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Tue, 11.06.1973

Ebonics, a short history

This date from 1973 celebrates “Ebonics,” sometimes called Black English.

This is a word which combines "ebony" and "phonics," and was intended to describe the language of people of Black African ancestry in North America, and West African people. It emphasizes African roots and since 1996, it has been used to emphasize an independence from (standard) English.

The initial use of "Ebonics" was by the psychologist Robert Williams in a dialogue with Ernie Smith in a conference on "Cognitive and Language Development of the Black Child" in St. Louis in 1973.  Two years later the word appeared within the title and text of a book edited and co-written by Williams, "Ebonics: The True Language of Black Folks." Some writers stress how the term speaks for a view of the language of African Americans as African rather than European.

The term Ebonics did not appear within the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, published in 1989, and it was not used by linguists. The term was not popular among those who agreed with the reason for coining it.  It is used vary little even within the Ebonics book, in which "Black English" is the far more familiar name.

John Baugh claims that the term Ebonics is used in four ways by its Afrocentric supporters. Two refer to the languages of the African Diaspora as a whole. Two others correspond to English: one "is the equivalent of Black English and is considered to be a dialect of English,"  the other  "is the antonym of black English and is considered to be a language other than English."

In 1996, the term became widely known in America from its use by the Oakland School Board to recognize the primary language of many African American children attending school, and to help in the teaching of Standard English.  Since then, Ebonics has become little more than an alternative term for African American Vernacular English, emphasizing its African roots and its independence from English.

Reference:
Center for Applied Linguistics
4646 40th Street NW,
Washington DC 20016-1859,
Main number 202-362-0700,

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