a film that details the story of brothers who were tested and placed in Special Ed Courses on the basis of their use of Ebonics in the Ann Arbor school district.  The brothers were three of twenty-four black children in a sea of wealthy white students that comprised the student body.  A social worker involved with the family helped them to pursue a landmark court case on the basis that the boys were receiving a substandard education because the teachers disregarded of them due to their use of Ebonics.  This was the first time that any school district in the United States recognized that the use of Black English, or Ebonics, was a tremendous roadblock in the classroom.

Language Discrimination:
This clip from Fox 2 News features a teacher who is working very hard to teach young African Americans the difference between “Ask and Ax” and other English words that Ebonics pronunciation has slaughtered.  The news clip does present the other side of the story; highlighting how bad grammar is consistent across all aspect of American English.
            This teacher is to be applauded.  He is, by title, a teacher afterall.  It is his job to present the material in a way in which it can be processed by his students, and then re-present said material to those who might struggle with it.  In this case, he is presenting key problems African American students who speak Ebonics in the home and are trying to learn how to “switch hit”, or speak standardized English, may be experiencing in the school setting.
            This type of language discrimination occurs daily in this country.  Whites, and even some blacks hear a man or woman speaking Ebonics, and almost immediately, assumptions are drawn as to that person’s level of education, family life, IQ, professionalism, cultural, sexual, musical and style preferences, and even ability to reason and problem solve.  Like any stereotype, assumptions of any of these qualities based solely on language acquisition and verb tense usage is a very limited, shortsighted way of thinking.

African-American English, from Voices of NC
           
            This small clip from the 2008 documentary Voices of North Carolina features examples of a few common terms from Ebonics, such as right on, peace, what up man, I’m chillin, etc.  that have wporked there way into mainstream standardized English.  The film argues that every generation has to identify itself and create a new language.  According to this film excerpt, the new language addition to the Ebonics and Standard American English of this generation is  “Hip-Hop.” 
            This clip briefly explores the idea that Hip Hop is a new language of it’s own , and emphasises that culturally identifiable languages are important identifiers amongst all peopls, not only African Americans. 


My Position on Ebonics

            These six films, in combination with chapters one, two, three and four of our classroom text have shifted my previously held position of the use of Ebonics in this country.  Prior to this course, I was unaware that many aspects of Ebonics as a linguistic style (and specifically the verb tense forms) was able to be traced back to the 1700's and the West African coastline.  It is clear to me now that Ebonics has many elements that are culturally significant to African Americans.  Like any other language, Ebonics has evolved with time.  It has gained some figures of speech, and lost others. The same can be said for Standard American English.  (When is the last time you have heard a speaker of American English say "why that is just dandy"?) Shifts in intonation, inflection and pronunciation occur with all languages. Because the evolution of the genre of hip-hop music has affected Ebonics spoken in this country, many feel the language has sunk to an unsalvageable language and should be discarded. I argue instead that these changes do not lessen or weaken the language, but instead help to solidify the cultural and identity- stamping importance of the language. 
          That being said, I do feel there is a time and a place for everything.  Learning when to use Ebonics is just as important as understanding the roots from whence Ebonics came.  I would never address my boss with a "Hi hon, what’s up" although I may address my friends outside of the office in this manner on a daily basis.  I have learned situational appropriateness for my differences in language, and I strongly believe that African Americans would be discriminated upon less and treated with more respect and authority if they were to learn to do the same.  


1 comment:

  1. Hi Amy,

    You've made some great points in your post. I do agree that there is a time and place in which to be more relaxed with language or use of Ebonics. However, I think the association or assumptions that come with language is a problem that has no one solution. I think there is a huge problem with people "assuming" that a person is not worthy of respect or authority because of their language. That would be as worse as a teacher refusing to teach a student or giving up on a student because of their language, as was the case in the Language discrimination video. Sometimes, a person's language, dialect, grammar usage, or lack there of is a circumstantial matter. Not to sound cliche but some folks are "victims of circumstance." I know people who have gone through the educational system, speaking every bit of Ebonics, slang, or whatever we want to call it, and when you sit down to have a conversation with them, they are quite intelligent. The delivery might not be "professionally acceptable" but the knowledge is prevalent. Should I dismiss this individual or not respect him because of his speech? We live in a country that is a melting pot which has every variation of the "English" language that you can think of and it's a tough realization that at one point or another you will have to sacrifice a little bit of yourself so that you can be accepted. My family comes from the "deep south" and for some of them, Ebonics, heavy accents, and just about every other word on the list from our text is their everyday rhetoric. I understand what the "norm" requires for one to be considered a part of it, but should they fight to overcome their accent, fight to rid themselves of the only language they've known, so that they can become "professionally accepted?" Isn't that sort of asking them to rid themselves of a piece of their culture? As stated earlier, i do agree that there is a time and place but I also agree that those times and places are different for each of us, not just African Americans.

    Now, for my disclaimer :-) Because we are replying through text please do not think I am yelling or angrily typing. I am, hopefully, engaging in pure debate and discussion. I would have loved to taken this in a classroom setting so that we can get a better understanding of each classmates arguments.

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