Speaking Ebonics Gets Me In Trouble

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I was born in San Francisco, CA, in a neighborhood called the Hayes Valley.  My parents were born in Louisiana.   Where they were born, black people spoke a particular way.  Many outsiders claimed it was a backwards,  uneducated way.  But it was their way.  When they migrated to the north, they brought their language with them and picked up new words to add to its richness.  This is something that humans have done for millenia.  Black southern parents did it also, and they passed down their language to their children born in the north.

My parents spoke this language to me, and I learned.  It was normal to me.  Once I started school, I pick up new words which I added to my language.   I learned words that my parents had not learned, and I brought them home and added them to the pot.  The words I added didn’t stop us all from being able to communicate with each other.   The more words I learned the more I added.  Some of those words my parents used, some they didn’t.  But my first language was still the base.  I love my first language, because it’s a part of me, and I can express my deepest black thoughts so well with it.

As I have grown, I have kept my first language.  And this is what has gotten me into trouble.  I have learned standard english, and it has its place of importance, but I find myself switching often to my first language, currently called Ebonics.  But sometimes when I speak my language, people are insulted by it.  It’s an affront to them on a deep angry level.  Why?  I’m speaking the language that was taught to me!  And its perfect for expressing my thoughts!  So why all the hate?

My language does not prove that I am ignorant, as many prefer to believe.  My Ebonics does not preclude me from learning other languages.   My native language is not the place of deadness – it’s always evolving.   Its dynamism and lyricism is what makes it so well-loved in popular culture in the first place!  I hear my language all the time in radio and television commercials, on TV shows of all kinds, and I read it in print often.

I remember not too long ago a fellow black blogger who was unfamiliar with me tried to demonize me because of my dialect.  I was using a certain word which happens to sound the same as a word considered offensive in her dialect.  She called me all kinds of stupid, even as I tried to explain to her that I was speaking my language, not hers!  Should I stop speaking my language because it may have similar sounding words to another language?  What language would I then speak? Should I be voiceless?  I’m just askin’.

Some people feel that Ebonics is not a legitimate language or dialect, even though millions speak it.  It’s relegated to being called an informal slang language.  I find it ironic that this creative language is so loved and borrowed from by the dominant American culture, yet that same language is also so demonized.  It’s schizoid to me.  But many aspects of American culture is naturally cracked in inexplicable ways.

The truth is that Ebonics is more closely similar to other black “new world” creole languages than it is to American English.  It more closely follows the grammatical rules of these black creole languages, which are based in west african languages.  The aspects of grammar that some would find ignorant seem so because the rules are different.  It’s foolish to judge AAVE by standard english grammar rules, when the language is not following those rules.  Even with that said, Ebonics has other similarities to standard english as well.  There’s overlap in both directions.  It’s really deep, in more ways than one.  And these complex language issues repeat in other black creole languages as well.

What should be clear to those truly seeking clarity is that Ebonics aka AAVE aka African-American Vernacular English is a legitimate American dialect, spoken by millions.  Until this day, many words and phrases are borrowed and permanently adopted from Ebonics into Standard American English.  That the language is legitimate should go without saying.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Ignore these fools who try to tell you how you should speak. I suppose Ms. Sadditty Dumbass would insult the Georgia natives who speak Gullah or Geechee. Those are just dialects developed by African peoples that mixed their native African tongues with the English they were forced to learn.

    Naturally as Black people in a white dominated society we have learned and adapted to going back and forth between the Kings English and when we get back to our own neighborhoods with family and friends.

    My mother was born in West Virginia and raised in Dayton, Ohio so she had lots of Midwest expressions that I thought everybody used. That is until I got to school. However I loved my Mom and respected her little twists and turns of the traditional English language. Actually to my surprise I found when I went to Jamaica, W.I. on vacation in the late 80s/early 90s that some of the patois dialect I heard in Kingston was similar what my Mommy said around the house.

    Also Paul Laurence Dunbar was criticized for using slave dialect in his poetry even though that is the way slaves spoke.

    1. Anna Renee says:

      Hey DeBorah!!!

      Yeesssss! I read a book called Understanding Jamaican Patois by L. Emilie Adams, an African American expatriot to Jamaica. It’s a little grammar book that I enjoyed immensely. The part I enjoyed most was at the end of the book where she made comparisons between black Haitian patois and Jamaican english patois with black spanish patois.
      What she said was that grammar patterns are very similar among the three even though the languages are diffferent, and that they all are similar to certain west african languages as well.

      Then there is the beautiful turns of phrases and proverbial way of speaking that I learned is also very African. Zora Neale Hurston did extensive research in this, and wrote her novels based on a written form of this black patois.

