A journal dedicated to truth, freedom of speech and radical spiritual consciousness. Our mission is the liberation of men and women from oppression, violence and abuse of any kind, interpersonal, political, religious, economic, psychosexual. We believe as Fidel Castro said, "The weapon of today is not guns but consciousness."
Wednesday, July 15, 2015
The Psycholinguistic Crisis of North American Africans: Why we can't get a consensus on the definition of freedom
"Africa has a third of the world's languages with less than a seventh
of the world's population. By comparison, Europe, which has about an
eighth of the world's population, has only about 300 languages" (Christian Science Monitor).
It is estimated, in fact, that Africa has possibly 3,000 languages and counting.
the degree to which African languages have been incorporated into
American English is significant. The number of African languages from
various ethnic groups that were brought to the Americas as slaves is
slaves who came to these shores from Africa had written language and
many were also Muslim and writers in the Arabic language. It is also interesting that many Africans came to the Americas speaking not one but several languages.
are 1,250 to 2,100 and by some counts over 3,000 languages spoken
natively in Africa, in several major language families....
are several other small families and language isolates, as well as
obscure languages that have yet to be classified. In addition, Africa
has a wide variety of sign languages, many of which are language
About a hundred of the languages of
Africa are widely used for inter-ethnic communication. Arabic, Somali,
Berber, Amharic, Oromo, Swahili, Hausa, Igbo, Fulani and Yoruba are
spoken by tens of millions of people. If clusters of up to a hundred
similar languages are counted together, twelve are spoken by 75 percent,
and fifteen by 85 percent, of Africans as a first or additional
The article below is by Dr. Katherine Harris at Central Connecticut State University
and written in 1997. It was largely written in response to the
"Ebonics" debate in the United States at the time - particularly in
a blend of 'ebony' and 'phonics' referring to what is commonly known as
'black English', was coined by psychologist Robert Williams in 1973.
Oakland (CA) resolution called for federal bilingual education funds to
support its Ebonics program, asserting that African-American pupils
were on the same footing as Asian-American, Latino-American, Native
American, and other pupils 'who come from backgrounds or environments
where a language other than English is dominant,'
authorities objected that the Ebonics program called for language
maintenance, whereas federal bilingual education funds are earmarked
only for transitional, not maintenance, programs (Ebonics Controversy).
With specifics, Dr. Harris writes of the breadth of African languages
brought to the U.S. and their infusion into the American culture.
Harris also offers examples of the how African languages over time have
been incorporated into American English and how some of the African
culture coupled with its languages have been maintained within the
African American communities.
Our youth are not taught this rich
history in the American schools. In fact, we should be significantly
exploring the African influence in our lives in addition to Greek and Roman impact.
Our youth and adults - all of us - should be taught the vast array of
African cultures and languages to include Arabic influence as well.
The article below is long but was also edited - for the original go to Africa Update. I found Dr. Harris' article incredibly informative and fascinating. Enjoy!!! Heather Gray
controversy over the "Ebonics" issue may have abated. The discussions
have revealed again, however, a duality that has shaped the experience
of the descendants of Africans who arrived as captives in the Americas.
On one level, by emphasizing the enhancement of African American
students' English skills, the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has
pointed to the quest for academic literacy viewed as a tool out of
socio-economic deprivation. On the second level, the resolution has
accented a need for historical literacy by identifying the languages of
West Africa and the Niger-Congo River confluence as the ancestral
"historical and cultural base" of African American speech in the 1990s.
Ebonics debate, however, has brought to the forefront questions
regarding the distinctions between the forms of oral communication,
slang, dialect, and language. Moreover, one might ask, why choose the
term "Ebonics," composed of "ebony," which is English, and "phonics,"
which is Greek. Though "Ebonics" has been translated literally as "Black
Sounds," the use of a Greek/Latin expression seems incongruous when
trying to connect African American speech to African linguistic bases.
the core issue of redressing scholastic inequities must not be lost.
