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Henry Louis Gates Jr., historian and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, has announced he will soon serve as editor-in-chief of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English.
With the new role, Gates Jr. will add a new glossary of language containing popular phrases used by historical Black figures and modern-day Black Americans.
Ebonics, a term coined by the mixing of the words “ebony” and “phonics,” refers to the speech generally used by black people. Dr. Robert Williams, an African-American social psychologist, came up with the term in 1973 with the goal of making a word for the sounds that black people make when speaking.
Henry Louis Gates Jr. preserves the culture Dr. Williams defined.
Before Dr. Williams came up with the term Ebonics, there had never been a phrase or term to categorize and describe the multinational linguistic effects of the African slave trade in the United States. Because of racial segregation and a lack of educational opportunities for African-American children, even after the abolition of slavery, most could not get lessons in American English.
Gates Jr. looks to rewrite history, “just the way Louis Armstrong took the trumpet and turned it inside out from the way people played European classical music,” he told the New York Times, Black people took English and “reinvented it, to make it reflect their sensibilities and to make it mirror their cultural selves.”
This dictionary is finna be lit.
“Words with African origins such as ‘ ‘goober,’ ‘gumbo’ and ‘okra’ survived the Middle Passage along with our African ancestors,” Gates Jr. explained. “And words that we take for granted today, such as ‘cool’ and ‘crib,’ ‘hokum’ and ‘diss,’ ‘hip’ and ‘hep,’ ‘bad,’ meaning ‘good,’ and ‘dig,’ meaning ‘to understand ’— these are just a tiny fraction of the words that have come into American English from African American speakers … over the last few hundred years.”
According to the dictionary’s site, the project was a joint venture of the Oxford University Press and the Hutchins Center. Gates Jr. told The New York Times that the idea for the new dictionary came about when the Oxford Press asked him to collaborate on their existing dictionaries, leading him to propose a more ambitious project.
Funded by grants from the Mellon and Wagner Foundations, the dictionary stems from a three-year research project led by a diverse team of researchers and lexicographers whose focus is to preserve the vocabulary of African-Americans. The new dictionary, which Gates said is heavily influenced by “words invented by African Americans,” will serve as an authoritative record of African-American English.
The first copy of the Oxford Dictionary of African American English is expected to be released in 2025.
Information in this article was obtained by NBC News.