Date: Mon, 06 Jan 1997 14:33:13 -0800 From: (Leanne Hinton) Subject: ebonics Sender: To: MIME-version: 1.0 Precedence: bulk

I'm late checking my email, and the ebonics discussion, which Friday focused around the questioning of the claim that Ebonics should be considered a separate language, has evolved on to other issues now. But to back up, in answer to some of the points made at the end of last week, we have to remember that the words "dialect" and "language", while given precise (though fuzzy-edged) definitions in linguistics, carry many very different and highly emotional connotations in general speech. "Dialect" has negative connotations, implying that some speech variety is not a complete language in some undefined way. The Ebonics proponents are reacting to the lay definitions of the terms, which seem to be in much more common usage than the linguistic definitions. How many times have we heard, in the last few weeks, some news announcer say "Ebonics is not a language; it's a dialect" ? Of course, WE know that ANY form of natural speech is a language, and what the media ought to be saying is that Ebonics is not a SEPARATE language, but rather one of many dialects of English. Well, then, using the media's syntax, we might respond to them that neither is Standard English a language; it's a dialect. But I wonder if those news announcers would agree with us? I don't think so. I think their grammatical usage indicates that they are using the lay definitions-- that Standard English is a language, and AAE is a mere dialect.

Whether Ebonics is a separate language or not in any technical sense is not really what I think educators are concerned with here. What they are after is elevating the status of AAE, getting teachers and students alike to stop thinking of it as "broken-down English", and to recognize and respect it as a variety of speech with a long and partially separate history from standard English, containing at least some relic features coming all the way from African roots. While from a linguistic point of view, these notions are being carried to an unscientific extreme, the proponents of Ebonics are battling an even more unscientific set of extreme prejudices against AAE. They are trying to promulgate a new set of political ideas about AAE as a legitimate form of speech, partly for the sake of African-American pride, but mainly for the sake of teaching standard English in an emotionally positive way.
--Leanne Hinton <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Leanne Hinton, Professor Dept. of Linguistics University of California Berkeley, CA 94720-2650 email: fax: (510) 643-5688 phone: (510) 643-7621 <<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>