The 1990s debate on segregation in public educational institutions and
unequal distribution of public finances for predominantly black
facilities dates from the 1790s. African American families founded
schools for their children in New York City during the 1790s and 1800s
when it became apparent that the local government was reluctant to
provide educational access.
schools had been segregated and often unequal in terms of resources
since 1798. The busing crisis in the 1980s briefly interrupted this
pattern. But the need for education for Black children also prompted
l9th century African Americans to form the North African School and the
South African School in Hartford, Connecticut.
1971 The Center for Applied Linguistics, based in Washington, D.C.,
developed a series of "dialect readers" called "Black English" as parts
of a reading program. Parents criticized the strategy heavily.
Indications are that the readers did not use African language
correlations. The "dialect readers" contained phonetic approximations of
expressions and were difficult for children to use. The readers are not
currently in print. However, scholars continued their investigation of
the communities divide and debate the "Ebonics" issue, fearing that it
is another trap to miseducate youth, at the core of the debate is the
need to recognize and build on the reservoir of intellect, creativity
and linguistic formations African American children bring to the
classroom via their African heritage. Yet these language formations
require careful unraveling.
expressions as, "I says," or the double negative, "ain't no" (for
example Marvin Gaye and Tammie Terrell "Ain't no Mountain High Enough")
can be heard in the British Isles and sometimes are considered archaic
English rather than poor grammar. African American speech patterns can
include such unique features as rhyme, rhythmic patterns, repetition,
gestures, parables encoded in speech, alliteration and tone.
the sources of other expressions - "pacific" instead of "specific,"
"baf" instead of "bath," "mines" instead of "mine," "womens," or "mens"
instead of "women" or "men," "skreet" instead of "street" are more
difficult to pinpoint. Moreover, such verb forms as "lernt" instead of
"learned" may be of German or Dutch origin. It is important to remember
African American linguistic formations have been influenced by a
multiplicity of European languages - English, French, Spanish,
Portuguese, German, Dutch, and even Danish from the Danish West Indies,
now U.S. Virgin Islands and St. Thomas. None of these observations
preclude the fact that some words are pronounced perhaps incorrectly
and/or uniquely, and this tendency can be found in communities across
racial, ethnic and regional lines.
the assault on African languages and cosmological traditions during
slavery, it is worthwhile to explore points raised by the "Ebonics"
discussion. The OUSD coined the phrase, Pan-African language system,
without defining it. The concept is, nevertheless, useful. "Pan" refers
to many, and it is likely that captured Africans came from a number of
linguistic regional backgrounds, including the West Africa region.
language debate might take into consideration the geographical
configurations of Africa in the 1500s through 1800s when the slave trade
occurred. Captured Africans, the ancestors of contemporary African
Americans, came from areas where people and cultures defined polities
that were usually multiethnic and multilingual. The following examples
illustrate this point.
Mandinka (Mandingos) and Malinke lived in what is now Senegal, Guinea,
Mali, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso (Upper Volta).
The Wolof were in what is now Gambia and Senegal.
The Mano communities were in northern Liberia and southern Guinea. The Mende and Temne lived between Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Fula (called Peul in Senegambia) and Tukulor were spread among regions
of present day Guinea, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Chad, and Niger.
the Voltaic family, the Senufos were between Ivory Coast and Upper
Volta (Burkina Faso). Within the Guinean family, (Guinea was a term of
Portuguese origin to describe the gold coins made from gold taken from
the region), the Ewes resided in Togo and Ghana. The Yoruba were in
Nigeria, Togo and Benin (Bini is an uncomplimentary reference to people
in Benin) (Efik, Ibibio and Igbo kingdoms were also clustered in
the Saharan family, the Tubus were in Niger, Chad and Lybia. Within the
Kushitic family, the Somali were distributed between the former Italian
Somalia, while the Afars and Issas were in Djibouti, Kenya and
Bakongo (Kongos), Balunda, Bakuba, Baluba lived in what is now Congo
(Brazzaville), Angola, Gabon and former Zaire, now Democratic Republic
of Congo (Kinshasa). Ovimbo Herero also resided in Angola and Namibia.
