Steve Harvey on Ebonics
(Warning: This clip contains potentially offensive language)
In his skit about an “Ebonics dictionary”, Steve Harvey makes fun of the constant transformation and variation in African American English. In the opening line of this clip Harvey says, “If you do have a dictionary, it better be in pencil.” There is truth in his joke. African American English has a long history stretching back to American slavery. The African American oral tradition has an even deeper history with roots in African nations. But AAE continually evolves, which may result in generational differences. Also, words from the AAE lexicon are often adopted into the Standard American English (SAE) lexicon with similar or completely altered meanings. Sometimes these words are then dropped from the African American vocabulary, or are no longer strictly associated with African Americans or AAE. For example, chill out, threads, all that, main squeeze, you go, high-five, homeboy, and got game originated from AAE and are used by many people who are not in the African American community.
The linguistic resourcefulness of the African American community is evidenced by the fact that as AAE lexical items or words are appropriated into the SAE lexicon, new words are often created to replace the old.
Harvey then moves on to make fun of the potential miscommunications between AAE and SAE by parodying “ign’ant” black criminals. Harvey might give the impression that only uneducated African Americans that use AAE. Use of AAE, however, spans all levels of education and class status. AAE is also used in other communities with close ties to the African American community. Harvey’s humor stereotypes and makes assumptions, but one might ask what is comedy without exaggeration and mockery?