The Use of Ebonics in Modern Literature

PUSH: The Language of Ebonics

Push. The novel  Precious Jones, who evidently does not live the greatest life. Raped by her father when only twelve years old and suffering the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of her mother, while growing up in the ghettos of Harlem, ¨Push¨ tells the story of Precious from her perspective. Cleary illiterate and not having the best income of education, we see the growth and determination of Precious as she strives for a better life but ultimately, it is her language of ebonics throughout the book that successfully grabs the reader and shows us the true spirit of Precious.

From the first sentence of the book, we can already see the intensity of the life she has already lived. She had a baby by her father. Her baby is diagnosed with Down Syndrome and Precious is currently in the ninth grade when she should be well on her way to twelfth grade. She is also pregnant with her second baby, again by her father. The first  couple of pages also introduces to the reader,  the use of ebonics throughout the book and used by Precious. This allows the grittiness of the novels’ true intent to shine through.  We start to see the true nature of Precious as she reflects to herself. ¨I big, I talk, I eats, I cooks, I laugh, watch TV, do what my muver say. But I can see when the picture come back I don’t exist. Don’t nobody want me. Don’t nobody need me...I wanna say I am somebody.¨ Precious recognizes that she wants to become somebody. And her use of ebonics ushers in a tone of sympathy that the reader feels with her. The reader can recognize that by the way that Precious speaks, she has not received the best quality of care and education that a child her age should have,  but disregarding the way that she speaks, we can see her desire to become successful and it shows us her inner voice.

As the novel advances, Precious is placed into an alternative school by school officials. Hoping that she will gain more knowledge, she is  put into a group deemed fit for someone in her dreadful situation. From there, she meets her fellow classmates who, just like her, are not able to read or write. She also meets her new teacher ¨ Miz Rain¨ who Precious seems to take a liking to. Ms Rain has the students and Precious read. Although reluctant to read, Ms. Rain walks Precious through the steps to read a sentence. ¨I say, ¨A Day at the Beach¨. She says very good and closes the book. I want to cry. I want to laugh I want to hug Miz Rain. She make me feel good. I never readed nuffin’ before.”  To a person with the capability to read, this accomplishment seems juvenile, but understanding Precious’ condition allows someone who has faced a reality completely different, to somewhat sympathize with Precious. Her ebonics ushers in a tone of tenacity and strength of her character which gives her purposefulness. The reader establishes the aspiration and  ambition that Precious has to learn, and this is conspicuous, as Precious fills with joy after reading her first sentence. The reader cheers for Precious as they now want her to triumph.  At this point, the reader starts to forge a sympathetic bond with Precious.

One year later, Precious is still in the alternative school. She is immensely fond of school and is appreciative of the knowledge she has gained thus far. ¨One yr I ben scool I like scool I love my teachr. lot I lern. Books I read, chile care work comprts¨ But not everything appears to turn out for the best. Precious is diagnosed with HIV, which she contracted from her father, who recently died of AIDS. Although, she realizes the complications she’ll have to endure in the future, this doesn’t diminish her hope of  achieving her G.E.D. However, she is also very scared of how she will care for herself and if she possibly has AIDS. She decides to confide to Ms. Rain through poetry.

¨I talk to s_____ wrk tody she gonn get tess for me

(I talk to social worker today she gonna get test for me)

an Abdul (se___ of God) to see

(and Abdul servant of God to see)

see the i

ey see


see me










wh? wh?

(why? why?)


I li


to misel






the truf


IV HIV HIV U an Mi coold hav HIV

(IV HIV HIV You and me could have HIV)¨

The juxtaposition of the ebonics and Precious’ poem creates a voice for the streets. It acts as a roar cry for Precious as her attempt to express herself all through writing. The ebonics and misspelled words symbolizes perseverance of Precious as she tries to the best of her ability to spell the words, meanwhile indicate and reveal her true essence. This opens up a deeper side to Precious because rather than hearing her voice through first person, you hear it as she discloses this information to someone else. This allows the reader to see the vulnerable side of her and dwell deep into the mind of Precious. In return, the reader then feels pity as well as condolence towards her.

Blogs have praised ¨Push¨ for the use of AAVE (African American Vernacular English) or ebonics. ¨Sapphire’s use of first-person point of view through Precious deserves high praise. It was as if I was on a phonetic adventure with Precious, and the more that I read, the more her use of language improved. The use of AAVE was prevalent throughout this novel. For example, Precious would use words such as final consonant deletions like “chile” for child, “git” for get, “borned” for born, “sinder” for syndrome (Down syndrome), “wit” for with, “ain’t” as an auxillary, marked third person singulars like “peoples”, unstressed syllable deletion “’cause” for because, and cluster deletions like “muver” for mother.¨ Numerous readers felt as if they could understand Precious more through the ebonics that she spoke throughout the book. The fact that it was spoken in first person also gives the reader a sense of invasion of privacy of Precious, but in a good way. It invades the thoughts of her mind giving the reader a connection towards Precious.

Introducing a form of writing that is not parallel to that of standard English writing can create a beautiful way of  telling a story. In the novel Push, the ebonics  shined a light on the reality of the many lives that people live through all over the world and gave the reader a true insight of the life of teenage girl who wanted nothing more but a better life. Her way of speaking screamed ¨Illiterate!¨ and ¨Dumb ghetto black girl¨ but her mindset spoke ¨determination¨ and ¨hope¨. And in the end, the readers of the book come to love Precious.

Comments (3)

Aldo Caushaj (Student 2017)
Aldo Caushaj

I did not know about the book until today when I read your paper. It seems very interesting and the way you made this paper and how you introduced the literary devices was very nice but also in a way that got me interested in this book

Imani Weeks (Student 2017)
Imani Weeks
  1. I knew about the book, I've just never read it before so the whole concept of the book was new to me. You introduced the book in a nice way while showing the literary device.

  2. I think I would write out what the poem was trying to say with misspelled words so that it's easier for the reader to understand right away.