LINGUIST List 8.166

Tue Feb 4 1997

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. David Bergdahl (614) 593-2783, ebonics newspaper articles
  2. Rob Hagiwara, On the term Ebonics

Message 1: ebonics newspaper articles

Date: Mon, 03 Feb 1997 11:26:36 -0500 (EST)
From: David Bergdahl (614) 593-2783 <>
Subject: ebonics newspaper articles

Amid all the bad journalism on Ebonics, a word of praise deserves to be given
The Washington Post for an article "Ebonics--Without the Emotion." THE
		tel: (614) 593-2783	 fax: (614) 593-2818
			Ohio University/Athens
		"Where Appalachia meets the Midwest"--Anya Briggs
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Message 2: On the term Ebonics

Date: Mon, 03 Feb 1997 22:07:22 -0800
From: Rob Hagiwara <hagiwaraWaisman.Wisc.Edu>
Subject: On the term Ebonics

In response to incomplete knowledge of the origin of the term "ebonics"
(8.150), I received the following from Peggy Hashemipour, whom I thank both
for the information and for her permission to share it with the list.

>The term Ebonics perhaps sounds "dated" to some. However, it's important
>to note that is was used in the 1970s by a group of scholars studying
>African American speech. Smitherman used in her book Talkin' and
>Testifyin' which was originally published in 1977.
>As someone who has studied Ebonics and the related language Gullah, I
>tend to concur with the speakers of the language as to what they want to
>call it.

To this last comment, I said:

>I absolutely agree. All I can say in my defense is that those people I
>knew who spoke "Black English" (and this was way back in college) believed
>they spoke a variety of English and not something more 'exotic', like a

To which Peggy responded:

In comparison to Gullah, Ebonics may to some not "sound" much like a creole.
Nevertheless I adhere to the work of Mufwene, Rickford, and others that
Ebonics has had in its development at least an origin from an Atlantic
Creole. The sound correspondences, the lexification processes, the
syntactic and morphology structures are strongly related to those English
based pidgins/creoles found in West African, and the Caribbean. One must
remember in these studies though that language is not a static entity and
that Ebonics, like other languages with contact with politically dominant
ones, has changed through time.

Moreover, many Ebonics speakers are bilingual and only use Ebonics when in
the presence of other Ebonics speakers. Hence the difficulty for
non-speakers: much of what we non-speakers hear has been modified along
standard English rules. Thus, we don't have access to "pure" Ebonics.
That's one of the reasons why the work by Baugh, Smitherman (see Black Talk)
is invaluable. They give us a glimpse of it.

By the way the use of secret language is well-documented in historical works
about slavery, through jazz, and in street talk. See Margaret Washington
Creel's work: 'A Peculiar People' which includes info on secret societies in
West African.

Peggy Hashemipour, PhD
Asst Professor of Linguistics
Director of Community Learning
California State University, San Marcos

.......................... Robert Hagiwara, PhD ...........................
.. Waisman Center and Dept of Comm Disorders, UWisconsin-Madison ..
.. ..
.. "The absence of a sense of humor renders life impossible." -- Colette ..
................. ..................
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