BaLundas lived in parts of Zaire, Angola, and Zambia.
The Shona between Zimbabwe and Mozambique; the Sothos between Tanzania, Somalia, Kenya, and Comoro Islands.
The Hausa emirates were spread among Northern Cameroon, Nigeria, and Niger.
The Swahili resided in Tanzania (including Zanzibar), Somalia, Kenya, and Comoro Islands.
Fang were in migration when colonial boundaries were set and became
caught in political units Gabon, Cameroon, and Equatorial Guinea, which
formed parts of the French and Spanish empires.
of the African burial ground in New York, thought to hold up to 10,000
graves, have uncovered artifacts not only from West Africa, but from the
Indian Ocean African kingdom of Madagascar as well. Moreover, records
document that captured Africans from Mozambique who spoke MaShona also
became part of the American slave community. Any analysis of African
American speech and African culture retentions would have to involve a
continent wide geographical range.
Ebonics discussion intersects another important issue besides
geography. It is the ongoing research into the classification of African
languages. Scholars have designed flow charts of the Niger-Congo Rivers
region linking Kwa (a coastal area) and off shoot languages Akan, Gbe,
Yoruba, Nupe, Igbo and another branch Benue-Congo and its linguistic
offshoots, Ibibio and Bantu.
linguists use such problematic terms as "Bantu," which has little
meaning in the sense of identifying a specific language. Indeed "Bantu"
might be derived from "Abantu," a Luganda expression which means "all
these people." This is spoken in Buganda, or present-day Uganda.
explore other linguistic breakdowns. For example, Tshi-Luba (Congo) and
Luba Kasai and Luba Katanga are attempts to classify speech of Baluba
communities based on the Tshi, which is a river, the Kasai, which a
basin, and the Katanga mineral province of the present Congo Democratic
also challenge each other's spellings of terms. For example, one writes
Tshi-Luba and another Chiluba to refer to the same regional speech
attempts at classification can become quite entangled as scholars
search simultaneously for similarities and differences in African
language constructs. Yet evidence suggests the linkage of languages
previously thought to be separate and distinct, noting that all African
languages derive from four clusters, amongst which are Niger Congo and
Nilo-Saharan. Linguists who drafted a Hausa grammar text acknowledged
that the language is most dominant in Northern Nigeria and spoken in
large parts of West Africa, but is "genetically related to such
well-known languages as ancient hieroglyphic Egyptian, . . . but also of
importance [in] "Amharic and Somali."
similar terms, sometimes with similar and sometimes with different
meanings, appear in Hausa and Kiswahili and also Amharic and Fula. The
relevance of these issues to the Ebonics topic is again to signal the
need to broaden the scope of inquiry into the origin of African American
the public debate regarding "Ebonics" it might be pointed out that
Africans had written languages, some of which were pictographs; for
example, the Adinkra symbolic systems of the Akan. The experience of
captured Africans help document this. In 1839, Sing-gbe [Cingue], a
Mende (Mendi) speaker from Sierra Leone, led captured Africans in a
revolt on the Spanish slave schooner, La Amistad. Kaw-we-li, who had
escaped slavery and joined the British Navy and whose English name was
James Covey, was also from Mendi country and happened to be New York. He
served as an interpreter for the Africans who were tried and ultimately
freed in Hartford, Connecticut. One of the thirty nine captured
Africans included Kimbo, who spoke Mendi and explained the following
counting system: "... 1, eta; 2, fili; 3, kiau-wa; 4, naeni; 5, loelu;
6, weta; 7, wafura; 8, wayapa; 9, ta-u; 10, pu." (31) Gilabaru [Grabeau]
was born at Fulu in Mendi country and was also among the surviving
former captives. He explained that in his home he had seen people write
"from right to left." Besides Mendi, he spoke Vai, Kon-no and Gissi
arrived on these shores with their own writing systems in some cases.
