MARTIN, Tenn. — “Black English,” or Ebonics, should be used to improve black students’ language skills because traditional teaching methods do not always work, a University of Tennessee-Martin philosophy professor said Tuesday.
Dr. Henry Parker teaches a course on ethics and race in which he discusses how studying Ebonics can help students learn standard English. Ebonics drew attention recently when it was approved for use as a teaching method in Oakland, Calif., schools.
Parker said many sounds in standard English, such as the “th” sound or the “sk” sound, were not used in African languages from which black speech is derived, and many blacks have difficulty hearing these sounds.
Parker said the same phenomenon occurs when learning any foreign language.
“Some sounds in French are almost impossible for Americans to make because we don’t have the sound in our own native English language,” Parker said. “In the same way, the sound system handed down through the generations of African Americans is different than those in standard English.”
Parker said standard English teaching methods are sometimes ineffective because they do not consider these sound differences. They also can degrade students’ self-esteem, he said.
“If we can approach the language of black children with dignity and show them that they are not inferior but simply different, then that will be the criteria to help them understand standard English,” Parker said.
Parker said Ebonics should not be taught as a substitute for standard English, but to help black students overcome language deficiencies that cause problems in school, communication and in the job market.
“We are using it as a contrasted means to teach standard English; that’s a critical point,” Parker said. “We are not trying to canonize Ebonics as a language that kids should use in the corporate world, but just as a tool to teach them how to master standard English.”
Contact: Dr. Henry Parker (901-587-9008)