LINGUIST List 7.1825

Wed Dec 25 1996

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Peter Farruggio, ebonics

Message 1: ebonics

Date: Sat, 21 Dec 1996 20:02:18 -0700
From: Peter Farruggio <>
Subject: ebonics

Has anyone on this list been following the controversy in the media about
the Oakland, California school board's decision to classify African
American children as "limited English proficient"? They unanimously passed
a resolution last week that called Ebonics (Black English) a separate
language, and blamed the children's high levels of school failure (low GPA,
high drop-out rates, statistical overrepresentation in special education,
etc) on language mismatch.

Here is a statement I sent to a local newspaper. I understand that the
OBEMLA office in Wash, DC has been deluged with calls from other school
districts nationwide who want to know if African American children can
qualify for LEP funds, so this issue has national implications.

Any comments?

I am a bilingual educator of 15 years and an educational researcher. I
look at the "ebonics" debate with very mixed feelings.

What is commonly known as Black English is a dialect of English, just as
"Standard English" is a dialect spoken by the people who rule American and
British society. Black English is not a slang and it has consistent and
logical grammatical and pronunciation rules, just as does Standard English.
It is a unique historical creation of African Americans.

If the practical result of the Oakland school board's decision is to inform
teachers about Black English and to show them that a child is not inferior
because he speaks a dialect, then it will be a good thing for the people of
Oakland. But I am afraid that the theory of ebonics will serve to
highlight language as the main cause of unacceptably high rates of school
failure by African American children. I am afraid that it will be just
another gimmick to divert attention from the real cause.

Language is only a part of the larger problem, which is institutional
racism. The deliberate underfunding of public education and other social
services in the past twenty years has had a devastating impact on inner
city neighborhoods. Jonathan Kozol's book "Savage Inequalities" gives an
excellent look inside the horrible schools that working class minority
children must attend across the US. Dilapidated buildings, chronic
overcrowding, high staff turnover and underprepared teachers are only some
of the problems these children face daily. A peek inside the year round
schools in the flatlands of Oakland will reveal what children and educators
have been contending with for many years without relief.

It is not by accident that Blacks have been kept at the bottom of the US
economy for several hundred years. The fight for educational reforms must
be linked with the struggle against race and class discrimination in the
broader political arena, or it will be doomed to proposing trivialities
like ebonics.

Pete Farruggio
Oakland, CA
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