Muslim Africans were often literate in Arabic. But slaveholders viewed
African writing and the ·k n Adinkra and other symbolic pictographs as
evil, and use of them was cause for a beating, sale or worse. Moreover,
symbols and African linguistic tones could not easily be transposed into
Greco-Latin-Roman alphabetical script.
excavations in New York City's African Burial site uncovered terrain in
1991 containing the "Sankofa" Adinkra. It is an ·k n symbol attributed
to an African sovereign from what is now Ivory Coast, though the Adinkra
symbols are most often associated with modern Ghana. But ·k n speakers
live in parts of present day Ivory Coast and Togo in addition to Ghana.
The ancestor who traced the 'Sankofa' Adinkra could have come from any
of these places.
the use of African writing scripts by African Americans did not survive
into the 1990's, and the loss of these writing systems is a reminder of
slavery's devastating erosion of language. Yet records exist of
Africans who knew their linguistic lineage. Phillis Wheatley was from
Senegambia, the home of Fula and Wolof communities. Olaudah Equiano was
Igbo from the eastern part of contemporary of Nigeria. Frederick
Douglass's grandmother Betsey Bailey's patrilineal ancestry was from
Furro, also known as Venture Smith, was from Dukandarra in Guinea where
Susu and Mano are spoken. Alexander Crummell's father was Temne from
Sierra Leone. Abd-al-Rahman Ibrahima (known as Prince on the
plantation), a West African prince from the kingdom of Tambo in the
Gambia, was sold into slavery in New Orleans in 1788 at the age of 26.
He was Fula (Fulbe) and was multilingual. He spoke Fula, Arabic, and
possibly Wolof and Mande.
Delaney's heritage included Gola, Mandinka and Dey (in modern Liberia).
The late Supreme Court Justice, Justice Thurgood Marshall, spoke about
his paternal ancestor from the Congo region - though he did not name the
specific place (Bakongo).
Frederick Douglass has left an important commentary on the persistence
of African language and its adaptation on the plantation where he was
enslaved. He wrote:
is not, probably, in the whole south, a plantation where the English
language is more imperfectly spoken than on Col. Lloyd's. It is a
mixture of Guinea and everything else you please. At the time of which I
am now writing, there were slaves there who had been brought from the
coast of Africa. They never used the "s" in indication of the possessive
and me they called "Captain Athony Fed." Cap'n Ant'ney Tom," "Lloyd
Bill," "Aunt Rose Harry" means "Captain Athony,'s Tom," "Lloyd's Bill,"
etc. "Oo you dem long to?" means, "Whom do you belong to?" "Oo dem got
any peachy?" means "Have you got any peaches?" This language was spoken
by all slaves on the Lloyd plantation - field hands and artisans.
used an occasional African word, too. He wrote "My grandmother afforded
relief from [a] journey of 12 miles by "toteing" me on her shoulder."
Some researchers connect the word to a Latin base "tollit," but recent
scholarship points strongly to its African origins: "tota" from
Konga/Kikonga/Gullah meaning to pick up or to take; tuta (Kimbundu)
meaning to carry or a load; "tot" from Sierra Leone and "tut" from
Sterling Stuckey elaborated that African languages could still be heard
in New York, particularly Albany, where the Pinkster Festival of
African drama, music, dance and historical pageantry were celebrated
until it was quashed by officials in 1865. But this tradition had made
its appearance in American literature. James Fennimore Cooper provided a
description of Pinkster in "Satanstoe" published in 1845.
combined assault, however, through sale of the mother - the primary
transmitter of language, the disruption of family, the deliberate
destruction of language through seasoning - rape, torture, and abuse -
took its toll on African language retention. Though the last ships
arrived between 1858 and 1861 in the Georgia Sea Islands, the Mobile
River of Alabama, and the Florida Keys, the passage of time especially
after 1865 also disrupted linguistic retentions.
