Black English as a Badge of Identity

By Steinback, Robert L. | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), December 3, 1996 | Go to article overview

Black English as a Badge of Identity


Steinback, Robert L., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Is there anything objectionable about an American who can fluently speak Creole and standard English? How about Gaelic and standard English? Spanish and standard English? Patois and standard English?

Most would agree it doesn't matter what other languages or dialects an American speaks - as long as he or she can speak standard English.

Yet the decision by the Oakland School Board to recognize black-dialect English as a primary and distinct language has provoked horror, outrage and ridicule from black and non-black Americans alike - even though its purpose is to make students who speak in black dialect also competent in standard English. The critics rail that recasting black English - dubbed "Ebonics" - as a formal language legitimizes the broken, mutated form of English spoken by many African-Americans. This, they say, sanctions bad English rather than addressing the frightful lack of English skills among so many young African-Americans. Most critics, including poet Maya Angelou, worry that describing black English as a language will reduce the black student's desire or incentive to learn standard English. Other critics have invoked hyperbolic visions of Ebonic "translations" of Shakespeare, Melville and Hemingway substituting for the originals in order to make things more comfortable for poorly literate black students. Cynics sneeringly forecast lawsuits to have street signs, ballots and menus written in Ebonics. Such visions are utter nonsense. The emotional outcry against the Oakland strategy is certainly premature and possibly misguided. Some linguists argue persuasively that black English is more than just sloppy English. It is a hybrid that combines English words with grammatical structures common to certain African languages - a unique dialect with consistent rules of usage. This implies that speakers of black English, rather than being deficient, may actually be speaking properly - in the dialect they learned. The recognition of black dialect alerts educators that a considerable proportion of black Americans speak it as their only verbal language. In this sense, they face the same problem as many immigrants - a lack of command of this nation's operational language: standard English. The core question: Does it make sense to apply the same techniques used with non-English-speaking immigrants to speakers of black dialect? It does. Immigrants are provided with specialized educational programs such as ESL - English as a Second Language - to help them develop competency in English without surrendering their native tongue. They learn English as a second language, not a replacement language. The Oakland plan simply applies the same standard to those who speak black English. The presumption that speakers of black English are intell ectually deficient would be replaced by a presumption that they are normal students who, like immigrants, simply need help mastering an unfamiliar language.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Black English as a Badge of Identity
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.