One uncontroversial principle underlying the Oakland Unified School District's December 18th "Ebonics" resolution is the truism that people can't learn from each other if they don't speak the same language. Anyone who doubts this has only to read the current public debate about the resolution itself.
AAVE is a form of American English spoken primarily by African Americans. Although an AAVE speaker's dialect may exhibit regional variation, there are still many salient features. The speaker's ideolect could contain all or only a few of these features.
This contribution to the study of African American Vernacular English [AAVE] is an interpretation of the special linguistic features of this dialect in the light of its co-existence with other co-territorial dialects of English. It is far removed from the notion that AAVE can be seen as a system in itself, analyzed without reference to other dialects, which has been repeated theme of research in this area from the very beginnings to the present day.
Many people who I highly respect have disagreed with the recent development regarding "Black English" or "Ebonics". Instead of appplauding the Oakland unified school districts decision to require teachers to learn "Ebonics" they deemed it "foolish" and believe that it is "teaching down" to our African American children.
The Oakland Unified School District Board of Education approved a policy affirming Standard American English development for all students. The policy mandates that effective instructional strategies must be utilized in order to ensure that every child has the opportunity to achieve English language proficiency. Language development for African American students will be enhanced with the recognition and understanding of the language structures unique to African American students.
To this day, there is much confusion about the intent of the 1996 Oakland School Board Resolution on "ebonics," as it was called in the legislation, known among scholars in the field as African-American Vernacular English (AAVE).
Proposals by a school board in California to recognize the dialect used by most of its pupils unleashed a ferocious media attack. Why did the press get things so wrong, and why were the proposals so virulently ridiculed?
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:
The AAE Working Group is committed to the objective study of African American English (AAE) as a legitimate dialect of English. We are establishing guidelines to distinguish language differences and similarities between AAE and Standard American English (SAE) so that language professionals can diagnose language problems more accurately for AAE speakers.
Resolution of the board of education adopting the report and recommendations of the African-American task force; a policy statement and directing the superintendent of schools to devise a program to improve the English language acquisition and application skills of African-American students.
Two issues loom large in discussions of the development of African American Vernacular English (AAVE).1 The first is the "creole origins issue"--the question of whether AAVE's predecessors, two or three hundred years ago, included creole languages similar to Gullah (spoken on the islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia) or the English-based creoles of Jamaica, Trinidad, Guyana, Hawaii or Sierra Leone. The second is the "divergence issue.
Linguists sometimes seem to have a NIMBY attitude towards Applied Linguistics issues and the Great Language Debates of our Times, motivated perhaps by the fear that they will distract us from the theoretical and descriptive research we consider our bread and butter (if not our fame and fortune), that they will devour our time and dilute our expertise, or that they will lead us into uncharted waters for which our training and experience provide little preparation.
Jacob Heilbrum's "Speech Therapy" piece on Ebonics (what most linguists refer to as "African American Vernacular English") contains some grains of fact, but many more mountains of inaccuracy and misrepresentation. Please allow me to set the record straight.