Document Type


Date of Award



College of Liberal Arts and Behavioral Sciences (COLABS)

Degree Name

MA in English

Committee Chairperson

Michael Zeitler

Committee Member 1

Charlene Evans

Committee Member 2

Michael Sollars

Committee Member 3

Haiqing Sun


• African American Language • African American students • Autochthonous • Ebonics • Niger-Congo West African Grammar • Race and Racism


An analysis of selected works written in African American Language (AAL): Ebonics by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mark Twain, and Zora Neale Hurston in historical, national American literature are used to document “Race, Racism, and the Representation of Niger-Congo West African Grammar in AAL: Ebonics. This study provides an overview of the Enlightenment period by Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. which proved how world-renowned Euro-American meta-physicists justified slavery and colonization based on unsubstantiated science and religious beliefs. Further, Gates used his research to dispute the outlandish and biased historical documentation provided by some European scholars who claimed that Africans were animals and could not speak languages. During the last 50 years, renown linguist, Dr. Ernie A. Smith has provided research which has proven that slave authors could always speak languages. Evidence has demonstrated that AAs can learn to read and write languages comparable to Caucasians and all other human beings. In this study, Smith has presented a comparative analysis of Niger- Congo grammar with AAL: Ebonics’ grammar which validated that AAL: Ebonics is a continuation of the Niger-Congo grammar structure. Paul Laurence Dunbar, Mark Twain, and Zora Neal Hurston learned to speak fluently in English and “plantation talk”. In fact, when Dunbar and Joel Chandler Harris’s work in Ebonics was looked at diachronically and synchronically, it was proven that both men spoke Ebonics using the same rule-governed language. Mark Twain wrote a novel which proved that language develops through nurture vs. nature. Twain demonstrated how a slave protagonist and the slave owner’s baby learned to speak each other’s home language when the slave protagonist switched her slave son for the plantation owner’s son. In Their Eyes Were Watching God, Hurston built the first all-AA township to demonstrate how AAL: Ebonics was maintained through social isolation for 20 years. In summary, Dunbar, Twain, and Hurston documented AA history through literature. They were able to support the work of great scholars, such as, Gates, Smith and others by writing realistic stories experienced by African Americans by racist groups, such as, Jim Crow and minstrelsy who were the primary culprits of “race and racism.”