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Full Text of 'Ebonics' Resolution Adopted by Oakland Board

Following is the complete text of the Oakland, Calif., board of education resolution adopted Dec. 18, 1996, regarding "ebonics.''

Resolution of the board of education adopting the report and recommendations of the African-American Task Force; a policy statement and directing the superintendent of schools to devise a program to improve the English-language acquisition and application skills of African-American students.

No. 9697-0063

Whereas, numerous validated scholarly studies demonstrate that African-American students as part of their culture and history an African people possess and utilize a language described in various scholarly approaches as "Ebonics'' (literally Black sounds) or Pan-African Communication Behaviors or African Language Systems; and

Whereas, these studies have also demonstrated that African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English; and

Whereas, these studies demonstrate that such West and Niger-Congo African languages have been officially recognized and addressed in the mainstream public educational community as worth of study, understanding, or application of its principles, laws, and structures for the benefit of African-American students both in terms of positive appreciation of the language and these students' acquisition and mastery of English-language skills; and

Whereas such recognition by scholars has given rise over the past 15 years to legislation passed by the state of California recognizing the unique language stature of descendants of slaves, with such legislation being prejudicially and unconstitutionally vetoed repeatedly by various California state governors; and

Whereas, judicial cases in states other than California have recognized the unique language stature of African-American pupils, and such recognition by courts has resulted in court-mandated educational programs which have substantially benefited African-American children in the interest of vindicating their equal protection of the law rights under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and

Whereas, the Federal Bilingual Education Act (20 USC 1402 et seq.) mandates that local educational agencies "build their capacities to establish, implement, and sustain programs of instruction for children and youth of limited English proficiency,'' and

Whereas, the interests of the Oakland Unified School District in providing equal opportunities for all of its students dictate limited-English-proficient educational programs recognizing the English-language acquisition and improvement skills of African-American students are as fundamental as is application of bilingual education principles for others whose primary languages are other than English; and

Whereas, the standardized tests and grade scores of African-American students in reading and language arts skills measuring their application of English skills are substantially below state and national norms and that such deficiencies will be remedied by application of a program featuring African Language Systems principles in instructing African-American children both in their primary language and in English; and

Whereas, standardized tests and grade scores will be remedied by application of a program with teachers and aides, who are certified in the methodology of featuring African Language Systems principles in instructing African-American children both in their primary language and in English. The certified teachers of these students will be provided incentives including, but not limited to, salary differentials.

Now, therefore, be it resolved that the board of education officially recognizes the existence and the cultural and historic bases of West and Niger-Congo African Language Systems, and each language as the predominately primary language of African-American students; and

Be it further resolved that the board of education hereby adopts the report recommendations and attached policy statement of the district's African American Task Force on language stature of African-American speech; and

Be it further resolved that the superintendent in conjunction with her staff shall immediately devise and implement the best possible academic program for imparting instruction to African-American students in their primary language for the combined purposes of maintaining the legitimacy and richness of such language whether it is known as "Ebonics,'' "African Language Systems,'' "Pan African Communication Behaviors,'' or other description and to facilitate their acquisition and mastery of English-language skills; and

Be it further resolved that the board of education hereby commits to earmark district general and special funding as is reasonably necessary and appropriate to enable the superintendent and her staff to accomplish the foregoing; and

Be it further resolved that the superintendent and her staff shall utilize the input of the entire Oakland educational community, as well as state and federal scholarly and educational input, in devising such a program; and

Be it further resolved that periodic reports on the progress of the creation and implementation of such an educational program shall be made to board of education at least once per month commencing at the board meeting of Dec. 18, 1996.

Policy Statement

There is persuasive empirical evidence that, predicated on analysis of the phonology, morphology, and syntax that currently exists as systematic, rule-governed and predictable patterns exist in the grammar of African-American speech. The validated and persuasive linguistic evidence is that African-Americans (1) have retained a West and Niger-Congo African linguistic structure in the substratum of their speech and (2) by this criteria are not native speakers of a black dialect or any other dialect of English.

