African American English Vernacular:
Should it be Implemented in Schools?
CUNY- Brooklyn College
May 20, 2010
Table of Contents
Statement of the Problem 5
Literature Review 6
Statement of the Hypothesis 15
Experimental Design 16
Appendix A 26
Appendix B 27
Appendix C 28
Appendix D 30
Appendix E 32
This study attempts to evaluate students’ knowledge on African American Vernacular English, and its implementation in schools. The study engages twenty-one second grade students at a Public School in Brooklyn, New York. Out of the twenty-one students, seven are Latino/Hispanic and fourteen are Black/African American. The review measures the students’ attentiveness and perception toward AAVE. The scholars were given a quantitative survey, evaluating their knowledge on AAVE, after viewing scenes from the Movie ‘Shark Tale’ and ‘The Princess and the Frog’. Assessments were also distributed to parents, to analyze their views and their knowledge towards AAVE. The outcome of the surveys, verify that students are conscious of African American Vernacular English, even though the dialect is not executed in school.
African American Vernacular English signifies an example of the formation of culture in the African American community.
Research and evaluation programs continue to demonstrate that black children do not do well in school .
Black English is linked to reading deficiencies in African American children.
Statement of the Problem
Many black children speak a nonstandard variety of English; and African American Vernacular English (AAVE) has been widespread and evident in their respective communities. In schools, teachers should recognize that AAVE exists, but should also find the best way to integrate Standard English (SE) to speakers of AAVE, while at the same time respecting their native dialects.
Review of Related Literature
As I generated this research, I was extremely flabbergasted on the specifics that I found. At first, I actually deemed that all linguists and researchers were going to provide pessimistic scrutiny, details, and estimation in their reviews. But all of the scholarly journals retrieved, for this action research paper is occupied with affirmative and sponsoring outlooks on African American Vernacular English (AAVE). There are more than a few techniques in which the syntax of black idioms is distinctive than the grammar of Standard English. The dissimilarities are the deficit use of suffixes, numerous uses of negations, different question formation decree, and the discrepancy of verb constructions. Cunningham (1976-1977) “States, many writers have suggested that these grammatical differences are a cause of poor reading achievement among black dialect speakers”. The Ann District board, in Michigan, experienced a case, where the students at Martin Luther King Junior Elementary school, were experiencing hardship, due to their use of AAVE. At that particular time, the King school was designed to serve educationally and economically advantaged children. The school failed to take the necessary deed to defeat language barriers of children whose home language is Black English. As the case went into court, Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School Children v. The Michigan board of Education, Judge Charles W. Joiner, the lead judge in the case states, (Wright, 1980, pg. 339) “The educational plan submitted by the school district is intended to provide information and training to help teachers understand the source of such “errors” and work more rationally in helping black-English speaking children to read standard English”. Its is evidently known that AAVE, includes phrases from African dialect. (Tamura s 2002) “Linguists have the same opinions that AAVE can be trailed back to the days of slavery, when Africans spoke inarticulate vernacular, there is in fact a substantial deliberation about whether AAVE developed from the dialect of Whites or whether AAVE is more African-oriented, emerging as a pidgin first, then surfacing as a Creole”.
As I referred to before, for years, there have been several deliberations on AAVE. Here are some of the disputes: Is AAVE a language or a dialect? Who speaks it? And why does it exist? According to (Morgan 1994, pg. 330) “ Linguists are divided over Whether AAVE should be described as it functions and appears across a wide range of everyday interactions, cultural contexts, and social variables within the African American community, or whether it should be defined in relation to other languages. This theoretical issue has led to widespread disagreement over how to describe its features and how to determine the significance of their occurrence across contexts”. AAVE is also acknowledged as Black English (BE). There are two sorts of discrepancies between the day-to-day uses of language by BE-speaking students and the uses they are accepted to utilize in school. (Torrey 1983, pg. 628) “One difference is between the two varieties of English; the other, shared with all children, is in the amounts of explicit attention to language forms that are required in spontaneous speech and in school work. Because lessons in reading, writing, and grammar focus on language as such, it is necessary for the learner to attend to the linguistic medium itself, whereas in speaking we normally concentrate on our meaning and remain almost unconscious of the forms we are using to express it”.
