Ebonics (1600s- ) or Black English is what the Wikipedia calls African American Vernacular English (AAVE), meaning the street English of blacks in America. Since the 1940s much of American slang has come from Black English, some of it becoming part of Standard English, like put down, corny and cool.
Ebonics is different than Standard English. Standard English is the English you learn at school, the kind you find in books. It is universal: it is the same the world over – in America, Britain, Nigeria, Jamaica, India, even China. That is what is so great about it.
But Standard English is not “natural”. It started in the 1400s in the government offices in London. It has spread by education and books, especially the King James Bible. It was heavily affected by Latin. It did not become a common way of speaking among white Americans till the 1800s. With the rise of public education they were taught that it was good English, that anything else was bad.
It was good only in the sense that it was universal, but otherwise it was no better than any other English in terms of grammar, beauty or its power to express thought and feeling.
Black English, certainly, is just as powerful and often far more beautiful. But you cannot use it everywhere because not everyone understands it and many, both black and white, will think you lack education or even intelligence.
Black English is not an unlettered form of White English. It is not that simple.
When blacks were brought to America from Africa as slaves they spoke to their masters and each other in a very simple form of English called pidgin English. Many slaves spoke pidgin Wolof too. Wolof was the language of an old empire in Africa. It died out in America in the 1700s, but some of its words have lived on, like banana, honky, guy, bug out, hip (cool), dig (understand) and maybe even wow.
Slaves born in America knew only pidgin English. They made it into a full language known as Creole English. Unlike a pidgin, it has the full power of ordinary English.
Creole English used English words, mostly, but put them in a different and simpler order. It had more tenses too. It was very much like the Jamaican patois you hear on the streets of Kingston and in some reggae songs.
Creole English became what we know as Black English. Over time it has become more and more like Standard English, something that is still going on.
Nearly all black Americans over a certain age know and understand both Black English and Standard English. Some will use only one or the other, but most will change between them depending on circumstances, something called code switching.
Ebonics made the news in 1997 when Oakland, California wanted to use it to help black schoolchildren learn Standard English. The idea was killed.
– Abagond, 2008.