is nevertheless too simplistic to conclude that African Americans
retained nothing of their multilingual heritage. One can look briefly at
naming practices to find evidence of linguistic ties. For example,
Juba, one of the day names given to a male child along the Guinea coast,
was also a nickname given to a girl born on Monday in slave communities
to describe "tomboy" (1620s-1800). The name Juba, which was fairly
common among African men in the l7th and l8th centuries, was also the
name of a region in modern Kenya/Somalia and Sudan.
erosion of African names also occurred. Samba, meaning comfort in
Wolof, is still recalled in musical form in Brazil, where there remains a
strong African presence. A possible derivation of Samba is Zambo
(Southern/Central Africa), which also means to give comfort. Other
derivatives are Sambu in Mandinka and Sambo in Hausa. The fact that the
name was at one time fairly common and no longer used may have
relationship to a song popularized by white Americans during the war
from 1861-1865, "Sambo's Right To Be Kilt," and especially the
derogatory usage of the name enshrined in the book "Little Black Sambo".
names remained in the African American community and which have strong
affinity to African derivations: Gaye from Gueye from Wolof in Senegal
and Gambia; Esi (Essie) from ·k n, for a girl child born on Sunday; and
Bess for a first born girl. Almost every African American family has
someone called "Nana," meaning grandmother (but also part of a man's
name to denote his matriclan and matrilineal descent) also from the ·k n
personal names, especially in the Gullah and Geechee communities in the
African American community, are drawn from places. Examples are Kano
from Northern Nigeria and Abomey from Dahomey (present day Benin).
real impediment to the retention of some African language expressions
was their uniqueness. English had no real parallels for some African
language forms. These included genderless expressions; for example in
Igbo - "numadu," "0", or "nya." Some terms found English translations.
Perhaps reverence for a concept from Igbo "chi," soul, and the spirit
force or "ka" from the Nile Valley cultures transferred into English -
soul meaning force, energy, spirit - soul food, soul talk, soul
handshake, soul brother, soul sister, and soul mate.
one of African American author Ishmael Reed's novels, his character
prepares ointments for a client indicating "She must bathe in this and
it will place the vaporous evil Ka hovering above her sleep under arrest
and cause it to disperse." Interestingly, too, Reed titles his novel
Mumbo Jumbo and provides the following etymology for the expression:
"Mumbo Jumbo - Mandingo (Mandinka] ma-ma-gyo-mbo, 'magician who makes
the troubled spirts of ancestors go away:' ma-ma, grandmother + gyo,
trouble + mbo, to leave."
presence of the Guichee or Gu1lah communities provides the clearest
case study of the persistence of multiple African languages within the
twentieth century African American community. Researchers debate the
origin of the term Gullah. Vass has suggested that it came from "ngola,"
a royal title that the Portuguese mispronounced and applied to the area
now called Angola. Other suggestions are that the term Gullah comes
from the Gola people who came from Liberia, while the term Geechee
originated from the Kisi (Kissi) also from Liberia.
American linguist L. Turner identified African language precedents for
the diphthongs, verb tenses, consonants and vowel sounds, tongue
position, phoneme, diacritics, and syntactical patterns spoken in the
sea island communities of North and South Carolina and Georgia.
Gullah/Geechee speakers have created a Creole language which merits
preservation and being compared to Papiamento spoken in the Dutch
Antilles, Haitian Creole, or Trinidad's Creole, based on their
linguistic heritage from Yoruba and Hausa ancestors, portrayed in
Maureen Warner-Lewis's "Guinea's Other Suns".
is nevertheless possible to hear expressions of African origin encoded
in twentieth century English spoken by African Americans outside the Sea
Islands. Lorenzo Turner pointed to expressions of African words that
some observers misinterpreted as mispronounced English. These included
the Mende word "suwangc" meaning to be proud of, which was viewed as a
corruption of the English "to swagger;" the Wolof word "lir" meaning
small, but viewed as a corruption of little; or the Twi word "f "
meaning to take, has been explained as a mispronunciation of "for."
sounds and expressions did not re-pronounce entirely and surface in
altered form. For example, in "a-go-go" is thought to be derived from
"Ngongo," meaning assembly or meeting. It is the term for the
traditional Council of Doula (Cameroon). Remember Smokey Robinson and
the Miracles' "Going to a-go-go"?
terms are recalled in songs "way down yonder in the paw-paw patch."