As a community in whole, we are more inclined to regard minority speech like African American Vernacular English, as a fraudulent variation of standardized languages. As educators, it’s imperative, that we let our students know that AAVE is an acceptable dialect, and that there’s nothing wrong with using AAVE, no matter what situation they are in. But students should be sentient of the benefits of using Standard English and AAVE in the classroom. According to (Siegal 1999, pg. 720-721) “Approaches designed to increase awareness may have several advantages. First, the same classroom activities can be used for speakers of all varieties, both stigmatized and standardized, serving the added purpose of combating dialect prejudice. Second, such approaches are more interesting for students than traditional methods are. And third, for speakers of stigmatized varieties, being able to discuss their own language in the classroom increases linguistic self-respect”. Linguists have now rejected the biloquialist position- some of them ever advocated it- and concentrated on the implementation of reading ability, commencing and counteractive assistance, to speakers of Black English. Linguists use texts that are written in Black English, as part of the bilingual education program. This is one way of teaching literacy in the vernacular language before executing the new language. This technique is also a debatable resolution, which used to resolved educational problems in the densely populated neighborhoods (Smith, 1974). “We have also observed a significant increase in the use of other AAVE structures, such as habitual be with verb + -ing among younger speakers, as in Sometimes, you think a ghost be following you, and the use of ain’t for didn’t in He ain’t go there (Wolfram, Thomas, Green, 2000). Linguists bicker that all languages and idioms are equally proficient at conversing important information among their speakers. Regrettably, no society behaves as if all dialects are identical. In agreement with Speicher; McMahon, (1992, pg. 384) “BEV was considered an illiterate, illogical code without rules; in short; poorly learned English. Our educational system, and presumably that of other countries, focuses on reading and writing NNE, taking a prescriptive approach to language. BEV-speaking children were classified as learning disabled, language impaired, or deprived, and they were placed in special class”.
In the 1960s, the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, made a decision to locate low-income housing throughout different sites in the city. A project was built on Green road, the children in the Green Road project, attended the Martin Luther King Elementary School which was close by. The racial population of the school is as follows: 80% White, 13% Black, 7% Asian and Latino. A marginal of these black students come from Green Road: They are the children that the Ann Arbor case was about. After a few years, living on Green Road, the mothers found that their children were doing poorly in school. They also discovered that their children were labeled as learning disabled, behavior problems, and emotionally disturbed, all which correlates with educational failure. According to (Labov 1982)
“ On July 28, 1977, they brought suit in Federal court against the King school, the Ann Arbor School district, and the Michigan Board of Education on behalf of fifteen children for the authorities’ failure to take into account the cultural, social, and economic factors that would prevent them from making normal progress in the school. The plaintiffs argued that the School District had failed to do a number of things that would have helped solve the problem: to provide instructional alternatives based on the unique needs of the children: to inform staff of the racial and linguistic characteristics of the Green Road children; to provide reading programs that would diagnose the problems; to involve the Green parents in an active role in the reading program”.
(Speicher, Bielanski 2000) states, “There are four underlying assumptions about Standard English (SE) emerge in literature as well as in the popular mind. First, spoken SE is largely equivalent to written SE. Second, spoken and written codes are equally amenable to standardization. Third, SE is the language of the workplace and essential to social mobility. Fourth, SE is (or ought to be) the language of the classroom”.
The African American speech community, with a large linguistic scale, takes account of the most distinguishing multiplicity of American English, which is known as (AAVE). One which epitomizes the development of sociolinguistic variation and change- has played a decisive responsibility in the progression of sociolinguistic conjecture and tactics for many years. According to (Rickford 1997, pg. 164) “Several grammatical features of AAVE have been the focus of syntactic and semantic analysis by sociolinguists over the past quarter century. The examples include the following tense-aspect markers (adapted from Rickford 1996):
Absence of 3sg. Present tense –s, as in He walk for SE He walks
(Fasold 1972: 121- 49).
