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An Analysis Of Media Coverage Of Ebonics: Incorporating Black English Into The Curriculum

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Introduction

The debate on Ebonics has virtually left the media spotlight. The proposal by the Oakland School District in early 1997 to use Ebonics to help African-American children learn Standard English met with much opposition. Few people supported the Oakland resolution which, backed by the Linguistic Society of America, acknowledged Ebonics as a language variety complete with its own syntax, structure, and rules of grammar.

The media triggered a dialogue among Americans about the appropriateness of Ebonics in the classroom. "Are you for or against Ebonics?" was a common question many Americans pondered at work, at restaurant lunch counters, and in classrooms across the country. The issue divided Americans, not so much along racial lines, but along lines of understanding. Many people were unclear about the history of Ebonics, the premise and contentions of the Oakland School District's proposal, and the implications of educators beginning to appreciate Ebonics as a distinct language variety. Thus, part of this paper will explore further the educational implications of using Ebonics to improve the literacy of black students. This will be preceded by an analysis of how the New York Times and Los Angeles Times covered the Ebonics issue, and how each (to some extent) helped to legitimize and sustain negative attitudes toward Ebonics.

The Meaning of Ebonics

The term "Ebonics"was first coined in January, 1973 by Dr. Robert Williams, a professor of Psychology at Washington University. The term, which is a compound of "ebonies" and "phonics"(black sounds) refers to the language of West African, Cameroonian, and U.S. slave descendants of Niger-Congo origins. Some linguists disagree about whether Ebonics, or Black English ...


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...tions in English: What Role for Education?"(Opinion/Position Paper, 1991). ED 347796.

McWhorter, John. "Wasting Energy on An Illusion." The Black Scholar 27 (1997): 2-5.

Oneil, W. "If Ebonics Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" Rethinking Schools 12.1 (1997): 10-11.

"Original Oakland Resolution on Ebonics"( http://linguistlist.org/topics/Ebonics/Ebonics=res1.html).

Secret, Carrie. Interview. Rethinking Schools. Fall 1997: 18-19, 34.

Smith, E. "What Is Black English? What Is Ebonics?" Rethinking Schools 12.1 (1997): 14-15.

Taylor, Hanni. "Ambivalence Toward Black English: Some Tentative Solutions." The Writing Instructor Spring (1991): 121-135.

Williams, Patricia. "The Hidden Meanings of Black English." The Black Scholar 27 (1997) 7-8.

Winters, Clyde A. "Non-Standard English and Reading"(Opinion/Position Paper, 1993). ED 358438.


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