That depends on whom you ask. Black writers from Paul Laurence Dunbar to Zora Neale Hurston to August Wilson have made extensive use of it in their work, and some, like James Baldwin (“this passion, this skill, . this incredible music.”), Toni Morrison, and June Jordan have praised it explicitly. But many other people, black and white, regard it as a sign of limited education or sophistication, as a legacy of slavery or an impediment to socioeconomic mobility. Some deny its existence (like the black Chicagoan whose words “Ain’t nobody here talkin’ no Ebonics” belied his claim). Others deprecate it (like Maya Angelou, who found the Oakland School Board’s 1996 Ebonics resolutions “very threatening” although she uses Ebonics herself in her poems, e.g. “The Pusher”).
Others emphasize Ebonics’ African origins, noting that West African languages often lack th sounds and final consonant clusters (e
It should be said, incidentally, that at least SOME of the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the Oakland resolutions arose because the resolutions were misinterpreted as proposals to teach Ebonics itself, or to teach in Ebonics, rather than as proposals to respect and take it into account while teaching standard English. The method of studying language known as ‘contrastive analysis’ involves drawing students’ attention to similarities and differences between Ebonics and Standard English. Since the 1960s, it has been used successfully to boost Ebonics speakers’ reading and writing performance in Standard English, most recently in public schools in DeKalb County, GA, and in Los Angeles, CA (as part of the LA Unified School District’s Academic English Mastery Program).
Where did Ebonics come from?
On this point, linguists are quite divided. Some emphasize its English origins, pointing to the fact that most of the vocabulary of Ebonics is from English and that much of its pronunciation (e.g. pronouncing final th as f) and grammar (e.g. double negatives, “I don’t want none”) could have come from the nonstandard dialects of English indentured servants and other workers with whom African slaves interacted.
g. past), and that replacing or simplifying these occurs both in US Ebonics and in West African English varieties spoken in Nigeria and Ghana. Moreover, they argue that the distinction made between completed actions (“He done walked”) and habitual actions (“We be walkin”) in the Ebonics tense-aspect system reflects their prevalence in West African language systems and that this applies to other aspects of Ebonics sentence structure.
Other linguists are drawn to the similarities between Ebonics and Caribbean Creole English varieties, for instance, the fact that both frequently drop is and are , and that both permit dropping word initial d, b, and g in tense-aspect ples include habitual/progressive (d)a, past tense (b)en, and future (g)on). These traits suggest that some varieties of American Ebonics might have undergone the kinds of simplification and mixture associated with Creole formation in the Caribbean and elsewhere. They might also suggest that American Ebonics was shaped by the high proportions of Creole-speaking slaves that were imported from the Caribbean in the earliest settlement periods of the thirteen original colonies.
Arguments about and evidence on the origins issue continue to be brought forth. A relatively new ‘historical’ issue has emerged in recent years: Is Ebonics converging with or diverging from other vernacular varieties of American English? One thing is for sure: This dynamic, distinctive variety–thoroughly intertwined with African American history and linked in many ways with African American literature, education, and social life–is one of the most extensively studied and discussed varieties of American English and it will probably continue to be so for many years to come.