Use of stressed BIN to express remote phrase, as in She BIN married for SE She’s been married for a long time (and still is), or He BIN ate it for SE He ate it a long time ago (Rickford 1975, Baugh 1983: 80-82, Green 1993)”.
According to (Black English 1975) Black English (BE), or Black American English, is coming into popular use as a short term for what is more technically known as Negro nonstandard English (NNE), earlier called Negro dialect of Negro English. Beginning about 1964, BE has become the subject of a voluminous literature inspired by the desire for drastic improvement in the mastery of ‘standard’ (socially acceptable) American English (SE) by Negro students, especially those in the slums of large cities.
Previous to the research of Vernacular Black English, language discrepancy was barely considered as an issue in the teaching of oral language in the classroom. (Shuy 1973) “It was generally asserted that language meant the absence of accepted school language and the first step toward learning required the acquisition of school English”.
Sociolinguists have persuasively disputed that the complexity of Black students with the Standard English lies partly in the differentiation in social meanings and the use of vernacular. (Ogbu 1999) “The study I will report in this article is intended to contribute to the direction of research. It examines the cultural rules and use of two English dialects by adults and children in a Black speech community. It attempts to discover why and how the social meanings and cultural rules of using the two dialects in this community make it difficult for Black students to learn in Standard English in school”. Canvassers of AAVE discovered be2+Verb+ -ing to be more frequent in contemporary, urban dialects than in less current and rural dialects. (Myhill 1988, pg-306) Myhill states:
“Thus it appears that the frequency of be2 + Verb + -ing is
Indeed sharply increasing, suggesting that it is in the process of grammatical zing and coming to fill some specific function in the BEV tense/aspect system. Before investigating this function directly, I will discuss some general considerations in the study of tense/aspect systems. The independence of form and meaning. Linguists studying syntax realized some time ago (e.g., Chomsky 1972 that syntax and semantics are not simply isomorphic mappings of each other; they determines that syntactic structure must be studied independent of semantic factors. It is necessary to do the same in the study of semantic aspects of language such as TAM marking”.
“First, the attitude of Black educators toward the existence of Black English varies. As a rule, they refuse to accept Black English as a separate dialect independent of American White English. They do not deny that there is a kind of speech that can be closely associated with Blacks, for many of them say that they, a great majority of the time, can recognize Blacks and Whites by speech alone, but they do not feel that it is so radically different that it needs to be crystallized and set off as a distinct dialect with the rubric of “Black English” or some other ethnic label (Shores, 1974, 108-109)”.
Ebonics and Standard English are very comparable, even though no linguist would debate for complete identity of underlying structures. According to (Palacas 2001, pg. 327) “While the popular view of the relationship between Ebonics and Standard English is quite negative, presuming, as it does, that Ebonics is simply a faulty derivative of English; dialectal research predating the sociolinguistic surge of the 1960s gives a positive scholarly explanation of the relationship in its tendency to identify Ebonics with local varieties of English”. Author Thomas Kochman, reviews “Language in the Inner City: Studies in the Black English Vernacular” by William Labov, in his analysis, “Review: Grammar and Discourse in Vernacular English”. In this analysis, Kochman reviews Labov views and according to Kochman, (Kochman, 1975, pg.96) Labov argues that “it is clear that [the subjects] understand the standard sentence [since] they rapidly produce the correct nonstandard”, the difference between the standard and nonstandard utterance being a result of the if-complementizer rule being absent in the BEV grammar”.
“The power to determine what is language and what is not language, or the power to decide when the language is “good” and when it is not, is not prerogative of the marginalized. The power to determine whom the language belongs and to whom it does not, or the power to determine which language deserves respect and which language does not, it is also to those who inhabit the “penumbra” of linguistic power and privilege. These enormous powers belong to the cultural elite and their allies who help to enforce acceptable codes of linguistic conduct” (Zeigler, Osinubi 2002, pg, 588).
“The mode of Black English used by lames will be contrasted with that used by the members of the domineering social groups of the vernacular culture. The discovery will be considered to be a sociological interest; since it emerges that the stability of certain grammatical rules is a manifestation of association in the street culture” (Labov 1973).
