`Black' English gains California credence

In what some hail as an overdue move to help Afro-American students, but which others denounce as political correctness run amok, a Californian city is for the first time to recognise "black English" as a separate language, and seek bilingual educational help for students who speak it.

The benchmark decision by the school board of Oakland, near San Francisco, is aimed at enabling black students to make the transition in a "culturally sensitive" way to standard English.

In effect, the recommendation acknowledges black English - or "Ebonic" - as being linked to a separate culture. Some say its syntax can be traced back to Africa; peculiarities include unusual forms of the verb "to be", and idiosyncratic use of "gone" and "done" as auxiliary verbs.

Defenders of the scheme say that pilot projects involving 100 Oakland teachers have produced big improvements in language skills among African American students. But its foes insist it will only make a bad situation worse.

"The idea of treating littleblack kids as bilingual is an abomination," Professor John McWhorter of Berkeley University told the Oakland Tribune, "I say that as a black linguist. This is political correctness gone awry."

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