Several days ago, I received an e-mail from an editor informing me that the next edition of his online publication would include an article about ebonics. (For those who are unaware, ebonics is a term that results from the fusion of ebony and phonics. It is a unique and complex language system that was birthed through the African-American community.) When I read the e-mail from the editor about what his next publication would include, I was pleased to learn that someone was thinking critically about ebonics. For quite some time now, I have been interested in the ideas people have about subversive language systems. In reflecting on the soon forthcoming article about ebonics further, I found myself thinking that it is a good idea for writers to make use of the language in the world of creative writing. Here are two reasons why.
1. It Replicates Reality.
Irrespective of one’s ideological view regarding whether people should use a language system that is considered grammatically incorrect, it should be stated that many individuals do use it in their every day lives. This fact becomes plain when one considers how common it is to hear people make statements like “They laughing” instead of “They are laughing.” Although some might not know it, the first phrase constitutes ebonics because of the intentional omission of the “be” verb. Hearing such phrases is not unusual in many regions where English is spoken, and that is why textual representations of such language can be advantageous. In essence, writing out a dialogue that contains people speaking in ebonics parallels the way many individuals speak to one another in reality. Thus the true-to-life textual representation will likely appeal to readers who enjoy narratives that depict events that can and do transpire outside the world of the text.
2. It Tends To Be Textually Shocking.
I found this out personally when I came across a sentence in a book that contained an intentional misuse of the “be” verb. Here is an excerpt from the paragraph in which the ungrammatical mutation of the verb appears:
People tend to be predictable. Although they may show some openness to innovation and change, for the most part people love standing right in the center of their personal comfort zones…As I love to tell my students, “people is people.” I make use of this reality in sermon preparation.
In my mind, the phrase people is people was a bit surprising. In general, I am not accustomed to seeing writers express themselves textually with ebonics. Although I don’t find it problematic, it’s very unusual for me. And that’s the point. Seeing ebonics on the printed page tends to be textually shocking given the reader’s expectation that the writer will use formal English to express her or his ideas. Moreover, readers are drawn to elements of written works that contain concepts or ideas that are somehow strange or unusual. And, given how normative it is for ideas to be read through the lens of standard English grammar, seeing ebonics in print can definitely constitute something odd.
As mentioned earlier, writing that includes discourse or ideas communicated through the use of ebonics can be advantageous for writers. The fact that it can be textually shocking and a true-to-life representation of reality are just two reasons why. Many more exist, and that’s why I encourage writers to implement this literary strategy when constructing new works. Good luck!
Guthrie, Tony. Crossing The Homiletical Bridge. Cumming: Heartworks Publication, 2010. Print.
Jocelyn Crawley is a 28-year-old college student currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree in preparation to become a pastor. She holds B.A. degrees in English and Religious Studies. Her work has appeared in Jerry Jazz Musician, Nailpolish Stories, Visceral Uterus, Dead Beats, Four and Twenty, and Haggard and Halloo. Other stories are forthcoming in Faces of Feminism, The Idiom, Thrice Fiction and Calliope.