Perhaps the reluctance of many to accept new vernacular words as part of their vocabulary into a social or personal climate is due largely to a misunderstanding of American subcultures. A major problem in countries around the world is that of ethnic identity. When a person who is not Asian thinks of Asia for example, may conjure up images of the Japanese or Chinese people. Yet, though the Chinese may have a large population, or the Japanese popular because of their active roles in business, they do not make up Asia as a whole. Rather, China and Japan make up part of a larger conglomerate of nations as a whole. The same can be said about the American culture. For countless years, when a person thought of an American, the immediate image that was conjured up was a person of Caucasian descent. It was this image that minority ideals came to be born in the mid-sixties. The premise for Ebonics was that African slaves displaced in America developed a new language with grammatical rules and rhythms that could be traced back to Africa. A controversial debate ensued on this premise that centered on the need for educators and linguists in general to understand that African Americans were not speaking in English incorrectly. It was this African American “system of ideas” that was gathered together to create an identity for African American ethnic groups. There were two inherently wrong assumptions with this theory: 1. That the people who arrived on the shores of America from the pits of Spanish and Dutch slave holds, culturally and linguistically hailed from a common place. 2. That the people all spoke in a like tongue without regard to region, class or educational level. In fact, the opposite was true. These people had been literally ripped away from their native regions and tribes. Their customs, religions, even their languages were swallowed up by the yawing maw of slavery. Ebonics as a dialect, reflects all the social vernacular and sophistication of the African American linguistic system. The same example can be given for every other ethnic group with has crossed the physical boundaries of American soil since the country’s inception.
Should Ebonics be set aside as a separate language? Several years ago, this very question was posed to the populace of cities throughout the United States of America. Their response was an emphatic, no. Many stated that the African American vernacular is nothing more than a composite of slang words and expressions that originated from the boroughs and climate of many inner city projects. A prime example is that New York City is host to a myriad conglomeration of regional boroughs, all with their own micro-cultural versions of English. Perhaps the definition of vernacular describes the mood of many in the debate against Ebonics: A variety of such everyday language specific to a social group or region: The vernaculars of New York City.
Educators and linguists continue to wrestle with the question of Ebonics. “Because language is at the same time both political and personal, it is essential that we understand the political and personal ramifications of the variations of English that we teach. Thus it is essential that we learn about, and represent to the best of our ability, the variations of our language (I include here variations occurring in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and countless other places), as well as variations in register and in communicative behavior in the English-speaking world. Of course this is a tall order, for as this book makes clear, understanding variation even within the U.S. is a gargantuan task. Yet those who represent the English language in classrooms would best set that as a goal. It is irresponsible for any English teacher to represent some dialectal forms as “wrong,” or worse, to represent those dialectal forms as stemming from ignorance, or inability to communicate correctly. In this sense the authors’ crusade against the traditionally judgmental majority is justified, though possibly hopeless, or at best difficult. We teachers will have to live with the insecurity that stems from the linguistic fact that standard English contains a great deal of variation, even when limited to versions observed in the U.S. or in more limited geographical areas, and that nobody has access to the “correct version” by birthright or any other means.”
The question of whether Ebonics should be embraced as a language continues to be hotly debated in many camps, but what remains is that as a language and symbol of our American culture, our form of English will continue to change with the times, as it has since the dawning of the American Revolution.