Some writings on the "Ebonics" issue
since December, 1996

The Ebonics controversy in my backyard: A sociolinguist's experiences and reflections

    This paper, which was published in Journal of Sociolinguisics in 1999, is part of a collection of essays on the theme, "What do sociolinguists have to say about the Great Language Debates of Our Times?" compiled and edited by Monica Heller. Three of the papers in this collection (including mine) were first presented at the 1997 conference on New Ways of Analyzing Variation, held in Quebec, Canada.

Using the Vernacular to Teach the Standard

    This is a revised version (March 25, 1998) of remarks delivered at the California State University Long Beach [CSULB] Conference on Ebonics held on March 29, 1997.  It appeared first in the proceedings published by CSULB in 1999 (see Rickford 1999a in the papers on this website), and then in yet another revised version in 2005 (see Rickford 2005 in the papers on this website).

Suite for Ebony and Phonics

    This commentary was written for the December, 1997 issue of Discover magazine. It differs slightly from the published version, since the latter includes the editor's changes.

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

    This Op Ed submission was written and submitted to the Los Angeles Times on 3/28/97, but was not published there. It was written to counteract California Senate Bill 205, the misguided legislation introduced by Senator Raymond Haynes (R, Riverside). S.B. 205 was defeated in committee in April 1997, but if passed, it would have dismantled the California Standard English Proficiency (SEP) program and banned any recognition of or reference to Ebonics and other vernaculars in the process of teaching standard English, despite the fact that the research evidence in favor of vernacular-based approaches like contrastive analysis (at the heart of the SEP) is persuasive.

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 often refer 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 on January 1, 1997, at the suggestion of Geoff Nunberg and with his inputs. It was unanimously 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.

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 1 and Part 2

    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.

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