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& #8230;Through language, children acquire a sense of who they are as well as a sense of their speech community" (Sulentic 2001, What Is Language? Section: ¶ 2). In addition, language serves as a venue for a particular people to transmit their cultural values and mores.
Language portrays power. Standard English, particularly in the U.S., portrays the language of power. "Language is power and that power grows when one knows the dominant language well" (Yolanda De Mola, as cited in Sulentic 2001, Langauage is Power Section: ¶ 1). Jesse Jackson, an African-American "politician" reportedly employs the term "cash language" to distinguish Standard English to reflect the language of power and wealth in America. Foster (n.d.) asserts that in his statement: "It's not your apti-tude, but your attitude that determines your alti-tude" 10), Jesse Jackson employs alliteration, repetition, rhyme and rhythm, five elements characteristic of a Black discourse style. Sulentic purports that for many African-Americans who live in Waterloo, Iowa, speaking Black English serves as a mark of social identity as well as a symbol of group membership in Waterloo's Black community. In Waterloo and in many areas, language and culture conjoin with language epitomizing a cultural marker. Foster also argues:
…[T]he linguistic dis-tinction between a language and a dia-lect isn't that neat. Mandarin and Cantonese are not mutually intelligible, but they are called dialects of Chinese. On the other hand, Norwegian and Swedish, although mutually intelligible, are called languages. The truth is that the designations applied to different varieties are a matter of social practice that often have more to do with power and politics than with any inherent char-acteristics of the varieties themselves. The linguist Max Weinrich commented that a language is a dialect backed by an army and a navy…. (Foster n.d.: 8)
In referring to differences in a certain language, Foster (n.d.) prefers the less value laden term "variety," a more neutral, less politically charged idiom.
Linguists have conducted research on African-American English for over 30
years. They have documented the fact that like other varieties of English, African-American English is rule governed and systematic. Children learn these patterns from their parents in the context of the community in which they are born. African-American English is the primary variety of working class African-Americans, but it is also spoken by many middle class African-Americans who are bidialectal. A social dialect, a variety spoken by a particular social or ethnic group, African-American English traveled northward and westward as Blacks migrated to regions of the country outside of the south and, consequently, may vary according to region. As with any dialect, African-American English has unique grammatical characteristics and unique pronunciations. (Foster n.d.: 8)
As the Oakland School Board addressed a critical concern in 1996, the members simultaneously stimulated a storm of criticism that ranged from complimentary to questioning as well as from ridicule to outright hostility, which clearly indicated confusion shrouded the explosive issue. In the article, "The controversy over Ebonics," Steven Fox (1997), who teaches English at Shaker Heights High School, Shaker Heights, Ohio, explains that Ebonics is not a separate language than English but depicts a dialect of Amer-ican English. In itself, Ebonics is not slang, though it, similar to other languages and their dialects, utilizes some degree of slang. According to Fox: "A language is a pat-tern of words and of rules governing the use of those words, spoken or written, that is mutually understandable by a group of people and not understandable by per-sons outside that group" (238). Paul Newman, linguist, reports that approximately 25,000,000 individuals speak Hausa, for example, one language in the Afro-Asiatic phylum of the Chadic family. The Chadic family includes roughly 135 distinct languag-es. In contrast, only a few thousand individuals speak, Sanskrit, the moth-er tongue of ak-ers and the ancestor of a number of languages widely spoken on the Indian subcontinent. Neither Hausa or Sanskrit, however, constitute any less or any more of a language than English. One language or dialect is not superior simply because a greater number of individuals speak it.
Americas share the English language, albeit, it includes numerous different dialects. People from Boston and Dallas do not sound the same because they speak different dia-lects. "A dialect is a subgroup within a lan-guage, one dialect differing from another in three particular ways: vocabulary, pro-nunciation, and grammar" (Fox 1997: 238). Two people who speak two different lan-guages cannot usually understand each other. Two individuals who speak the same language, yet speak with two different dialects, albeit, typically can still understand each anoth-er. Contemporary Ebonics, a dialect of American English, differs from Standard American English (SAE), also a di-alect, in grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary.
