LINGUIST List 8.48

Sat Jan 18 1997

Disc: Ebonics

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Johanna Rubba, Ebonics
  2. Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber, Re: 7.1825, Disc: Ebonics
  3. lexes, Re: Ebonics
  4. lexes, RE: Ebonics

Message 1: Ebonics

Date: Sun, 29 Dec 1996 14:13:40 -0800 (PST)
From: Johanna Rubba <>
Subject: Ebonics

I, too, have been following this debate, albeit not as closely as I would
like, due to time constraints.

Pete Farrugio's piece is very nice (did it get published?). I myself am
working on a piece that the LA Times might publish, if I can dumb it down
enough (my first attempt was deemed overly 'professorial').

I don't think we should call Ebonics a 'triviality', though. I think many
people will get the wrong impression that linguists trivialize their daily
language practices and home ways of speaking.

I also detect some misinformation underpinning the Ebonics proposal. Did
Toni Cook (Oakland school board pres.) really say that Ebonics is
genetic?? Somehow part of the genetic heritage of the grandchildren of
African slaves? With features typical of 'West African language'*? Any
linguist should definitely scoff at this! Such ideas are being
used as the basis for formulating educational policy? Linguists may not
be able to do much about the great masses' knowledge of how language
works, but we should definitely be 'interfacing' more with our
educational establishment so that nonsense like this doesn't spill from
a school board president's lips!! Things like this aren't trivial, either.

*I'm aware of the West African pidgin/creole hypothesis as the origin of
AAVE, and don't mean to disparage that here; the notion that all West
African languages might be uniform enough to contribute the same features
to AAVE is what I would question.

I am also perturbed at everyone's** universal acceptance of dialect
discrimination in the workplace. I know this is a biggie, but it _is_ a
form of discrimination (actually, educational discrimination in the form
of improper placement in special ed. and remedial ed. programs is the
greatest harm that results from misunderstanding of dialect variation).
Aren't we supposed to oppose discrimination that is based on
misinformation (that one dialect is 'good English' and another 'bad'?)

**Most everyone venting in public forums like radio shows and letters to
the editor.

I hope other listers will have some thoughts on this. I hope others are
writing to newspapers, etc., too. It's time we became a little more
visible in these debates.

Johanna Rubba	Assistant Professor, Linguistics ~
English Department, California Polytechnic State University ~
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407 ~
Tel. (805)-756-2184 E-mail: ~
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Message 2: Re: 7.1825, Disc: Ebonics

Date: Thu, 2 Jan 1997 20:27:35 -0500
From: Kate Gladstone & Andrew Haber <>
Subject: Re: 7.1825, Disc: Ebonics

Something I'd like to point out about the whole "ebonics" thing is this:

Whatever the merits or otherwise of deciding that English as spoken by many
USA blacks is a new, English-descended language instead of a dialect, such
a decision opens up the "perfect" way for any racist employer or group to
exclude blacks.

*ALL* they would have to do would be to say that they needed only totally
English proficient, English-as-native-language speakers -- whose English
manifested NO trace of a non-English-speaker's accent/usage/etc. -- to be
employed at their companies to to join their clubs.

Any English coming out of a black person's mouth would be defined as a
foreign language, thereby excluding that speaker from consideration.

(Even if the black person spoke standard American upper-crust
white-persons' English in a manner indistinguishable from that of whilte
members of the company/club, s/he could still be excluded, if the
admissions personnel chose to use subjective methods of evaluation and/or
simply to say, "But Ebonics was your *first* language, wasn't it? English
is only an *acquired* tongue for you -- we need *native-speaker* fluency
with NO possibility of lapses! Sorry!"


Yours for better letters,

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


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Message 3: Re: Ebonics

Date: Fri, 3 Jan 1997 15:14:11 -0500
From: lexes <>
Subject: Re: Ebonics

Can someone help me access the text of the Oakland School Boards
decision? The news media and commentaries present conflicting
reports. Before responding to requests that I comment on the matter,
I'd like to read that text. Is it available from the net?

Clifford L. Lutton, Jr., Ph.D.
Learning Experiences
Atlanta, Georgia
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Message 4: RE: Ebonics

Date: Sun, 5 Jan 1997 11:44:49 -0500
From: lexes <>
Subject: RE: Ebonics

 In response to recent requests for the text of the Oakland
School Board's decision I have been sent, and I have found via Yahoo,
related texts that include a relevant bibliography that did not
include an important article.
 In the second number (April 1985) of English Today (Cambridge
University Press), then Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences
at Howard University, Wash., D. C.,Dr. Orlando L. Taylor's "Standard
English as a Second Dialect?" provided facts, a perspective, and
proposals that should inform current discussion.

Clifford L. Lutton, Jr., Ph.D.
Learning Experiences
Atlanta, Georgia
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