Moreover, there is persuasive empirical evidence that, owing to their history as U.S. slave descendants of West and Niger-Congo African origin, to the extent that African-Americans have been born into, reared in, and continue to live in linguistic environments that are different from the Euro-American English-speaking population, African-American people and their children, are from home environments in which a language other than English language is dominant within the meaning of "environment where a language other than English is dominant'' as defined in Public Law 1-13-382 (20 USC 7402, et seq.).

The policy of the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) is that all pupils are equal and are to be treated equally. Hence, all pupils who have difficulty speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language and whose difficulties may deny to them the opportunity to learn successfully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English or to participate fully in classrooms where the language of instruction is English or to participate fully in our society are to be treated equally regardless of their race or national origin.

As in the case of Asian-American, Latino-American, Native American, and all other pupils in this district who come from backgrounds or environments where a language other than English is dominant, African-American pupils shall not, because of their race, be subtly dehumanized, stigmatized, discriminated against, or denied. Asian-American, Latino-American, Native American, and all other language-different children are provided general funds for bilingual education, English as a Second Language (ESL) and state and federal (Title VIII) bilingual education programs to address their limited and non-English-proficient (LEP/NEP) needs. African-American pupils are equally entitled to be tested and, where appropriate, shall be provided general funds and state and federal (Title VIII) bilingual education and ESL programs to specifically address their LEP/NEP needs.

All classroom teachers and aides who are bilingual in Nigritian Ebonics (African-American Language) and English shall be given the same salary differentials and merit increases that are provided to the teachers of the non-African-American LEP pupils in the OUSD.

With a view toward assuring that parents of African-American pupils are given the knowledge base necessary to make informed decisions, it shall be the policy of the Oakland Unified School District that all parents of LEP (limited-English-proficient) pupils are to be provided the opportunity to partake of any and all language- and culture-specific teacher education and training classes designed to address their child's LEP needs.

On all home-language surveys given to parents of pupils requesting home-language identification or designations, a description of the district's programmatic consequences of their choices will be contained.

Nothing in this policy shall preclude or prevent African-American parents who view their child's limited English proficiency as being non-standard English, as opposed to being West and Niger-Congo African Language based, from exercising their right to choose and to have their child's speech disorders and English-language deficits addressed by special education and/or other district programs.

Response fromLINGUIST List 8.57 Sun Jan 19 1997 Disc: Ebonics: LSA Resolution Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <>


1.The LINGUIST List, LSA Resolution on Ebonics

Message 1: LSA Resolution on Ebonics

Date: Sun, 19 Jan 1997 22:06:43 -0500 From: The LINGUIST List <> Subject: LSA Resolution on Ebonics

[Moderators' Note: As a service to our readers, we post here the Linguistics Society of America's recent resolution on ebonics.]


Whereas there has been a great deal of discussion in the media and among the American public about the l8 December l996 decision of the Oakland School Board to recognize the language variety spoken by many African American students and to take it into account in teaching Standard English, the Linguistic Society of America, as a society of scholars engaged in the scientific study of language, hereby resolves to make it known that:

a. The variety known as "Ebonics," "African American Vernacular English" (AAVE), and "Vernacular Black English" and by other names is systematic and rule-governed like all natural speech varieties. In fact, all human linguistic systems--spoken, signed, and written -- are fundamentally regular. The systematic and expressive nature of the grammar and pronunciation patterns of the African American vernacular has been established by numerous scientific studies over the past thirty years. Characterizations of Ebonics as "slang," "mutant," " lazy," "defective," "ungrammatical," or "broken English" are incorrect and demeaning.

