Linguist John McWhorter comes to the defence of the African American Vernacular English (also called ebonics) as a distinct dialect of English with its own complex grammar – rather than an abberation – in this rather enlightening podcast on NPR. Recent discussions in my sociolinguistics class have focussed on the big controversy about the language (as it should be properly called) and teaching and cultural attitudes in the United States. Is the slang (as some have pejoratively called it) coming over to challenge the dominance of real English? And what exactly does it mean to make provisions for acknowledging its status (AAVE) as a language in the classroom when there exists a whole lot of other learners (like genuinely disadvantaged white kids) who have to take instructions in standard English, without any special preferences. It is fascinating, the discussions.
The part that gets me thinking however is how this relates to the language situation in Nigeria at the moment, with pidgin (which should appropriately be called a creole actually, since pidgins are more defined by simple grammars and spoken only by first contact generations alone) still being relegated to a low status position in a society from where it has evolved into its own place over many years. With an equally complex and systematically observable grammar, form and lexicon, the language has become a lubricant in the multilingual dynamic of our nation with its over 500 languages. The situation is not any different from what is happening in the US, at the moment, in fact. The codification of language usually takes informal means, and after a few generations become standard in their own place with or without government sanctioning. It has happened with AAVE as it has with Nigerian Pidgin, Jamaican/Haitian patois, among others. All that remains is the right institutional sanctioning to make them more relevant in official discourse. PS: Nigerian Pidgin could also do with a new name of its own.