C5

146

C5

CREOLE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UK AND US

C U R R E N T D E B AT E S I N G L O B A L E N G L I S H E S

The examples of pidgin English in unit B5 were taken mainly from the Pacific pidgin,
Tok Pisin. In C5, we focus on two contemporary varieties of English that originated
in the Atlantic in the creoles of West Africa and the Caribbean: London Jamaican
(more recently called ‘Multicultural London English’ and ‘Jafaican’), and AfricanAmerican Vernacular English (also known as ‘African-American Black English’ and
‘Ebonics’).
London Jamaican

Over the past couple of decades, interest has grown in this London creole, or patois
(also patwa), as it is often called by its users, although they may also refer to it as
‘Black Talk’, ‘Nation Language’, and ‘Black Slang’ (Sebba 2007). It was originally known
in academic circles (and sometimes still is) as London Jamaican, reflecting the strong
Jamaican influence on the working class speech of many young Londoners regardless
of their own first language and ethnicity. More recently, though, the term ‘Jafaican’
(roughly, ‘fake Jamaican’) has taken over in the media where it probably originated
(Cheshire, Kerswill, Fox and Torgerson 2011). Meanwhile, some scholars now prefer
‘Multicultural London English’ as better reflecting the more recent and wider range
of linguistic influences involved since the term London Jamaican was first coined. For
though the variety still borrows most heavily from Jamaican creole, it also contains
elements of Panjabi, Hindi, Gujurati, Urdu, Kurdish, Turkish, and other languages
(Harris 2008).
As Sebba (2007: 279) points out, “Jamaican Creole emerged as the ‘heritage language’ used among the second generation [of migrants from the Caribbean], even
those whose parents were not Jamaican Creole speakers” and is “used as a symbol of
group identity by ‘Black British’ children and adolescents – as well as by some White
adolescents in friendship groups with Black peers” (see Rampton 1995/2005 on the
use of minority language varieties by members of ethnic outgroups, a phenomenon
known as language crossing). For its Black British speakers, then, Jamaican Creole
reflects the process of recreolisation, where a creole that has moved further along the
Creole Continuum in the direction of the standard language, shifts back towards
earlier creole forms (see Romaine 1988: 188–203, Sebba 1997: 225–227, 233, Todd
1990: 61–65).
The (re)emergence of pidgins and creoles as well as varieties such as MLE
are thus part of the wider phenomenon of super-diversity which, itself, has arisen
from the increase in migration resulting from globalisation, and led to widespread
mixing and meshing of linguistic resources. This more recent process contrasts
with pre-globalisation adherence to relatively stable, bounded language varieties.
It means, in turn, that increasingly we are seeing the emergence of plurilingual
linguistic forms at the intersection of two or more language communities (Blommaert
and Rampton 2011), of which Multilingual London English (henceforth MLE) is
a good example. MLE is spoken, as its name suggests, in the London area. But
having emerged in the London region as a relatively uniform variety regardless of
the ethnicities of its users, it has spread further afield, primarily to other English
inner city areas.

CREOLE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UK AND US

147

Research into MLE is young, and up to now there have been relatively few
academic publications describing its nature. Meanwhile, the principal influence
on MLE’s make-up is still considered to be Jamaican Creole rather than Panjabi,
Turkish, Kurdish, and the like. So while not forgetting that “the concept of London
Jamaican now looks too narrow to encompass the linguistic ethnographic realities
we see on the ground in London” and beyond (Roxy Harris, personal communication), in the section that follows I focus on the Jamaican Creole elements of
MLE. And in doing so, I continue to use the term ‘London Jamaican’ where my
sources do so. Readers interested in exploring MLE further will find a detailed
analysis of two of its features in Cheshire, Kerswill, Fox and Torgerson (2011),
as well as a list of their other papers and publications (including some made available
in pdf) on the website of their research project, ‘Multicultural London English:
the emergence, acquisition and diffusion of a new variety’ (Economic and Social
Research Council, 2007–2010) at: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/my-esrc/grants/RES-06223–0814/read.
Jamaican Creole influences on MLE

