One man’s pidgin is another man’s Ebonics

“You doing fine,” asked my grandmother as her Southern voice greeted me during our conversation yesterday.  Listening to her words, nostalgia of South Carolina filled my heart as my brain remembered summers in Spartanburg, my mouth plates of macaroni and cheese, and my tongue words of Ebonics laced in a Southern Accent. Instantly, my tone changed to reflect the language of my grandmother, and to anyone eavesdropping on my conversation, the instantaneous disappearance of my polished English would seem to be the newest mystery of the Twenty-First century! She speaks, therefore I am.

Ironically, thousands of miles away from my home of Spartanburg, South Carolina in Accra, Ghana, I have realized the importance of language or plurality of languages in my own identity. Weeks ago, I had a conversation with a friend, Kobi Graham, aptly named the “funky professor” about the importance of pidgin English in Ghana. Pidgin, termed incorrectly by some as ‘broken English’ is a language with roots in English whose grammar and uses reflect the Ghanaian reality better or more coherently than Standard English can. Hearing Kobi passionately defend pidgin alongside Standard English, I understood his argument but failed to see its relevance in my life or in any country outside of Anglophone West Africa.

Yet as I stood in my room in Ghana talking to my grandmother, I knew that Kobi’s pidgin was my Ebonics, my outlet into my culture and my break from the nuances, clauses, and predicative nominatives of standard English (through which I bore you today). Through Ebonics, a dialect of English mainly spoken by African-Americans in southern United States, I became and continually become whole again as both a scholar and a daughter. Growing up in predominately white school environments, society and classmates taught me to hide my Ebonics in so-called “proper” or white settings. Consequently through a lifetime of code-switching—moving between standard English and Ebonics depending on the environment and color of those around me—I had internalized my own language as some dirty, unwanted step-child to its legitimate brother. However in two minutes of a long distance phone call, I knew there was nothing vulgar, uneducated, or uncouth about speaking Ebonics. I speak it, and in doing so, I continually become me.

As the world becomes more connected through globalization and basic education remains key to poverty reduction, speaking indigenous languages and dialects must not be neglected in the pursuit of  “proper” or official languages in education. Speaking both Standard English and Ebonics allows me to navigate a plethora of emotions, experiences, and cultures that I could not do with one language alone.

One man’s pidgin is another man’s Ebonics.

I speak, therefore I am.


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