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Writings on the "Ebonics"
issue since December, 1996

Writings on the "Ebonics" issue since December, 1996

S.B. 205 --Well-intentioned but uninformed

This Op Ed submission was written and submitted to the Los Angeles Times on 3/28/97 to counteract California Senate Bill 205, the misguided legislation being introduced by Senator Raymond Haynes (R, Riverside). S.B. 205 would get rid of the California Standard English Proficiency (SEP) program and ban any recognition of or reference to Ebonics and other vernaculars in the process of teaching standard English, although the research evidence in favor of vernacular-based approaches like contrastive analysis (at the heart of the SEP) is persuasive.

Senate Bill 205: Equality in English Instruction Act

Here is the legislative history and current form of California Senate Bill 205, which is set for hearing April 2, and which would have the unfortunate effect, if passed, of killing the "Standard English Proficiency" program and any attempt (like contrastive analysis or dialect readers) to take the vernacular of Ebonics and other dialect speakers into account in teaching Standard English, contra all the research evidence, which shows that these innovative programs work well and that existing methods of teaching English in the inner city work poorly or not at all. I am grateful to Elaine Richardson of the University of Minnesota for providing me with the current text. Concerned individuals should contact any California State Senators. Three whose phone/fax numbers appear in my directory are: Alfred E. Alquist

(13th District) 916-445-9740; Henry J. Mello, (15th District),

916-445-5843, fax 916-448-0175, email: and Byron D. Sher (11th District), 916-445-6747, fax 415-364-2102.

Ebonics Notes and Discussion

This is the first thing I wrote on the Ebonics issue after the Oakland School Board resolution of December 1996. Anita Manning of USA Today asked for some sample sentences, and I came up with these, together with a discussion of the ways in which they demonstrate the systematicity of African American Vernacular English [AAVE--the term linguists use more often for what most people are now referring to as Ebonics, with Ron Williams' 1975 term]. Included in this is Toni Morrison's beautiful quote on the richness and value of the vernacular.

The Oakland Ebonics decision: Commendable attack on the problem

I wrote this OpEd piece, which appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on December 26, 1996, after being somewhat frustrated with talking to reporters for an hour or more and seeing what I said reduced to a sentence.

LSA Resolution on the Oakland "Ebonics" Issue

This is the Linguistics Society of America resolution I drafted which wasunanimously approved, with minor amendments, at the society's business meeting in Chicago on January 3, 1997.

Letter to Senator Specter

This January 22, 1997 letter to Senator Arlen Specter was included in the record of the Senate hearings on Ebonics as an addendum to the testimony of Oakland School Superintendent Carolyn Getridge. It provides a survey of six studies which demonstrate the value of taking the vernacular variety of a language into account in teaching students to read and write and make successful transitions to the standard variety. I subsequently incorporated much of this into the following OpEd piece:

The Evolution of the Ebonics Issue

This is the OpEd piece I submitted to the New York Times on January 23, 1997.

To the editors, The New Republic

This is a letter I wrote to the editors of The New Republic responding to Jacob Heilbrum's inaccurate and misleading article: "Speech Therapy"

To the editors, Newsweek

I wrote this letter to the editors of Newsweek to respond to Ellis Cose's column in their Jan 13 issue, entitled, "The irrelevance of Ebonics." The column represents the commonly voiced (but in my opinion incorrect) view that the failure of schools to educate inner city African Americans, particularly in the Language arts, is due to problems like facilities, teacher training, low expectations and so on (all of which I would agree are important), but has nothing to do with the language children bring to school and how schools respond to it.

Views of several linguists and anthropologists on the Ebonics issue: Part 1Views of several linguists and anthropologists on the Ebonics issue:

Leila Monaghan of Pitzer College has put together the views of several linguists and anthropologists on the Ebonics issue for the February 1997

Society for Linguistic Anthropology column. Part 1 contains statements from Jack Sidnell, Leanne Hinton, Marcyliena Morgan, John McWhorter, John Rickford (editied version of my Dec 26 SJ Mercury Op Ed piece), and Ron Kephart. Part 2 contains statements from Charles Fillmore, Susan Ervin-Tripp, and John Clark. References appear at the end of Part 2.

Other related websites:

Synopsis of the Oakland School District policy on standard American

English language development

Professor William Labov's homepage

Professor Jim Wilce's homepage

Chicago Tribute articles on the Ebonics debate

User discussion of the Ebonics issue on

Linguistic Society of America resolution on the Oakland "Ebonics" issue

Bryan McLucas's brief overview of AAVE

Joycelyn Landrum-Brown's lecture notes on Black English

Links to information about English Creoles

ETHNOLOGUE: Languages of the World

WWW Virtual Library: Linguistics "The Ebonic Plague?"

From rickford@Csli.Stanford.EDU Sat Apr 5 18:47:34 1997

Dr. John Rickford titles of papers

Writings On The "Ebonics" Issue