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Black English

Black English, distinctive dialect spoken at times by as many as 80% to 90% of African Americans; also called ebonics [from ebony and phonics]. Long considered merely substandard English, it is in fact a distinct form. African slaves confronting white culture, and themselves speaking many different languages, developed a pidgin, mixing for the most part English vocabulary and African syntax, that developed into Black English. Much that seems grammatically incorrect actually represents consistent application of African structural principles. A social, rather than regional, dialect, it is similar in all parts of the United States, as research since the 1960s has shown. Its role in public education is a source of controversy because its effect on the process of learning to read and write is not clearly understood. In addition, its exclusive use by individuals has usually limited their opportunities for social advancement. See also Gullah.

See J. McWhorter, Talking Back, Talking Black (2017).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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