Ebonics: the Language of African Slaves and Their Descendants

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Dr. Williams and a group of Black scholars first coined the terms Ebonics in 1973 when referring to the language spoken by African slaves and their descendants. Ebonics, which is derived from the word ebony, which means black, and phonetics, which means sound, was adopted as the new term for Black English and African-American Vernacular English. Mary Rhodes Hoover states, "Many who condemn Ebonics refer to it as "bad grammar," "lazy pronunciation," or "slang." However, linguist Dell Hymes notes that, viewed sociolinguistically, language is much more than characteristics such as grammar or pronunciation (phonology). In fact Ebonics/African-American Language has a number of other characteristics, including semantics, notation, favored genres, sociolinguistic rules, speaking styles, learning and teaching style, and world view themes." Therefore, Ebonics is not slang but a dialect, which is governed by grammatical and phonetic rules, which makes it a legitimate language. In contrast, slang is terms or phrases that develop from popular trends of a particular time and become obsolete when that time period ends. Unlike slang, Ebonics has maintained its purity and definition over hundreds of years because it was not formed out of popularity but from Africans attempting to learn English and teaching this adapted version of English to their children. Blacks' patois was first distinguished in 1707 as "Nigger English" and by 1825 as "Nigger" (Flexner 56). Ebonics, often called the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE), has many different features distinguishing it from Standard American English. The majority of linguists agree that Ebonics is a systematic form of speech with distinctive phonological and grammatical features. Ebonics'grammatical and phonological features are identical to many West African languages' rules of grammar and sentence structure. The West African rules of the repetition of noun subject with pronoun (My sister, she sings good), question patterns without the word do (what it come to?), same form of noun in singular and plural (one boy/five boy), no tense indicated in the verb with an emphasis on manner or character of action (I know it good when he ask me), and the same verb for all subjects (I know, you know, he know we know they know) are features present in Ebonics. Many studies show that the pronunciations of ay and oy as in ah for Standard English I and boah for Standard English boy, the realization of the syllable-initial str as skr preceding high front vowels like "ee", for example skreet for Standard English street and deskroy for the Standard English equivalent for destroy, and the deletion of the initial d and g in certain tenses such as in "ah ‘on know" for the Standard English " I don't know." Other noted features are the deletion of the letter l after a vowel, for example he'p for the Standard English help and toah for the Standard English toll, the absence of stressed medial and initial syllables as in ‘fraid for the afraid and sec't'ry for secretary. Alongside phonological and grammatical features researchers have also observed more variations in intonations, the absence of auxiliary verbs is and are in the present tense, the verb be used for habitual actions, and the absence of possessive –s than used in American Standard English. Some sound rules from West African languages are evident Ebonics such as no consonant pairs jus for the Standard English just, few long vowels or two part vowels rat or raht for the Standard English right, and no r sound as in mow for the Standard English more, dough for the Standard English door and flow for the Standard English floor. These characteristics separate Ebonics as an adapted version of English separate from American Standard English. Many scholars blame this adapted version of American Standard English on early colonist capturing West Africans and the damage caused by their enslavement. "People evolve a language in order to describe and...
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