AAVE may be foreign to individuals who don’t speak the dialect. AAVE may be perceived as a vernacular, which is utilized by individuals who are ‘less scholarly’. It’s imperative that educators, who have AAVE speakers in their classroom, notify their students, that it is ok, to speak AAVE, but at the same time, it is important for them to learn the vernacular of SE. (Jacobson 1972) “When teaching Standard English to speakers of a non-standard dialect, the teacher must take into significance the precise dilemmas of the speaker and familiarize themselves with the second language”.
(Tarone 1973)”Research has presented solid verification that BE is a systematic dialect with its own rules of semantics, syntax, and segmental phonology; a dialect with roots that stem in West African languages. Rhythm, stress, and intonations are characteristics that have been neglected in studies that focus on the dialect of Black English”.
African American Vernacular English has its own rules of semantics, syntax, and phonology. Although AAVE is differ in grammar. It is still a variety of English, just like any other version of Standard English. (Alexander 1980) “There is no such thing as ‘pure’ English. ‘Pure’ English is an impermanent language. Most dialects do demand more deference than others. Many Americans are impressed by a person who talks with a British vernacular of the educated and ‘upper’ classes, while many American feel the opposite about a person who speaks a Black dialect”.
The writing of Black children, clearly demonstrates the lack of using indirect object patterns. (Ross 1971) “The writing of black, elementary school children in the Watts District of Los Angeles was analyzed in an effort to relate it to current studies in oral language and to current pedagogical materials. The themes were first segmented by Kellogg Hunt's T-unit concept, with the T-units then analyzed according to the PS grammar used in the school, though some modifications were made in the model to include previously identified Black English features and recent advances in linguistic theory”. This information was placed in a computer and frequency counts for over 15,000 sentence constructions were run. Black students were shown to write in patterned and rule-governed ways.
Statement of the Hypothesis
Evaluating the knowledge of AAVE with twenty second grade students over a six-week period at P.S. X, will demonstrate that the students are fully conscious of AAVE, that they use AAVE, and their acknowledgement of the difference between African American Vernacular English and Standard English.
Twenty second grade students
Seven Latino/Hispanic Americans
Thirteen African Americans
Public School in Brooklyn, New York
Comprehension Tests ( Sweet Clara… & Helen Keller)
One-Shot Case Study
Symbolic Design: XO
The study involves one group of students who will be exposed to a treatment (X) and post-tested (O).
In late February, consent forms were sent out to parents.
From early March- Mid March, students were introduced to a historical fiction book using AAVE and a non-fiction biography using Standard English.
Excerpts from both books were placed on an overhead projector; due to constant negative activities research was postponed.
From Early April- Mid April (twice a week), students were re-introduced to the historical fiction book and non-fiction biography.
Early May, students watched a scene from “Shark Tale” and “The Princess and the Frog”.
Comprehension surveys were given to students to see if they were aware of the African American vernacular used in the films.
Parental surveys were distributed to obtain parents/guardians views on AAVE.
Although the students didn’t realize that they speak AAVE, they
scored higher on the Sweet Clara test than on the Helen Keller
Student survey question # 1:
Pay attention to the way ‘Ray’,
the firefly speaks, is it different
From the way you speak or the
1. The same
2. Almost the same
3. Somewhat the same
With a correlation of 0.21rxy, there appears to be no correlation between
with question # 1 and the results from the Sweet Clara test.
The results of this study demonstrated that the students understood African American Vernacular English and Standard English, but the use of AAVE was more prevalent.
Fourteen students participated in the movie survey.
Two students were pulled out to take assessments.
Two students were assigned to other classes due to negative behavior.
Two students were absent.
Fifteen students took the comprehension tests on Sweet Clara and Helen Keller.
Two students refused to take the tests.
Three students were absent.
Eleven parents completed the survey on AAVE
The results of this study suggests the following inferences:
A need for a larger sample size.
More longitudinal studies
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Parent Consent form
I am a graduate student at Brooklyn College. Presently, I am taking Education 703.22; which is an action research course. As part of my coursework, I chose to concentrate on African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Ebonics and its implementation in schools, as the topic of my research project. Your child has been asked to participate in this project, which examines the awareness of AAVE in students. I am asking that you give your child permission to participate in this project. The intervention of this projected will be conducted twice a week for a period of six weeks. Each student involved in this project will remain confidential no names or other identifying distinctiveness will be used.
