Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Evolution of Ebonics

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

The Evolution of Ebonics

Article excerpt

We at the Journal of Negro Education are especially pleased to present this issue, with its focus on educational issues related to the complex, rhythmic vernacular of English that has come to be associated with African American speech. Literally meaning "Black sounds," according to the term's originator, psychologist Robert L. Williams (1975), Ebonics has been described in the sociolinguistic, historical, and cultural research as a blend of African, Native American, and nonstandard English language and communication patterns. The dialect evolved as a byproduct of the Middle Passage and the horrible experience of slavery, when Africans, forcibly removed from their homelands, were additionally forced to make some sense of the language of their captors. The enslaved Africans also had to develop, literally from scratch, a means of communicating with each other and with the Indians in whose villages they often sought refuge and solace. Thus came into being a distinctive, culturally based subsystem of speech and communication that has resonated throughout the history of this continent.

From precolonial times to now, African American vernacular English, commonly known now as Ebonics, has emanated from the cotton fields of the South to the urban ghettos of the North to the suburban sprawls of the Midwest. It resounded among the angry Black voices raised in protest and defense during the bloody race riots of 1919, and was the linguistic vehicle of African Americans' strident calls for "Freedom Now" and "Black Power" in the 1960s and 1970s. Ebonics has been the language of the picket line and the sit-in as well as of hip-hop and the music video. …

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