Linguistics Society of America (LSA) Resolution on the Oakland "Ebonics" Issue

(Drafted by JRR and modified by Exec Cttee Jan 2, 1997; approved in amended form at LSA Business meeting, Chicago, Jan 3, 1997)

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:

a. 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.

b. The distinction between "languages" and "dialects" is usually made more on social and political grounds than on purely linguistic ones. For example, different varieties of Chinese are popularly regarded as "dialects," though their speakers cannot understand each other, but speakers of Swedish and Norwegian, which are regarded as separate "languages," generally understand each other. What is important from a linguistic and educational point of view is not whether AAVE is called a "language" or a "dialect" but rather that its systematicity be recognized.

c. As affirmed in the LSA Statement of Language Rights (June l996), there are individual and group benefits to maintaining vernacular speech varieties and there are scientific and human advantages to linguistic diversity. For those living in the United States there are also benefits in acquiring Standard English and resources should be made available to all who aspire to mastery of Standard English. The Oakland School Board's commitment to helping students master Standard English is commendable.

d. There is evidence from Sweden, the US, and other countries that speakers of other varieties can be aided in their learning of the standard variety by pedagogical approaches which recognize the legitimacy of the other varieties of a language. From this perspective, the Oakland School Board's decision to recognize the vernacular of African American students in teaching them Standard English is linguistically and pedagogically sound.

Chicago, Illinois
January l997

Selected references (books only)

Baratz, Joan C., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1969. Teaching Black Children to read. Washington, DC: Center or Applied Linguistics.

Baugh, John. 1983. Black street speech: Its history, structure and survival. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Bloome, David, and J. Lemke, eds. 1995. Special Issue: Africanized English and Education. Linguistics and Educaton 7.

Burling, Robbins. 1973. English in black and white. New York: Holt.

Butters, Ron. 1989. The death of Black English: Convergence and divergence in American English. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

Dandy, Evelyn. 1991. Black communications: Breaking down the barriers. Chicago: African American Images.

DeStephano, Johanna 1973, ed. Language, society and education: A profile of Black English. Worthington, OH: Charles A. Jones.

Dillard, J. L. 1972. Black English: Its history and usage in the United States. New York: Random House.

Fasold, Ralph W., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1970. Teaching Standard English in the inner city. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

Gadsden, V. and D. Wagner , eds. 1995. Literacy among African American youth. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

Jones, Regina, ed. 1996. Handbook of tests and measurements. Hampton, VA; Cobbs.

Kochman, Thomas. 1981. Black and white styles in conflict. NY: Holt Rinehart.

Kochman, Thomas, ed. 1972. Rappin' and stylin' out. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Labov, William 1972. Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black English vernacular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lippi-Green, Rosina. To appear. English with an accent. London:

Routledge. Mufwene, Salikoko S., John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey and John Baugh, eds. To appear. African American English. London: Routledge.

Rickford, John R., and Lisa Green. To appear. African American Vernacular English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shuy, Roger W., ed. 1965 . Social dialects and language learning. Champaign, Ill., National Council of Teachers of English.

Simpkins, G., G. Holt, and C. Simpkins. 1977. Bridge: A cross-cultural reading program. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Smith, Ernie A. 1994. The historical development of African American Language. Los Angeles: Watts College Press.

Smitherman, Geneva. 1986. Talkin and testifyin: The language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

_____ 1994 Black Talk. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

_____, ed. 1981. Black English and the Education of Black Children and Youth. Detroit: Center for Black Studies, Wayne State University Press.

Taylor, Hanni U. 1989. Standard English, Black English, and bidialectalism: A controversy. NY: Peter Lang.

Williams, Robert L. 1975 Ebonics: The true language of Black folks. St. Louis: Institute of Black Studies.

Wolfram, Walt 1969. A linguistic description of Detroit Negro speech. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics.

_____ 1991. Dialects and American English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall and Center for Applied Linguistics.

Wolfram, Walter A., and Donna Christian 1989. Dialects and education: Issues and answers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Wolfram, Walter A. and Clarke, Nona, eds. 1971. Black-White speech relationships. Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.