Thank you, for your cooperation!
___ Yes, I give my child permission to partake in the project.
___ No, I do not give my child permission to participate in the project.
___ I would like more information on the project, before I grant permission.
Child’s name: ___________________________________________
Parent signature: _________________________________________
To whom it may concern:
My name is Kathia Darius. I am a graduate student at Brooklyn College. Presently, I am taking Education 703.22; which is an action research course. I chose to concentrate on African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Ebonics, and its implementation in schools, as the topic of my research project. I would like to use the scholars from this school as part of my analysis.
I am asking for your consent as the school’s principal, to permit me to use the students at your school for my study. No names (school, teachers, nor students) will be cited in this report. My research will examine the students’ knowledge and awareness of AAVE in their daily activities.
Part A Comprehension
What was Clara’s dream?
Why did Aunt Rachel train Clara to sew?
How old was Clara when she was parted away from her Mother?
What were Clara’s feelings about going to the big house to sew?
Part B Vocabulary-
In your own words, define the following words
Part A- Comprehension
How old was Helen when she became blind and deaf?
How did Helen became blind and deaf?
Why was Helen sometimes out of control?
How did Helen learn how to communicate?
In your own words, define the following words
Ms. Darius May 14, 2010
Hello, my name is Kathia Darius. I am a graduate student at Brooklyn College. Presently, I am taking Education 703.22; which is an action research course. I chose to concentrate on African American Vernacular English (AAVE), also known as Ebonics and its implementation in schools, as the topic of my research project. I would like for you to answer some questions on your feelings toward AAVE. Thank you for your cooperation.
Should African American Vernacular English (AAVE) also known as Ebonics, be taught in schools?
(1) Yes (2) To a certain extent (3) I don’t know (4) No
Would you prefer your child to receive instruction in Standard English or AAVE?
(1) Standard English (2) AAVE (3) I don’t have a preference (4) Undecided
Is AAVE used in your home?
(1) Yes (2) To a certain extent (3) Occasionally (4) Not at all
Do you correct your child if you hear him/her speaking AAVE?
(1) Yes (2) Sometimes (3) Frequently (4) Never
Do you allow your child to watch movies or sitcoms where the characters use AAVE?
(1) Yes (2) Sometimes (3) Frequently (4) Never
Finally, what are your views on AAVE? Do you consider it to be a formal or informal language?
(1) Formal (2) Informal (3) Not certain (4) Undecided
Ms. Darius May 14, 2010
Survey on ‘Shark Tale’/ The princess and the frog
Pay attention to the way ‘Ray’ the firefly speaks, is it different from the way you speak or the same?
(1) The same (2) Almost the same (3) Somewhat the same (4) Different
Ray, the firefly from the movie, “The princess and the frog”, uses the word y’all a great number of times in the movie, what do you think the word y’all mean?
(1) Everybody (2) Every one (3) You all (4) Every
Underline the correct spelling for the word y’all.
(1) I’ll (2) Yawl (3) It’ll (4) You all
Is there anything wrong with the way Ray speaks?
(1) Yes (2) Not really (3) Maybe (4) No
Oscar, the main character in the movie, “Shark Tale”, uses the word ‘yo’ a lot. What do you think the word ‘yo’ mean?
(1) Hello (2) Excuse, me (3) Bye (4) To talk about something
Is there anything wrong with the way Oscar speaks?
(1) Yes (2) Maybe (3) I don’t know (4) No
Do Ray and Oscar speak alike?
(1) Yes (2) Not really (3) I don’t know (4) No
Do you speak like Ray and Oscar?
(1) Yes (2) A lot (3) Sometimes (4) Never
Should we speak like Ray and Oscar in the classroom?
(1) Yes (2) Maybe (3) I don’t know (4) No
Do you know anyone that speaks like Ray and Oscar?
(1) Mom (2) Dad (3) Friends/Classmates (4) My Teacher