Fox (1997) argues that the "real" problem fueling the controversy relates to the fact the Re-ceived Pronunciation in England conjures perception of royalty, elegance, and privi-lege. Ebonics, on the other hand, stimulates "images of the problems of urban life - poverty, crime, unemploy-ment, substandard housing, inferior edu-cation. Accurate or not, those factors are what most Americans think characterize life in the inner city" (Fox: 240). As many people associate Ebonics associated with the poverty-ridden, inner city cycle, some contend that, if the younger generation can break away from the language, they could possibly break out from the poverty and other negative issues that appear to accompany it.
Similar to Jackson referring to SAE as the "cash" language, some consider it to be the "money language." Some argue that if one does not speak SAE, he cannot secure a white-collar or more prestigious job. Some individuals report that even though they grew up in homes where they spoke the Ebonics dialect, they also mastered SAE. They presented themselves as testimony that it can be done. Fox (1997) points out that Martin Luther King, who wrote and spoke SAE with accomplished skill, also adeptly as well as effectively utilized his con-gregation's dialect. If hand not been fluent in both dialects, he most likely would not have succeeded within both the black community and the bigger American community, nor so significantly influenced the extended world.
The controversy surrounding Ebonies not only involves linguistics, but also engages the politics of education and the politics of race as well as their intersection. Although African-American English is not inferior, it routinely draws fire, according to Foster (n.d.) because it Black people speak it. Nevertheless, even though the Linguistic Society of America adopted a resolu-tion and a number of authors of books proclaim Ebonics to unequivocally demonstrate that African-American English does not depict slang or broken English and that it is not inferior to Standard English, many people continue to refuse to acknowledge or respect its value. Accepting Ebonics, for some, would also depict accepting the humanity and integ-rity of African-Americans. Nonetheless, with its unique grammar rules, discourse practices and rich oral literature, African-American English possesses a vivid history, not only worthy of but one that mandates respect.
In the article, "Sociolinguistic and Ideological Dynamics of the Ebonics Controversy, Sociolinguistic and Ideological Dynamics of the Ebonics Controversy," Richard L. Wright (1998), School of Communications, Howard University critically analyzes the language of the Oakland Unified School District's 1996 resolution on Ebonics. In regard to the discussion of language reflecting ideology, Wright asserts a critical concern that needs to be addressed queries: What makes the designation or either a language or dialect significant even though the Linguistic Society of America (LSA) argues the matter linguistically irrelevant? "In the real world - where politics, social attitudes, and cross-group perceptions make a difference [however,…] whether a speech variety is viewed as a language or as a dialect is indeed a matter of major significance" (Wright: 8). The Oakland Board's resolution on Ebonics, and the ensuring controversy confirms this assumption.
Politics embrace the multifaceted concern regarding conditions whereby one individual or entity can say or perform something to or for another individual or entity as well as the specified purpose, and the ensuing effect. The members of the Oakland school board insisted that Ebonics be allocated the language status. The "the federal government [, albeit,] does not recognize Ebonics as a separate language, and therefore would not consider educational programs that utilize Ebonics eligible for federal bilingual education funds" (Wright 1998: 10). Wright argues that the motivation behind the Oakland resolution seems to commit to validating and endorsing Ebonics as a language system basically different from and independent of the mainstream American; specifically, European-American varieties of English. Doing this, Wright stresses, preserves the persistent racist assumption that critical and irresolvable differences exist between African-Americans and other Americans.
An African-American Student Posed to Ponder Ebonics (Foster n.d.: p. 8)
The ongoing historical, yet critical controversy regarding Ebonics Conclusion, the writer asserts, involves social prestige as much as language status. By positioning the African-American's speech behavior as low-prestige and deviant from Standard English, the writer asserts, African-American culture and communities as a whole may continue to experience subjection and suppression via the racial prejudices and supremacy thinking some white as well as some…[continue]
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The fact is that the Oakland Ebonics controversy revealed that there remains a subculture in America whose ideas are unheard. There remains a segment of American society that refuses to adopt the mainstream method of communication and, instead, chooses to adopt an alternative form. These individuals do not necessarily equate success with the adoption of middle class values and the middle class style of life. For these individuals the ability
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