Since most speakers of Jamaican Creole are also fluent in British English, they do
not need creole for communicative functions and use it, rather, as a powerful marker
of group identity. It serves this function even for speakers who have limited fluency
in creole, and who are only able to smatter their conversation with token creole
features such as stereotypical Creole words and pronunciations (Sebba 2007: 281).
In other words, as Sebba goes on to say, “Creole in the London context is a speech
style, defined by the participants of an interaction in contrast with ‘English’, and
marked by a selection of salient ‘non-English’ features”. He points out the cultural
attraction that Creole holds for its speakers and its value as a “non-legitimated
variety”, arguing that this accounts for the fact that London Jamaican focuses on
Jamaican Creole instead of the many other mother tongue creoles of its speakers,
and adding that “it is often not learnt in the family home, but at school and from
the peer group” (1997: 233).
The most comprehensive account of London Jamaican is that of Sebba (1993).
He examines in detail the features of Jamaican Creole in Britain and shows how the
speech code-switches between London Jamaican and London English (Cockney).
In this section, some of the details are also taken from a master’s dissertation by
Graham (2000). Graham was convinced that the patois of the black youth living
in her part of Brixton (South London) differed in striking ways from the London
English of the local white youth, and that these black adolescents were engaging in
acts of identity by looking to their Jamaican roots for some aspects of their speech
style. She set out to find out precisely which features of Jamaican Creole they did
and did not adopt.
Jamaican Creole grammatical features in the London Jamaican data:


interchangeable use of pronouns, e.g. ‘mi’ and ‘I’ both used for ‘I’ and ‘me’; ‘im’, ‘i’
both used for he, she, it, him, her, its, his, hers, its
use of present tense for both present and past, e.g. ‘an I se’ meaning ‘and I said’
elimination of tense suffixes -s, -ed, -t and participle endings -ing

C5

C5

148


C U R R E N T D E B AT E S I N G L O B A L E N G L I S H E S

-ed, -en, -t, e.g. ‘yu bret stink’ for ‘your breath stinks’
negation with ‘no’, often with phonological changes, as in ‘no bret stink’ for standard
English ‘my breath doesn’t stink’.

Jamaican Creole phonological features in the London Jamaican data:




substitution of /θ/ and /ð/ with /t/ and /d/ e.g. ‘bret’ for ‘breath’ and ‘dis’ for
‘this’ (whereas speakers of London English substitute these sounds with /f/
and /v/)
labialisation when the sound /b/ is followed by certain vowels, e.g. ‘boys’ is pronounced ‘bwoys’
dropping of word-final consonants, e.g. ‘bulleh’ for ‘bullet’
realisation of the vowel sounds /‫ܥ‬/ and /‫ޝܧ‬/ as /a‫ޝ‬/ so that ‘cloth’ becomes
‘klaat’
lack of weak vowels especially schwa, so that, e.g. the word ‘rapper’ is pronounced
[rapa] rather than [rapԥ] and the article ‘the’ is regularly pronounced [da]
and [di].

Jamaican Creole lexical features in the London Jamaican data:

Graham quotes from Hewitt (1986: 129–130) including ‘mash-up’ (‘destroy’),
‘picky-picky’ (‘frizzy’, of hair), and ‘duppy’ (‘ghost’). However, she repeats Hewitt’s
(1986) caution that words of Jamaican Creole origin may also be used by speakers
from other groups including whites and non-Caribbean blacks.
Examples in Graham’s own data include the taboo Jamaican Creole words ‘bombklaat’ (‘toilet paper’) and ‘blodklaat’ (‘sanitary towel’).

Features of the London Jamaican data which are also markers of London English but
do not occur in Jamaican Creole are as follows:


the glottal stop (represented by ‫)ݦ‬, e.g. ‘ghetto’ pronounced [ge‫ݦ‬o] and ‘gotta’
as [go‫ݦ‬a]
vocalisation of dark ‘l’ (the RP /l/ sound when it is followed by a pause or a
consonant) e.g. ‘bill’ as ‘biw’, and ‘help’ as ‘hewp’, whereas in Jamaican Creole, this
‘l’ is pronounced as clear ‘l’ (the RP ‘l’ sound when it is followed by a vowel)
substitution of /θ/ and /ð/ with /f/ and /v/ alongside /t/ and /d/.

These are some other features of Jamaican Creole (from Sebba 1993). The first two
also occur in London Jamaican, but the third and fourth do not:



lack of inversion in question forms, as in ‘im did phone you?’
absence of the copula, as in ‘dis party well rude’
the addition of the sound /h/ to the beginnings of words which start with vowel
sounds e.g. ‘accent’ pronounced ‘haccent’.
use of the suffix ‘dem’ added to a noun to indicate plurality, e.g. ‘man-dem’ meaning
‘men’, or a large quantity as in ‘kaan-dem’ (‘a lot of corn’).

