Ebonics: To Be or Not To Be

by Eden Bryant

Is there a place for Ebonics in the wonderful world of writing? I am of the opinion that the jury is still out on this issue. Oddly, this is one area where the answer will be as satisfying as the OJ Simpson findings; filed perhaps under “Kinda guilty?” I have drawn my conclusion and invite your opinion.

To address this phenomenon is challenging at best. Some writers will, immediately, if not sooner, say there is absolutely no place in writing for Ebonics. Period. Why, they had rather not see Ebonics anywhere…ever! Thank you very much! I think that response is, in a word (or two), shortsighted perhaps even, forbid, close-minded.

There are others who suggest that Ebonics has a very real place in writing for it is authentic. People speak using all manner of colloquialisms.

So if y’all is gonna talk about me and my boys goin’ to the sto’ den Imma check y’all at the do’. Breathe 2, 3, 4; do not hyperventilate, O, ye, Dramatic Ones. This is merely free expression. Cosby would probably revoke my writer’s privileges. However, the more he talks, the less I listen; becoming less and less interested in what Cosby thinks. Yes, money talks but, oh, what is it saying? Oh, yeah, now I remember...

Moving right along, there are some prolific writers in the urban setting. It is my life’s dream to write as relevantly/eloquently as they do. I wanna know how Stella got here groove back and while I’m at it, I’d like to exhale finally and dive into a steaming hot plate of soul food any way the wind blows. Yes, I too, am America and my answer regarding the use of Ebonics is taken from a song that my father once loved, simply “Different strokes for different folks.”

Yes, I am of the school of thought that Ebonics is dependent upon the who, what and where of the writing. If I were writing contemporarily, I would employ Ebonics as a literary tool in a NY nanosecond.

Let us say a young man, Abdul, yup, Abdul, is going to call Keisha to ask if he may visit her. Abdul and Keisha have been dating for some time. He is 22 and she is 19. They live in a large urban setting, where drugs sometimes outnumber hugs. Not Iowa but Dee-troit.

You may write what you like but I am going to write the conversation thusly.

He calls, “Yo, Keish, what’s up Baby?”

She responds, “Hey, Abdul. How you doin’?”

“Oh, Girl, I'm just chillin’ and thinking’ boutchoo. I’m thinking of hopping da Metro and bringin’ some noise up your way.”

“Oh, yeah. That’s sounds cool.”

He asks, “Me and my Pops going bowling later on, you wanna come wit’ us, Boo?”

“Yeah, I guess...” She pauses.

“Whassup, Sexy? Why you all talking slow and everything? You don wanna come wit us? ”

“Well, Abdul, I got something to do later.”

“Oh...like???” He probes.

“I don’t know if I should tell you,” hesitatingly.

“I'm waitin'.”

“Me and Danita hangin’ out.”

He gets upset, “Why you gotta hang out wit’ her? Dag.”

“See, that’s why I ain’t wanna tell you nothin’”

“Naw, it’s cool, Key. But you realize that you known by the company you keep. That's all I'm sayin' ”

“Whatever.” She really is tired of the constant tirade against her best friend reasoning lots of girls get pregnant. It ain’t like she did it to herself but ain’t nobody talking bout Jerry. They were talking about Keisha getting kicked out of school while them ball scouts were buying Jerry a new car.

“Look, Imma see you in a bit.”


“Love you, Boo.”

“That’s what’s up. Me too.”

He picks his Walkman up and walks to the bus stop.


I believe the above represents authentic dialogue for those two fictional young people. It is driven by where they are environmentally and how they naturally communicate. I think Ebonics has a place in American literature if we, as writers, wish to offer authentic dialogue. However, we should be careful that the writing is up to standard; making it both, easy to understand and marketable. If one's desire is to write professionally one mustn't do the Electric Slide in ancient Greece.

I believe writers should use Ebonics or encourage the use of Ebonics only if the reader is concurrently encouraged to read and speak the King’s English. Of course, my assumption is that the writer is, pardon the pun, well-versed in both. In other words, it is necessary to be 'bilingual' in this instance.

Lastly, teachers, counselors and others serving urban youth should acquaint themselves with Ebonics if they are to fully communicate with young people. Knowwha'Imean? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Thanks for reading! Peace to you and yours.

Ebonics: To Be or Not To Be by Eden Bryant

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. No portion of this work may be duplicated or copied without the expressed written consent of the author.

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