The Ebonics Controversy

Essay by majam01 January 2006

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The way some African American children speak when they show up in American schools is so different from standard English that teachers often can't understand what they are saying. These children perform poorly in school and typically fail to acquire the ways of speaking that they'll need in order to succeed in the world outside their neighborhoods. Schools have traditionally treated the speech of these children as bad English, "street slang" and "poor grammar". But,on December 18, 1996, the Oakland Unified School District Board of Education adopted a policy on Standard American English development for all students.

This decision created great controversy and came to be known as the Ebonics Resolution since it basically recognized Ebonics as a separate language variety whose speakers need assistance in becoming fluent in Standard American English. As a part of the policy, teachers were to be trained to teach students to "code switch" or translate their home language, Ebonics, into Standard English.

The decision was made not only to help them improve test scores, but to help teachers respect the Ebonics language of their students as separate from Standard American English.

Ebony + Phonics is a term that Linguistics use to describe African-American Dialect or African-American English. Most linguists, black and white, still prefer the term African American Vernacular English (AAVE) to the term Ebonics and other alternative terms for the variety.However, the label has nothing to do with its linguistic status. It is one of the most commonly spoken languages in most urban American cities,and mostly by African Americans. The Oakland resolution was overturned after considerable debate and outrage, but the issues it raised are still valid, at least at the most basic level.

Namely,the question is whether AAVE is a separate language or merely a dialect of English or...