C5

150

C U R R E N T D E B AT E S I N G L O B A L E N G L I S H E S

Ebonics

Pandey (2000: 1) notes that “[f]or many Americans, the variety referred to as ‘Ebonics’
or African-American Vernacular English [AAVE] is simply ‘improper speech’ that
they neither respect nor recognize”. Wolfram (2006: 328) points out that despite the
popular use of the term Ebonics, many linguists prefer AAVE “because of the strong
emotional reactions and racist parodies sometimes engendered by the use of the term
Ebonics” (see unit B3 for examples of racist attitudes towards speakers of AAVE on
the Oprah Winfrey Show). Other terms in fairly common use are BE (Black Vernacular
English), and BE (Black English).
Wolfram (2006: 330) lists a number of distinguishing features of AAVE. These
include:





habitual be for intermittent activity, e.g. Sometimes my ears be itching.
absence of copula for contracted forms of is and are, e.g. She nice.
present tense, third-person -s absence, e.g. She walk.
ain’t for didn’t, e.g. He ain’t do it.
reduction of final consonant clusters when followed by a word beginning with
a vowel, e.g. lif ’ up for lift up.
use of [f] and [v] for final th, e.g. toof for tooth, smoov for smooth.

Some of these features occur in other stigmatised varieties of British and American
English (see B3). But as Wolfram points out, the uniqueness of AAVE lies “in the
particular combination of structures that make up the dialect”, and to this day, there
is still no agreement about how Ebonics developed. It is, nevertheless, “a distinct,
robust, and stable socio-ethnic dialect of English that is maintaining itself ”, and whose
“growing sense of linguistic solidarity and identity among African Americans” is unifying
the dialect across different localities, while its “everyday uses of language . . . encompass
the full range of communicative functions” (Wolfram 2006: 340). See also Wikipedia,
which has a particularly informative entry on the origins, features, social context,
educational and other issues relating to AAVE at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
African_American_Vernacular_English
But we turn now to a major controversy about this variety, the ‘Ebonics debate’,
which exploded in the mid-1990s. While there has been significant scholarship since
the original debate, particularly by John Rickford and John Baugh, issues around equal
educational access and opportunity remain as salient now as they were at the time of
the debate (Maggie Hawkins, personal communication).
The Ebonics debate

On 18 December 1996, the School Board in Oakland, California, passed a resolution
regarding its policy in relation to the language skills of African-American pupils.
Despite the various attempts that had been made by the Board up until that point,
these pupils had continued to exhibit far higher levels of illiteracy than their peer
group. The Board decided on a novel approach: to treat African-American pupils in
the same way that they had treated Asians and Hispanics. In other words, they proposed
teaching them Standard English through their ‘mother tongue’, African-American
Vernacular English (AAVE), also commonly known as Ebonics (from ‘ebony’ and

CREOLE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UK AND US

151

‘phonics’). As the pupils’ English skills improved, the teaching of other subjects through
the medium of English would then be phased in.
The Oakland Board’s resolution included the following claims:




Many African-Americans speak Ebonics.
Ebonics is not a debased dialect or jargon but a valid linguistic system influenced
by the West and Niger-Congo languages spoken by their ancestors.
African Language Systems are genetically based.
Ebonics could and should be used as a medium for the children who were being
failed by the current education system.
Funds would be set aside for the devising and implementing of a teaching program in Ebonics.
(Todd 1997: 13–14)

There was an immediate and highly polarised outcry. These are some of the responses
(taken from McArthur 1998: 217–219):
From the San Francisco Chronicle, 21 December 1996
Tatum Willoughby, a fifth-grade student at Prescott Elementary on Campbell
Street in West Oakland, used to cry because she had trouble ‘speaking the right
language,’ as she calls it. The bright African American child tried hard to translate
the phrases and words she uses at home – black English – into the standard
English her teacher said would help her excel. But after months of being taught
through a program that recognizes that African American children may come into
the classroom using Ebonics . . . Tatum reads her essays with pride. Occasionally,
the 10-year-old slips into black English, such as saying ‘dis’ for ‘this.’ But she quickly
corrects herself. ‘Most people won’t understand you if you speak (black English),’
Tatum said.
(front page: Thaai Walker and Nanette Asimov)
I think it’s tragic. Here we have young black kids who are incapable in far too many
cases of negotiating even the most basic transactions in our society because of
their inability to communicate . . . We’re going to legitimize what they’re doing. To
me it’s just ass backwards.
(editorial section: quoted comment by Ward Connerly,
a University of California regent)
If people are not willing to accept ebonics as a second language, then they should
at least accept that African American students are not achieving at the level they
need to, and we need to do something about that.
(editorial section: quoted comment by Alan Young, director of
state and federal programs, Oakland school board)
Editor – I am absolutely thrilled at the Oakland school district’s choice of ebonics
as the language of choice in the classroom. I expect that very shortly we will see
New York punks being taught in Brooklonics, Georgia rednecks in Ya’allonics, Valley

