LINGUIST List 8.128

Tue Jan 28 1997

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


  1. wfking, Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics
  2. benji wald, Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics/Linguistics myths
  3. Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber, Here's the full text of the L.A. Times anti-Ebonics letter.

Message 1: Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Sun, 26 Jan 1997 21:48:47 -0700 (MST)
From: wfking <wfkingCCIT.ARIZONA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics

Ron Anderson's comment brought to mind the curricula of 19th century
US public schools. Spoken language was often a separate component given
as much weight as written English and Mathematics. Originally I thought 
that this was due to the "Free School Districts" following the model of 
private education, but now I'm not so sure. Does anyone have any 

Bill King
University of Arizona
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Message 2: Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics/Linguistics myths

Date: Sun, 26 Jan 1997 23:11:21 -0800 (PST)
From: benji wald <bwaldHUMnet.UCLA.EDU>
Subject: Re: 8.110, Disc: Ebonics/Linguistics myths

Now that the media has "lost interest" (= suppressed) further discussion of
this inflammatory issue, we can discuss it amongst ourselves without the
distractions about is it our fault or not that we can't get through to the

 Ron Anderson, school psychologist, from Las Vegas writes to us:

>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. "

Are you all beginning to see the problem? It starts with such
misperceptions and misconceptions as the above. Note that this myth, with
its "relative to the other First Grade students in other communities" is
quite distinct and interestingly opposite to a common myth in linguistics
(that didn't get mentioned in the list of "linguistics myths" posted
recently). The linguistics myth is that kids mysteriously and hence
obviously innately (I won't argue that) learn their language despite the
"degraded quality" of the everyday speech that they're exposed to, i.e.,
the linguistics myth claims that everyday speech is so full of
"ungrammaticality" that kids MUST have innate "grammaticality" in order to
make sense out of the data they get, to arrive at a "grammar". At least
the linguistics myth applies to everybody.

Now, the 60's form of Anderson's myth said that the "reason" the African
American kids had "restricted use of oral language etc" was because they
live in environments where stereos (or was it hi-fi's?) are blasting all
the time, so they don't get to hear, e.g., can't distinguish "pin" from
"pen". (Yeah, there were really educational psychologists saying things
like that, at the time.) What is it NOW? Boom boxes? Or are their
parents supposed to be absent or incoherent with drugs? Linguists seeking
analogies for such things in other countries -- what are the analogies? --

P.S. Another persistent linguistics myth is that languages change because
kids "imperfectly" learn the language of the preceding generation. There
has never been an empirical shred of evidence for this myth. It was just
made up from the historical process of regularisation, which resembles what
kids do when they start to "formulate their grammatical hypotheses".
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Message 3: Here's the full text of the L.A. Times anti-Ebonics letter.

Date: Tue, 28 Jan 1997 15:47:47 -0500
From: Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber <>
Subject: Here's the full text of the L.A. Times anti-Ebonics letter.

Here's the full text of the L.A. Times anti-Ebonics letter of Monday,
27-January-1997. Comments?!

- --------------------------------
Monday, January 27, 1997


 English Grammar Should Be Taught

Now that most of the polemics have died down about the proposed
teaching of Ebonics in our schools, I would like to throw in my two cents. I am
a teacher, black and most definitely against the use of Ebonics in any school
system. I have been living in Europe for the past 10 years and could never
imagine the English teaching other English through the use of Cockney, or the
French through Titi Parisian.

One thing that they do do in Europe, that we don't, is teach grammar. I
know many Americans would say that is not true, but until tenses are taught to
every student in the United States, there will always be confusion as to
what to
do with the English language. I myself was adrift in this matter until I was
confronted with having to teach English as a foreign language, and had to

It has always been perplexing to me that this idea is never even mentioned
in the average school curriculum. It is taught to every native speaker in
every country that I've been to, and that is a few. So could someone tell
me, why is America so special that we can forgo this little detail that is
the base of every language?
 Los Angeles


 Copyright Los Angeles Times

Yours for better letters,

Kate Gladstone
Handwriting Repair
325 South Manning Boulevard
Albany, NY 12208-1731

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