A Matter of Language; March 1997; Scientific American Magazine; by Gibbs; 3 Page(s)
On December 18 the board of education in Oakland, Calif., unanimously adopted a policy stating that most of the 26,000 black students in its district do not speak English as their primary language but rather speak "West and Niger-Congo African Language Systems," which the directive also calls "Ebonics." "Numerous validated scholarly studies," the policy asserts, have demonstrated that "African Language Systems are genetically based and not a dialect of English." (In January the board deleted the phrase "genetically based" from its policy.)
The policy does not order schools to teach Ebonics--until recently, a rarely used term for the variety of English spoken by many urban blacks in the U.S. Linguists more commonly refer to the variety as black English vernacular (BEV). Oakland¿s policy does insist, however, that teachers should understand BEV and use it to help black students learn educated English.