C5

C5

152

C U R R E N T D E B AT E S I N G L O B A L E N G L I S H E S

girls in Bimbonics, chronic nerds in Siliconics and farm boys in Rubiconics. But
what most of us need to keep up with the bureaucrats is a thorough
understanding of Moronics.
(letter section: Richard Ogar of Berkeley)
Editor – The real goal of those backing this move is multiculturalism, as opposed to
the melting pot society which is what made this nation so successful. If the U.S. is
to remain a leading economic and social force as we enter the 21st century, we
must not allow the PC crowd to have its way in imposing multiculturalism on the
nation. The action of the Oakland school board does a tremendous disservice to
black students, and I hope it is soundly rebuked by higher authorities, without
whose funding it cannot succeed.
(letter section: from Jack D. Bernal in San Francisco)
From The Oakland Tribune, 21 December 1996
The [board’s] report offers sound goals – African-American students will become
proficient in reading, speaking and writing standard English. It recommends greater
involvement of parents and incentives for teachers who tackle these challenges.
The Ebonics approach would presumably make African-American students eligible
for state and federal bilingual funds, giving the district more resources to provide
additional help for them. District officials deny the approach is a strategy to get
more funding. There’s nothing wrong with looking for additional ways to help
a population that is struggling in the public school system. But making nonstandard English a language undermines the very goals the board has embraced.
It sends a wrong and confusing message to students. If what they are speaking
is a language, what’s the urgency of learning another language?
(front page: Brenda Payton)
From The International Herald Tribune, 24–25 December 1996
The Reverend Jesse Jackson said Sunday that the school board in Oakland,
California, was both foolish and insulting to black students throughout the United
States when it declared that many of its black students speak a language distinct
from traditional English . . . ‘I understand the attempt to reach out to these children,
but this is an unacceptable surrender, borderlining on disgrace,’ he said. ‘It’s
teaching down to our children’ . . . Mr Jackson said the Oakland board had become
a laughingstock, and he urged its members to reverse their decision.
(‘Jesse Jackson Ridicules Acceptance of Black English’, by Neil A. Lewis)
From The New York Times, 26 December 1996
To the Editor: The California State Board of Education endorsed ebonics in 1991,
and the State Department of Education has financed research institutes and
conferences that have studied the subject exclusively. I spoke at two such
conferences this year alone. Oakland’s school board is not the first district to apply
this policy. Los Angeles and San Diego have used it for years . . . Those like the

CREOLE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE UK AND US

153

Rev. Jesse Jackson, who seek the quick headline will find themselves out of step
with the legitimate demands for cutting-edge education.
(letter by John W. Templeton, Executive Editor, Aspire Books, San Francisco)
From The New York Times, 14 January 1997
Hoping to quell the uproar set off by its resolution to treat black English as
a second language in its classrooms, the Oakland school board will scratch part
of a plan that suggested it would offer instruction in the tongue that some linguists
call ebonics, school officials said today. After almost a month of national debate
and a weekend of sometimes tense meetings here, the Oakland schools task force
that introduced the black English policy . . . produced a new resolution on Sunday
that calls only for the recognition of language differences among black students in
order to improve their proficiency in English. ‘The debate is over,’ the head of the
task force, Sylvester Hodges, said. ‘We are hoping that people will understand that
and will join us.’ . . . The many writers, educators and politicians who have attacked
the school board’s original plan have tended to agree that the issue is perhaps
more about the symbolism than the specifics of what black children in Oakland
might be taught.
(‘Oakland Scratches Plan To Teach Black English’, by Tim Golden)
From The Economist (UK) 4 January, 1997
The school board thought it might help if the slang these children used at home
were recognized as a distinct primary language, separate from English, and
if teachers showed respect for this language and used it in the classroom, as
a means to bridge the gap between standard English and the speech of the
ghetto . . . The quasi-language in question has been christened ‘Ebonics’, a lumpish
blend of ‘ebony’ and ‘phonics’. Supporters of Ebonics say it derives from the
structures of Niger-Congo African languages and marks the persistent legacy
of slavery. Other linguistic scholars note that some usages have appeared only
recently, as the ghettos have become more isolated from mainstream
American life.

Jenkins, J. (2015). Global Englishes: A resourse book for students (3rd ed.). New York: Routledge.

C5

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful