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.
- Language News: Haitian Creoles and Education (lingeducator.com)
- http://www.everytingjamaican.com/jamaicatalk/speak-jamaican/1797-history-patois-wi-dialect.html History of Jamaican Patois