Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Can Ebonics Be Used By Smart People? [Writing]

I once got an email from someone who criticized the African American heroine of Dead Links for her language. Specifically, the email said Amanda Katt was too smart to be using the kind of urban dialect she uses in the book.

I wrote back that that's the whole point. Amanda Katt speaks what has been called "Ebonics." I prefer the term "Black English." Amanda is from the streets, and talks like it. She uses a lot of contractions, phrases like "up in here" and "that ain't right." This was actually a calculated choice on my part. Amanda Katt is a college graduate, and a successful journalist whose articles have changed laws and taken down whole companies and organizations. She's not stupid. By having her talk the way she does, I wanted to force people to look at Black English differently, not just a way that poor or stupid minorities speak. Some people seem to think Black English is only used by people who are too dumb to know the difference between "ask" and "axe." 

The fact is that a lot of African Americans actually choose to speak the way they do. There are plenty of intelligent and successful African Americans who use Black English. Probably more than most outsiders think. Many famous African Americans admit that they talk differently to their black friends than they do with their white co-workers or the media. There's even a term for it, code-switching. Amanda Katt is the same way. If you read the book carefully, just like real African Americans, Amanda alters her speech patterns based on who she's with. When she's with her fiancee' Lesley or her best friend Blossom, Amanda relaxes and goes full-on Black English. When she's interviewing a subject or talking to authority figures, her speech is more straight. This is typical of a lot of black people, myself included.

What do you think? Is Black English a sign of poor education? Can Black English be used intelligently? Let me know in the comments.


  1. There would be advantages to knowing it, I'm sure. Sadly, most of those where I live who speak that way aren't highly educated, which probably propagates the image.

  2. It's a language that is used when black people want to "keep it real." I've read articles that trace to roots back to several legitimate languages. I don't use it because it just sounds stupid from a private school graduate.

  3. I would say it's a cultural preference. I don't think I'd understand it. Something like when I speak Spanlish with my family and close friends. It's a language within our culture and has nothing to do with education.


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