English is Dead

As I was watching a TV piece about the English language, I realized that being lazy is not an excuse to act ignorant . That’s because this ‘educational’, show attempted to point out that Ebonics and other forms of slang-uage are just another form of the English language.

By the time the hour was up, I concluded that the English language is in deep shit.  A little voice inside my head asked, “Does ‘Latin is a dead language,’ ring a bell?”

The producers had a plethora of finely educated men and women who work in the field of language to present the point the Ebonics is the molding of two forms of speech ; These educated people also said that the fact that Ebonics is being spoken is a case-study of how our current English language has evolved from the old English of yester-year.

It was in the 70 ‘ s that I first heard what is called ‘Ebonics,’ however back then it was known as ‘Jive.’ The best example I can think of was during the movie “Airplane,” where the two then Black men talking ‘jive.’

It was humorous send up meant to be a spoof of an inner­ city language that only the two men should have known. It was made even funnier by the fact that an older White woman joined in their conversation.

And to really send the ‘gag’ into hysterics, the woman was played by Barbara Billingsly, the mother from ‘Leave it to Beaver. ‘

About five years before the movie premiered I recall my father coming home and saying that many of the ‘Blacks’ at the airbase were all pissed off because a new directive had been issued stating that ‘jive’ was no longer to be spoken while on duty. That is when I became interested in this language and asked my friend John about it.

He is Black and about 5 or 6 years older than me. He said that he never learned to speak it and that he thought it was the ‘dumbest’ thing he had ever heard of.

John ‘s take on speaking ‘jive’ was that, “It’s just the lazy way out of learning the harder rules of English.”

Years later I ended up working with two women who spoke Ebonics to each other at work. One was a dispatcher and the other worked as a telephone reservationist.

They would sometimes ‘forget’ to speak proper English, leaving the rest of the company and customers confused. The company eventually established a rule that said everyone had to use the ‘Universal language of English.’

Now, I am hearing a new kind of language among my many Latino friends call Spanglish. It is a curious mixture of Mexican and English, with words tossed together like a three-bean salad .

I understand very little Mexican or Spanish and I speak nothing of either; however I do know that there is real verb confusion between English, Mexican and Spanish languages. This has led some of my friend to ‘learning to speak both languages poorly,’ as my friend Hector points out.

“I go home and speak to my parents and grandparents in their ‘native ‘ tongue,” Hector explains. “Then I find myself being corrected because I have learned to confuse the verb which naturally occurs before the noun.”

In essence, Hector says he has changed the Mexican/Spanish language to fit the rules of English. He also realizes that he is hurting his english speaking skills by molding the two languages together.

This is what I believe has happened too many of our Black youth and in some cases middle-aged population. They grew up learning to ‘jive’ and nobody took the time to correct it.

Now finely educated men and women are attempting legitimize these ‘poor language’ habits.

The next time you see a ‘famous athlete’ at a press conference, listen and see if he or she is speaking in a clear and defined way. Honestly, there are times these interviews are to painful for me to listen too because of the inability of the speaker to form proper sentence structure.

What is more amazing is the fact that some of my Asian friends, one from mainland China, a couple from Japan and another who escaped North Korea are far more literate in the formation of a sentence spoken in English than most U.S. citizens. It leaves me to wonder if there is an ‘Asian’ form of slang-uage that is not being noticed.

If there is, it has not become mainstreamed like Ebonics or Spanglish.

The only reference I could to a possible trend within the Asian community ·belonged to that of the gang life-style.

There is also the effect that misspeaking one’s own preferred language created the unwanted affect of ignorance. I can’t speak Portuguese even though half my family comes from the Azores on my mother’ s side, so I don ‘t even bother trying. It would make me look pathetic.

However having hung out around ranches and cowpokes, I have also been the point of ridicule, because I will not submit to the slang-uage and misuse of English. It’s not because I prefer to ‘sound’ smarter than everyone around me or than I really am…it’s because I don ‘t want to pick up any permanent ‘bad habits. ‘

Here is an example: the slang word for, ‘you all,’ is ‘y’all.’

Though fun to say and easier than saying ‘everyone,’ I think everybody should be able to recognize that ‘you all. in and of itself is simply bad grammar.


It started in the early fall of the previous year, the television ads for the mini-series, “Roots,” written by Alex Haley. As the TV event neared, my dad announced that he wanted to get a color TV.

Excited, we kids couldn’t have agreed more with the idea of a color TV set. We had an old black and white console set that had been new long before moving to the coast.

It’s label was so worn out that we couldn’t even figure out its brand name.

Within a couple of days, our parents drove the 60 miles south to Arcata and bought an MGA color television set. It was a pricey-purchase, something my folks could hardly afford, but they did it anyway.

It made us kids feel like the richest people in the neighborhood. We didn’t know other families already had color TVs in their homes—-maybe ever more than one in some cases.

The six of us sat in front of our new color TV and watched the historically based mini-series from start to finish. I think it was the first and perhaps the last time we all agreed on what to watch as a family.

Mom reminded me about the events that caused her and dad to purchase the color TV a few months before she passed away. She thought wanting to watch one TV show wasn’t worth the price of that new color television set.

Looking back, it wasn’t about the television set or the mini-series. It was about a slightly twisted sense of humor and some purposeful wordplay: Dad wanted to see “Roots,” on a “colored TV.”