b. The distinction between "languages" and "dialects" is usually made more on social and political grounds than on purely linguistic ones. For example, different varieties of Chinese are popularly regarded as "dialects," though their speakers cannot understand each other, but speakers of Swedish and Norwegian, which are regarded as separate "languages," generally understand each other. What is important from a linguistic and educational point of view is not whether AAVE is called a "language" or a "dialect" but rather that its systematicity be recognized.

c. As affirmed in the LSA Statement of Language Rights (June l996), there are individual and group benefits to maintaining vernacular speech varieties and there are scientific and human advantages to linguistic diversity. For those living in the United States there are also benefits in acquiring Standard English and resources should be made available to all who aspire to mastery of Standard English. The Oakland School Board's commitment to helping students master Standard English is commendable.

d. There is evidence from Sweden, the US, and other countries that speakers of other varieties can be aided in their learning of the standard variety by pedagogical approaches which recognize the legitimacy of the other varieties of a language. From this perspective, the Oakland School Board's decision to recognize the vernacular of African American students in teaching them Standard English is linguistically and pedagogically sound.

Chicago, Illinois January l997 ---- Selected References (books only) Baratz, Joan C., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1969. Teaching Black Children to read. Washington, DC: Center or Applied Linguistics. Baugh, John. 1983. Black street speech: Its history, structure and survival. Austin: University of Texas Press. Bloome, David, and J. Lemke, eds. 1995. Special Issue: Africanized English and Education. Linguistics and Educaton 7. Burling, Robbins. 1973. English in black and white. New York: Holt. Butters, Ron. 1989. The death of Black English: Convergence and divergence in American English. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Dandy, Evelyn. 1991. Black communications: Breaking down the barriers. Chicago: African American Images. DeStephano, Johanna 1973, ed. Language, society and education: A profile of Black English. Worthington, OH: Charles A. Jones. Dillard, J. L. 1972. Black English: Its history and usage in the United States. New York: Random House. Fasold, Ralph W., and Roger W. Shuy, eds. 1970. Teaching Standard English in the inner city. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. Gadsden, V. and D. Wagner , eds. 1995. Literacy among African American youth. Creskill, NJ: Hampton Press. Jones, Regina, ed. 1996. Handbook of tests and measurements for Black populations. Hampton, VA: Cobbs and Henry. Kochman, Thomas. 1981. Black and white styles in conflict. NY: Holt Rinehart. Kochman, Thomas, ed. 1972. Rappin' and stylin' out. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. Labov, William 1972. Language in the inner city: Studies in the Black English verna cular. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Lippi-Green, Rosina. To appear. English with an accent. London: Routledge. Mufwene, Salikoko S., John R. Rickford, Guy Bailey and John Baugh, eds. To appear. African American English. London: Routledge. Rickford, John R., and Lisa Green. To appear. African American Vernacular English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Shuy, Roger W., ed. 1965 . Social dialects and language learning. Champaign, Ill., National Council of Teachers of English. Simpkins, G., G. Holt, and C. Simpkins. 1977. Bridge: A cross-cultural reading program. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Smith, Ernie A. 1994. The historical development of African American Language. Los Angeles: Watts College Press. Smitherman, Geneva. 1986. Talkin and testifyin: The language of Black America. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. _____ 1994 Black Talk. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. _____, ed. 1981. Black English and the Education of Black Children and Youth. Detroit: Center for Black Studies, Wayne State University Press. Taylor, Hanni U. 1989. Standard English, Black English, and bidialectalism: A controversy. NY: Peter Lang. Williams, Robert L. 1975 Ebonics: The true language of Black folks. St Louis: Institute of Black Studies. Wolfram, Walt 1969. A linguistic description of Detroit Negro speech. Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. _____ 1991. Dialects and American English. Englewood Cliffs, NJ; Prentice Hall and Center for Applied Linguistics. Wolfram, Walter A., and Donna Christian 1989. Dialects and education: Issues and answers. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Wolfram, Walter A. and Clarke, Nona, eds. 1971. Black-White speech relationships. Washington: Center for Applied Linguistics.