Word Up!

There are few things that can get a crowd of Black folk in high spirits like “Turn up!” But why? What forces are at work when Ebonics is used in a communal setting? In conversations about Ebonics, people usually automatically gravitate to African American Vernacular English (AAVE). But if there is anything to be learned about Black people, it is the beauty of the diaspora. Black dialects and vernaculars spread across the globe. Whether they manifest as a cultural chronicle of variance from “standard” language, or if they stand alone as their own embodiment; Black forms of speech and communication reach many different nationalities. Flore Zéphir, a faculty member in the Department of Romance Languages & Literature at the University of Missouri, has studied Black dialects and vernaculars for more than 20 years. She notes that the existence of Black languages, specifically of Haitian Creole, is a direct effect of European settlers colonizing Black bodies. “Those varieties [of Black languages] are the reasons of slavery,” Zéphir said. “Those African languages all came into contact with another European language. In some case it was the Portuguese, some the French, and some the English.” Transnationality offers an expanded view of Blackness that brings up relevance of the duality of Black pain/suffering and Black joy/happiness. We thrive because our ancestors survived. Therefore, it is important to acknowledge the international impact that Blackness has had on language and linguistics. “Creole languages are contact languages,” said Zéphir. “Whether it’s the Haitian Creole, whether it’s the creole spoken in Jamaica which is English based, or whatever.” Languages have existed since about 100,000 BC and live everywhere that there are people. Of the 6,912 living languages, 516 of them are nearly extinct. Even in extinction, languages offer insight to what communication was and can be. Language is one of the few things to cross ableist barriers and colonialist borders in order to allow interpersonal connections. The presence of Black identity has shown potential to add an essence of air to aspects of life.
“It’s just a variety of a language. There’s nothing that needs to be repaired” -Flore Zéphir, linguist
Black American Sign Language (BASL) not only exists, but thrives as yet another way for communication to happen between Black diasporic people. The aforementioned duality of Black dialects and vernaculars being so artistically condescended as “less than,” speaks to the universal and historical implications of belittling Black cultures. “People can be speakers of a particular variety and be told by others “oh you speak that broken language, it’s because you are poor, you are uneducated, you should be ashamed of yourself!”” said Zéphir. “It’s just a variety of a language. There’s nothing that needs to be repaired.” Whether a person is a speaker of a certain Creole, Patois, or not necessarily a “speaker” of anything, one this is certain: the reach of Blackness touches every crevice of living culture, even the interpersonal connective nature of language.   Sierra Boone is a junior studying journalism and African American studies. A Detroit native, she believes that there is nothing a little J Dilla cannot solve. Her interests include discussing womanism, playing with (other people’s) children, and carbs. See some of Sierra’s work at her website and follow her on Twitter at @Sierra_Writes.


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