LINGUIST List 8.57

Sun Jan 19 1997

Disc: Ebonics: LSA Resolution

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  1. The LINGUIST List, LSA Resolution on Ebonics

Message 1: LSA Resolution on Ebonics

Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 22:06:43 -0500
From: The LINGUIST List <linguistlinguistlist.org>
Subject: LSA Resolution on Ebonics

[Moderators' Note: As a service to our readers, we post here
the Linguistics Society of America's recent resolution on ebonics.]

LSA RESOLUTION ON THE OAKLAND "EBONICS" ISSUE

 Whereas there has been a great deal of discussion in the media and among
the American public about the l8 December l996 decision of the Oakland
School Board to recognize the language variety spoken by many African
American students and to take it into account in teaching Standard English,
the Linguistic Society of America, as a society of scholars engaged in the
scientific study of language, hereby resolves to make it known that:

a. The variety known as "Ebonics," "African American Vernacular English"
(AAVE), and "Vernacular Black English" and by other names is systematic and
rule-governed like all natural speech varieties. In fact, all human
linguistic systems--spoken, signed, and written -- are fundamentally
regular. The systematic and expressive nature of the grammar and
pronunciation patterns of the African American vernacular has been
established by numerous scientific studies over the past thirty years.
Characterizations of Ebonics as "slang," "mutant," " lazy," "defective,"
"ungrammatical," or "broken English" are incorrect and demeaning.

b. The distinction between "languages" and "dialects" is usually made more
on social and political grounds than on purely linguistic ones. For example,
different varieties of Chinese are popularly regarded as "dialects," though
their speakers cannot understand each other, but speakers of Swedish and
Norwegian, which are regarded as separate "languages," generally understand
each other. What is important from a linguistic and educational point of
view is not whether AAVE is called a "language" or a "dialect" but rather
that its systematicity be recognized.

c. As affirmed in the LSA Statement of Language Rights (June l996), there
are individual and group benefits to maintaining vernacular speech varieties
and there are scientific and human advantages to linguistic diversity. For
those living in the United States there are also benefits in acquiring
Standard English and resources should be made available to all who aspire to
mastery of Standard English. The Oakland School Board's commitment to
helping students master Standard English is commendable.

d. There is evidence from Sweden, the US, and other countries that speakers
of other varieties can be aided in their learning of the standard variety by
pedagogical approaches which recognize the legitimacy of the other varieties
of a language. From this perspective, the Oakland School Board's decision to
recognize the vernacular of African American students in teaching them
Standard English is linguistically and pedagogically sound.

Chicago, Illinois
January l997
 ----
 Selected References (books only)
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Bloome, David, and J. Lemke, eds. 1995. Special Issue: Africanized English
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Burling, Robbins. 1973. English in black and white. New York: Holt.
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_____ 1991. Dialects and American English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice
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relationships. Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.
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