Paw-paw is still heard in parts of West Africa to refer to papaya.
systematic etymological study is required to authenticate root words.
But the following passages provide a small sampling of African words
that fused with English spoken by African Americans.
Fula language offers the following. The word "Jam," meaning 'peace or
well being' appears in such expressions as "Jam tan," meaning "fine," or
"Yallen jam," meaning "Good, Let's spend the day in peace." ; In
African American speech, "jam" can mean "a good party" or "an enjoyable
American speech blurred the distinction between these "like that," "be"
to exist, and "be" to beg, and it quite possible that the expression
which is considered incorrect English grammar, "I be like," has an
African precedent on two levels. The Yoruba "b's" has fused with the
English "be" and the repetition parallels a device used in many African
languages to convey emphasis.
Tshi-luba [Chiluba] in the Congo region come such words as "jambalaya"
from "tshimboebole" meaning cooked corn, although the term is used in
the U.S. to describe a rice, vegetable and seafood dish. Jazz is said to
be a derivative of the word "jaja," pronounced "jas" or "jass."
"Kingombo," meaning soup, is also a thick soup of okra and shrimp spiced
with file, especially in Louisiana-Georgia Sea Island African American
communities in which it is called gumbo. "Jiggaboo" or "jigabo" is from
"tshikabo," meaning meek or servile and came to have very derisive
meaning in English.
Ewondo, spoken in Cameroon, comes the word "nyam." "Nyam" is used among
the Serer in Senegal and is called "nyama" in Fula, which is spoken
throughout western and parts of central Africa. It is "djambi" in Vai,
"nyambi" in Southern Africa, and "njam" in Gullah. It has been used as
"yam" in English and mistakenly applied to the sweet potato. "Nyam" has
also been used a verb meaning "to eat."
Mandinka, there are the words "Jitterbug" linked to "jito-bag" and
describes a dance crazed person. In the 1940s, the jitterbug was the
name of a popular dance done to swing jazz music.
possible Temne origin is the expression "Yo" from Sierra Leone. It is
an ending participle of an emphatic statement. It appears frequently in
African American speech and among some youth in other ethnic groups as
well. Though the speakers may be unaware of that it is of African
origin, "yo" persists in such expressions as in "Give me back my ball,
Yo!" The expression. 'Ya' is also used as an ending participle.
offers examples of words or expressions that also appear in
contemporary African American speech. "Jama" is a Wolof word meaning
crowd or gathering. "Jam" in African American speech can mean "to fight"
or "put someone in a bad situation." Its uses range from the song title
"Bad Mama Jama" to "jam," "jamming," and "jamboree." These words have
become a part of the national and international lexicon.
Wolof grammar constructions are similar to those in African American
speech. For example, "def" is the Wolof verb "to do" or "to make." In
Wolof, 'djam" (jam) means "peace." In African American parlance, "def"
is an adjective or adverb describing something of "excellent [or]
highest praise." "Def jam, "literally "to make peace," may have made its
way into African American speech in the 1990s in "Def Comedy Jam." The
young African American performers who gave this name to their group may
not be aware of these words' similarity to their African language
use of "da" in African American speech also has an African precedent.
"Da" (or "dafa") in Wolof, meaning "it," is an explicative predicator.
