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Ebonics Essay, Research Paper


Ebonics, which stands for Ebony + Phonics is a new term that Linguistics use to describe Black Dialect or Black English or many of the other names that it has been given for more that 350 years.. has been in the news recently but it is definitely not a new topic.

Ebonics is a “language” that is a combination of “proper English” and a combination of African languages. Because of this combination a pattern was formed on how certain words are said such as this and that, would be pronounced dis and dat. In all words the “Th.” sound sounded like a “D”. There was also another pattern formed such as, no tense indicated in the verb, no “r” sound and no consonant pairs. These are just some of the many patterns that were created when Africans were forced to learn the English language.

History states that around 1619, during the slave trade, ships collected slaves not just from one nation but from many nations. Although they were all Africans certain areas spoke different languages. Some Africans spoke Ibo, Yoruba and Hausa. They were then separated from each other and had to travel with people whom the could not understand. Captain William Smith wrote:

…There will be no more likelihood of their succeeding in a plot…

The slaves then had to learn English so that they could have some form of communication with their masters. Their native language and English would be combined and they would speak African-English pidgin.

As the slaves began to learn how to communicate with each other, their words would merge into one common word that they could all understand. This is one of the ways that the language became mixed with English.

When the African slaves had children they talked to them in African English pidgin. The slaves taught the children both languages so that they could communicate with the slaveowners and to other slaves. As each generation went on the Africans began to speak better English but there were still word that were never spoken correctly or said in proper form.

In Georgia and other southern states there were blacks who were not brought from Africa and quite a few knew how to speak standard English. Around 1858 over 400 slave from Africa were brought straight to Georgia and none of them knew a word of English.(Smitherman) Being that these two groups merged together they adapted each others language whether it was correct or incorrect

On the east coast of America, the Blacks spoke a different degree of Ebonics which was discovered in newspaper articles.(Lewis p.2)

In 1744 The New York Evening Post read: “Ran away…a new Negro Fellow named Prince, he can’t scarce speak a Word of English”

1n 1760 an ad in the North Carolina Gazette read: “Ran away from the Subscriber,…, African Born…, speaks bad English.” In 1734, the Philadelphia American Weekly Mercury read: Run away…;he’s Pennsylvania Born and speaks good English,”

These articles show where each person came from and what there English was like. It is obvious that masters kept tabs on how well their slave could talk. It was one of the ways that the masters could identify their slaves when they had many of them. They also used the slaves that new good English to translate or explain what the other slaves were saying.

In the Mid 1800’s slaves tried to use their language to help them escape from slavery. They would sing spirituals which their masters could not understand. Harriet Tubman and many others communicated in Ebonics which their masters couldn’t understand and escaped through the underground railroad.

North Carolina Discoveries cited:

‘O Canaan, sweet Canaan,

I am bound for the land of Canaan

We meant to reach the north- and the north was Canaan

There were lions. in the way,

I don’t expect to stay

Much longer here

Run to JesusNshun the danger

I don’t expect to stay

Much longer here.’


This is one of the spiritual song during slavery. It is not written in Ebonics but when the slaves song the song their masters still had no idea what the were talking about. Masters figured that their slaves didn’t know left from right and called their language gibberish. The Masters didn’t realize that this song meant that the slaves were going to escape to a free state and get away from all the dangers and the pain they suffered during slavery.

This proves that Ebonics has been around for many years and will be around for a long time. This was a language that was forced upon people. It then passed from generation to generation. Ebonics has improved from the early 1600’s to now but some of the improper English still stands today. This tells where Ebonics originated from.


Fisher, Julene E “Don’t Be a Geek; Learn How Black English Has Enriched The Language” The Salt Lake Tribune MSN Internet (1996) p1

Lee, Felicia R “Lingering Conflict in the Schools: Black Dialect vs. Standard Speech,” The New York Times. MSN Internet (1994)

Lewis, Brian C. ” Black English: Its History and Its Role in the Education Of Our Children” The ThreeTwelve Group MSN Internet (1996)

North Carolina Discovers , The Origin of Black Folk Music Snow Camp Historical Drama Society (1994)

Smitherman, Geneva, “Talkin and Testifyin: The Language Of Black America. Detroit; Wayne State University (1986)

Stoller, Paul ed. Black American English. New York; Dell Publishing (1975)MSN Internet

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