Ebonics Research - A Translator & Language Rules
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Tue, 14 Jan 97 17:51:37 -0800
Subject: Ebonics Research - A Translator & Language Rules
From: an anonymous Fun_Person
A friend of mine sent me the following web page with an exceptionally
irreverent "Ebonics Translator" -- you send mail to a particular email
address, and it emails you back the body of your message translated into
For example, I sent it the preamble to the Constitution, and it returned
We, de sucka's, in o'da' to fo'm some mo'e puh'fect union,
establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide fo' de
common defense, promote da damn general welfare, and secure da
damn blessin's uh liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do
o'dain and establish dis constitushun fo' de United States uh
It also rewrites the headers of the messages, which is one of the
funnier parts, but I'll leave that for you to see if you're interested.
The web address is: http://www.auburn.edu/~ralphwc/ebonics.html.
The mail address (which the web page eventually points you to) is:
======== The Linguistic Side =======================================
For the record, this is an excerpt from a linguistically oriented friend
of mine responding to a request for the actual rules for ebonics, as there
doesn't seem to be anything concise written on the net.
As for the Ebonics which was coined in 1973 from Ebony + Phonics--
(whose motto coincidentally is: "Hook on Phonic be wokin fo me"...I
digress), there are several rules. First of all, it is a "language" in the
eyes of linguists and the money grubbing Oakland School District because it
is rule bound. It used to be called Black English (BE) or Black Standard
English (BSE), but Ebonics must sound more academic or something. (Does
this mean the African Americans who speak Ebonics will want to be called
Ok, back to the rules.
1. Vowel deletion: /r/ is deleted except before a vowel, making such words
as guard and god pronounced the same. Maybe this is why some basketball
stars have reached diety status (pause for laughter...). Sometimes the r
is also deleted between vowels--it depends on the speaker's dialect.
/l/ is also deleted by many speakers. toll=toe, help=hep
2. Consonant Cluster Simplification: Speakers simplify the consonant
clusters at the end of words when one of the consonants is /t/,/d/,/s/,or
/z/. This is why past tense morphemes tend to be omitted. For example, "I
walk to school yesterday" is the past tense construction in BE. This gets
even more complicated when you also add the "l-deletion" rule. The word
"told" ends up being pronounced toe. But, despite the fact that this is a
rule, it is an optional rule. So these changes may or may not occur. There
are several other types of phonemic distinctions, but I'll just leave it as
this for now.
3. Negations: When a verb is negated, the indefinite pronouns become
negative indefinites. Affirmative: He like somebody. Negative: He like
4. Present-tense verb forms: BE makes them regular and doesn't add "s"
endings to the third-person singular verbs. He loves his dog = He love his
5. To be verbs...Whenever Standard speakers use a contraction (she's), BEs
don't. He's nice=He nice. But, don't omit the "to be" if a contraction
can't be used.
If a speaker is referring to a habitual action, she uses "be". "I be
always happy", as compared to "I happy now".
6. Denoting possession: Delete -'s when the word order already makes
possession clear. That is John's house = That John house.
© 1997 Peter Langston