For example, "Da nga mun (-a) naan lool." "It is that you drink" too
much or "You drink too much." Turner points out that "da," "de," appears
frequently in African language constructions. Some African languages
did not have a "th" sound, and Africans transferred the familiar sound
"da" or "de" as a substitute. But "da" is still used in contemporary
speech as "it" or "it is;" for example, "da cold" for "it is cold".
also includes "Bii," "Bee," which were confused with the English verb
root "to be." In Wolof, "Bii," "Bee," functions as "you," a noun
determiner to express distance. One prevalent use of the concept among
some African Americans is "be," or "She be at home."
has contributed the word "jev" to African American speech which is
written "jive" or "jiving." "Jev" means in Wolof, false or careless
words which have multiple African etymologies include "juke," "jook"
from "juka" in the Niger-Congo cluster, "dzug," from Wolof, and in
Gullah, juke-house or jook house describes a roadside inn, type of
music, or loose life-style. "Juke" is also the root word of jukebox.
is also a name which is used with some frequency and is possibly
related to the Wolof "may," "to make a present," in (double object
transitive verb) names Annie May, Eula May, or Ula May, Beulah May, or
Mae. The sound of "may" differs from Wolof (in that it is pronounced as
two syllables instead of one), but the Wolof "may" and the English "May"
for the month overlapped.
Wolof, "ma" is object pronoun and "ma" the subject pronoun, "I."
African American speech uses both the Wolof "ma" and the English "my" to
languages had other constructions that did not really transfer in
meaning into African American speech. For example "na," which is
sometimes considered a slurred pronunciation of "no," was nevertheless a
familiar sound that persists in African American speech in the 1990s.
"Na" in Wolof is a dependent subject predicator.
is a verb in Wolof meaning "to leave;" One source cites "dem" as a
deliberate corruption of "them," but it may be the natural transfer of
familiar sound, though African American speech does not use "dem" as the
languages were, nevertheless, lost. African American speech does not
use Hausa expressions of possession - na plus da phrase. The perfective
appears in such expressions as "Na Manta an fita da dabbobi," "na"
verbal nouns and verb forms. The Hausa interrogative "ya" meaning "how"
in English does not seem to be used either.
have suggested that some words of African origin survived: Mojo -
charm, from "muoyo," meaning "life;" moola - money, from "mulambo" - tax
money; mosey from "muonji," meaning to work slowly, meandering;
hulla-balloo, from "halua balualua;" and gooly, from "ngula." Remember
the Stylistics' "Betcha By Gooly."
vocabulary suggests other words from African language bases: ... a word
from African languages: "yakula-yakula-yack," meaning a stupid person
or stupid conversation.
But other evidence suggests African origins for some place names. A few of these appear on road maps from the 1970s and 1990s.
In North Carolina:
Ulah from Ula, meaning to purchase or buy; Aquone from Akuone, meaning
let him scrape, scrub, plane, shave off (sawmill or carpentry work); Ela
from Ela, meaning cast, throw, pitch, pour, pour out; Nkina from
Nuakina, meaning hate, be cruel to, be mean to (plural imperative); and
Ngakina (I am hating, being cruel to).
One example is Chula, meaning frog.
In South Carolina:
Alcolu from the root word Alakana, meaning hope for, long for, desire
exceedingly (freedom); Ashepoo from Ashipe, meaning let him kill.
In Mississippi: Lula from Lula, meaning be bitter, refuse to obey and Osyka from Oshika, meaning burn up, catch on fire.
In Missouri: Chula from Tchula, meaning frog.
Cataula from Katuulua, meaning he never comes (absentee master?); Chu1a
from Tschula, meaning frog (also Chula is the Choctaw word for "fox");
Suwanee from Nsub'wanyi, meaning my house or my home; Inaha from
"Hinaha" meaning right here, at this very place; Zetella from "Jetela"
meaning be languid.
In Florida: Chuluota and Wauchula (from Waujula) have possible African origins.
Eufaula from Uhaula, meaning loot, pillage ; Chunchula from
Tshutshuluka, meaning to be held back, restrained; Wedowee from Wetuwee,
meaning our very own (a Luba expression); and Coatopa from Kuatupa,
meaning to give them to us (rations or supplies).