  2. J.C. McCoy says:

    Well when you have been told all your life that anything associated with the African-American experience is a lie and it’s wrong,what you get is a confuse people.
    Most of us do as you do embrace who and what you are,some try so hard not to be who we are.

  3. Lin says:

    I love language, but you prolly know that by now. Unless we have Harrrrvard educated parents & ancestors, then our elder black people will speak a certain way (perhaps some of it is Africa at work) & it distinquishes them in this society. I wouldn’t dare call it ignorant, though some might or have, my (younger)self included. I’ve a completely different take/perspective on it now. Culture and individuality are very, very, VURRRRR important things. I can now appreciate the richness of my southern counterparts, although some things they say, expressions they use can STILL squeeze some HUGE-azz laffs & serious GUFFAWS out of me.

    The way we speak is as unique as the way we walk, dress, dance, play, celebrate, grieve, pray, run, spit, and ARE!

    BTW: you sho don’t write like you ig’nit, Sista Westsiiiiiiiide!



    1. Anna Renee says:

      I shole aint ig’nit, brotha! An I can prove it. I’m reading Brothas Strunk and White, plus Sin and Syntax! Ig’nit folks dont know nuffin about none ‘a them! 🙂

  4. Reggie says:

    I feel you.

    I was born in Lompoc California and my parents were born in Mississippi and Alabama. However, my parents made it a point to make my siblings and I speak proper English. Let’s be serious though, does anyone really speak the queen’s English?!? I think we all add our own little flavor to it.

    1. Anna Renee says:

      Reggie, I thought you were born in the South! You from Cali, like me! I think we all do add our own flavor, and not just black folks either.

      1. Reggie says:

        Yeah I was born in the south…………southern California. My father was military, I’ve just lived in the south for most of my life.

        1. Anna Renee says:


  5. Amenta says:

    Anna Renee you shol’is right! LOL I was born and raised in San Diego, CA and like Reggie’s parents mine enforced the “must speak” proper English rule, but along with Ebonics since they were from Mississippi and Memphis, TENN! Since I have moved to the south and lived both in Memphis and the Atlanta area now I have come to know that southern speakers differ from each other as much as we Westerners differ from the Southerners. Black people in that pipeline from Dallas through Memphis (including Mississippi) onto St. Louis has a certain sound and words they use. The people in Alabama and Louisana have their own sound and Georgia and Florida share a similar sound when speaking. I have enjoyed all of it. Our black ebonics is so varied.

    There was a time I thought all the Caribbean speakers sound the same until my Jamaican Wisdom pointed out to me there is a big difference in sound and cadence of speech on each island. There was a time I thought all black southerners sound the same until I moved to the south and found they are just as varied in sound as the islanders. In fact the south is so crazy with sound that it runs from people that have been here all with their parents all their lives and sound as if they were born and raised in California, to black southern sound to some black people that drawl like white folk, to some that sound like islanders…I remember a lyric rapped by Andre 3000 where he was asked if he and Bib Boy were from the islands…I love it. Thanks for this post.
    I have book to suggest I will post it once I dig it out and get then mane. It examines black language from the Caribbean to central America, to north America by a black author.


    1. Anna Renee says:

      “…my Jamaican Wisdom…” Ahh, that sounds so pretty!

      I’ve been blessed to work with numerous nationalities of black people, and I’ve heard sistas from St Thomas, Belize, Jamaica, Panama and Trinidad – they each sound completely different from each other.
      Ive heard Nigerian Yorubas, Igbos, and Hausas – they sound completely different from each other.
      I’ve even heard Igbos from different regions of Igboland – they sound different from each other!
      Africans who live in America amongst black folks sound different than those who live amongst white folks, in addition to their own differences amongst themselves.
      I bet Nigerians who live in Texas sound different than those who live in California, etc, etc. Multiply that by numerous nationalities of black folks who migrate to numerous places.
      And Im not even going to get into all of our African American diversity. What I know is that I dont sound like black NewYorkers, or Philly folks, and my Lousiana folks sound completely different than I sound. My California born sister moved to Florida 20 years ago, and she sounds different- to them and to me!!

      How on earth can we denigrate this beautiful patchwork of diversity? We can’t!

      1. Amenta says:

        Cosign Anna Renee we are too much, and the inventors of language. More correctly black woman invented language.


  6. Hey there! I finished my second doc. “The E-Word.” You might find it interesting. Actually, I’m sure you will. I hope all is well with you.

    1. Anna Renee says:

      Oh ISH! Like I be sayin, It aint no thang but a chicken wang! But then, I be feelin myself when I speak like I feel like!
      Looking forward to this my brother! Thanks for hittin me up! And THAT’s what up Doc! 😀 Thanks again Dr. Gayles, rest assured that I will dispatch this news upon my social media

  7. Purplerain25 says:

    So, will you teach your children ebonics or standard english?

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