LINGUIST List 8.110

Sun Jan 26 1997

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. Ron Anderson, Re: 8.73, Disc: Ebonics
  2. MPeter4165, Re: 8.86, Disc: Ebonics

Message 1: Re: 8.73, Disc: Ebonics

Date: 24 Jan 97 00:34:11 EST
From: Ron Anderson <102036.1205CompuServe.COM>
Subject: Re: 8.73, Disc: Ebonics

The following statement by Tom Sawallis seems to me to strike at the core of 
the discussion relating to the Ebonics controversy:

 > Children already speak a language before they first attend school.
 The role of formal schooling in first language learning is minimal.<

The problem with the Oakland school district kids educationally is not that 
they speak BEV or AAVE or Standard Written English. A significant problem is 
that their use of oral language has been restricted, they haven't had 
sufficient practice to formulate grammatical hypotheses, or to develop a 
knowledge base adequate to understand the material addressed in the books or 
by their teachers. Where 25% of the students still need to learn how to form 
sentences using future tense verb forms in First Grade, the remaining 75% of 
the students will suffer from delays in opportunity to learn and practice 
more information and thinking skills, relative to the other First Grade 
students in other communities. This will compound the delay of the 
acquisition of academic competence relative to similar aged peers, and 
will result in lower test scores on the SAT by all but the most capable 
students. The school must be the community agency assigned the
responsibility to assure that the children do have the oral language
pre-requisites for acquiring the reading skill, of which command of future 
tense verb form ("gonna" or "going to") appears to be one.

It is the responsibility of Linguists, I would assume, to help the teachers to
learn how oral language relates to the learning of the written language, and to
provide at least a protocol for how educators might discover the pre-requisites
to reading. At this time, teachers seem to think that the "beginning" of the
formal educational curriculum is at the "ABC" level. Learning the alphabet and
beginning phoneme-grapheme correspondances is Kindergarten work. We need to go
to Oakland and see how many First Graders don't know their ABC's. Typically,
these are the kids who don't have any way to organize by order due to limited
skills with verb tenses. We need to go see how many can't form simple future
tense answers to the question "What are you gonna do after school today?", and
having been presented with a ONE paragraph story written in present tense, how
many can't answer with even one-word responses to:

"What is the boy's name?",
"Where did the boy go?"
"How did the boy get there?"

I think you will find that the number is significant, and that the number has
nothing to do with who uses Ebonics or SWE. Those that are good at Ebonics 
will know the answers, those that are good at SWE will know the answers, 
but those with limited expressive language skills will be the ones who do 
not give the answers. These same children will grow into those who can't 
do well on any competitive examination at any level, including High School, 
if they don't drop out first.

Additionally, those who can answer these simple direct questions, but who can
not give answers to knowledge based questions (e.g. How many days in a week?,
What is a donkey?, How are a cow and a dog alike?), will not do well on the
standardized tests, but _may_ do well enough on teacher-made criterion
referenced tests in High School to make the honor roll. These include the
athletes who are on the honor roll, but who can't be admitted to the more
difficult universities due to low SAT scores. Oakland and the rest of the
nation need to know how to deal with these kinds of children as well, and how 
to prepare them for the competitive academic world. We do not need to know 
whether they are speaking a dialect, a language, or some other form of 
academic trivia.

As an educator for more than 25 years, I have yet to see a comprehensive oral
language curriculum in any language. Could it be that we don't know what these
areas are which are pre-requisite for reading? If not, Why not? Do we also
know what kinds of language acquisition exercises in the early years serve to
prepare students for the SAT? Is being read to by parents more important than
reading unassisted?, in what contexts, and when and for what purpose? Is the
Oral Tradition of many families of any value as a pre-requisite for reading?
Why? What pre-requisite or group of pre-requisite skills would this kind of
activity address? My guess is that this kind of tradition prepares one's
children to be able to listen and sequence at first, but at different
developmental ages other skills are involved. We continuously look at language
learning from the adult perspective, and rarely from the persective of a child
who is learning a second language prior to attaining competency (a relative
concept depending on age and expectations) in a first language.

I think that we must carefully examine the children's readiness to progress to
the next level, and we must know how to do so. I don't think we necessarily
know what these levels are, prior to reading. I don't believe that responses
which rely on "the natural language learning process" are inadequate
explanations. I think that using this process as an answer only confirms our
ignorance of the process. Until we are able to outline both first and second
language learning processes which include both oral and written language and
their inter-relationship and pre-requisites up to and including age 12, we will
continue to show our inability to help educators and parents and the children.

Ron Anderson, M. S.
School Psychologist
Las Vegas
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Message 2: Re: 8.86, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Sun, 26 Jan 1997 12:01:49 -0500 (EST)
From: MPeter4165 <>
Subject: Re: 8.86, Disc: Ebonics

In response to Mari Olsen's question:

<< With the exception of the post from Stirling Newberry
 <>, analogies (or analyses) from other countries
 with linguistic diversity have been lacking in the Ebonics postings.
 America is relatively new to such controversy. What do the
 experienced linguistic planners think about this debate: a flash in
 the pan? a recognizable step toward linguistic diversity? paternalism
 masquerading as linguistics? I'd like to know....

As regards Spain, I would say this debate is far from being a flash in the
pan. Catalan is currently recognized as a language separate and apart from
Spanish (oops, Castillian!), but that was not always the case. As late as
the late 1970's I knew Spaniards (not from Catalunya, of course) who
maintained vehemently that Catalan was a dialect of Castillian. The same
kind of debate is currently raging about Asturian (is it a dialect of Spanish
or a separate language?) and Valencian (is it a dialect of Catalan or a
separate language?). There is also a great deal of debate concerning the
status of Galician vis a vis Portuguese. All of these debates are
accompanied by attempts to a) standardize the dialect/language in question,
b) introduce the learning of these dialects/languages in the public schools,
and c) introduce the use of these dialects/languages in daily life, for
example, at city hall, in the courts, etc. I believe the same thing is true
of many dialects/languages spoken in Italy, and the Occitan movement in
France may be gaining some steam. As far as I can tell, almost none of this
is motivated by any linguistic concerns whatsoever. Rather, what drives
these debates are social or political issues. Which doesn't mean they aren't
valid concerns; most of what's driving the Ebonics debate is also social or
political, which is as it should be, I think. What is trying to be solved
here, after all, is a problem of society (poor school performance), not a
linguistic one.

Melanie Peterson
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