In Delaware: Angola from Ngola actually the title of political officials in the Lunda kingdom that Portuguese called Angola.
wrote down songs and, though the exact African origin of the songs may
be debated, it is unlikely that they came from the Creek, Choctaw,
Cherokee or other aboriginal communities in what became the southern
of Ebonics have pointed out that words attributed to African origin are
spoken sometimes by white Americans. This is true to a degree, and
Frederick Douglass has left an important observation on this point. He
wrote that white planters and their children adopted these expressions
to communicate with African captives. J. L. Dilliard, Molefi Asante,
Roger Abrahams, and John Szwed have identified such African linguistic
expressions as "OK, wow, uh-huh and unh-unh, daddy and buddy." David D
ably has traced such expressions from Wolof as OK, bogus, boogie woogie,
bug, phony, guy, dig, and fuzz.
American author Zora Neale Hurston uses the term "akimbo" to describe
the gestures of one of her characters. The term rings of African
origins, though the American Heritage Dictionary defines "akimbo" as an
adjective and adverb that means "with the hand on the hips and the
elbows bowed outward," suggesting that the word is derived from
"kenebowe" from Middle English. This and other words or expressions bear
further exploration, however.
African expressions fused with English over the centuries and have
remained a part of contemporary English, though the African root words
are seldom recognized. As scholars continue their etymological
investigations, they explore the use of time, sentence structure and
verb placement in African American speech that have African precedents.
Perhaps it was this combination of linguistic research and the need for
academic progress for African American children that encouraged the
"Ebonics" resolution of the Oakland School Board.
controversy surrounding the resolution has quieted, but the formulation
of strategies to enhance the language skills and educational
development of African American children is likely to be a critical
topic for some time.
1 J. Dillard. Black English: Its History and Usage in the United States. NY, Random House,1972.
2 J. A Fashagba. The First Illustrated Yor-b Dictionary, 1991.
C. Fields, "Histrionics About Ebonics 101- What we have learned." Black
Issues in Higher Education. Jan 23 1997, Vol 13, no. 24.
Broteer Furro (Venture Smith). A Narrative of the Life and Adventures
of Ventura, A Native of Africa. New London, 1798. Recently edited by
Arna Bontemps, Wesleyan University Press, 1988 .
J. E. Holloway. "The origins of African-American Culture." Holloway
(ed), Africanisms in American Culture. Indiana University Press, 1991.
6 W. Kellersberger Vass. The Bantu-speaking Heritage of the United States. UCLA, 1979.
7 C. Major. Juba to Jive; A Dictionary of African-American Slang. Penguin Books, 1994.
V. Manfredi. "Sourcing African English in North America." International
Journal of African Historical Studies. Boston University, 1994.
9 Randy Ross. "Why Black English Matters." Education Week, January 29, 1997.
10"Oakland Amends Ebonics Resolution." Black Issues in Higher Education. Vol, 13, no. 25, Feb 6, 1997.
The Regional Editors of Africa Update (1997)
served for several years as Senior Management Expert at the Ethiopian
Management Institute, Addis Ababa. She is at present associated with the
CMRS, Ethiopian Catholic Church, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Maimouna Diallo is an economist and also a consultant to the United Nations Development Program. She resides in the Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa.
Julius Ihonvbere is a Professor of Government at the University of Texas, Austin. Among his books are Nigeria, the Politics of Adjustment and Democracy (New Brunswick: Transaction, 1993) and The Political Economy of Crisis and Underdevelopment in Africa (Lagos: Jad Press, 1989).
is the Rector of Mozambique's Universidade Pedagogico, Maputo,
Mozambique. He has extensive publications on African mathematics and is
the Chair of the Commission on the History of Mathematics in Africa.
is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Development Bank of Southern Africa,
based in Johannesburg. He is a leading member of the Pan-African
is from Sierra Leone. He teaches in the Department of Historical and
Critical Studies at the University of Central Lancaster, UK. He is also a
member of the Editorial Board of the Review of African Political
Economy (ROAPE), United Kingdom.