The language spoken by the African American community of the United States is often made the basis of discrimination against them. The African American language is often decried as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ English, in fact it is a language with its own internally consistent rules of pronunciation and grammar. In 1997 the Linguistic Society of America declared:

“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.” (Linguistic Society of America 1997)

The African American vernacular contains structures of grammar and vocabulary borrowed from African and Afro-Caribbean languages and has also got element of the “Scots-Irish” derived dialect of the American South (Wolfram and Ward 2006).

Despite the fact that it is spoken by millions of people in the United States, the African-American vernacular has rarely been recognized as a legitimate language. One of the first official recognitions of the African American vernacular was in a 1996 resolution by the Oakland School board. The resolution declared African American vernacular to be a valid language in its own right and sufficiently different from ‘Standard English’ to be considered, not just a variant of English but a separate language (Oakland School Board 1996).

Since the resolution adopted the name ‘Ebonics’ for the African American vernacular, the subsequent controversy over the resolution was termed the ‘Ebonics Controversy’. The idea that the African American vernacular could ever be granted legitimacy provoked widespread condemnation. The United States secretary of Education Richard Riley was one of the first people to condemn the resolution and affirm the commonly held view that ‘Ebonics’ was merely a non-standard form of English. Congressman Peter King introduced a bill prohibiting Federal support for any program that recognized ‘Ebonics’ as a legitimate language. The opposition to ‘Ebonics’ by politicians was based mostly on budgetary reasons; the recognition of ‘Ebonics’ as a separate language could mean thousands of schools demanding government funds for English as a Second Language (ESL) education from the government under the 1968 Title VII Bilingual Education Act (Baugh 2000). Widespread public outrage against granting the African American vernacular any legitimacy as a language forced Oakland educators to give up their support for ‘Ebonics’ (Baugh 2000).

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