I have a soft spot for dialects and minority languages, languages that might be on the brink of forever falling out of us. Not sure what drives me to this, why I feel a kinship of sorts with people I’ve never met and who’d probably not like me much if we did because I’d be asking them stupid questions about their language.
Recently I’ve seen an increase in posts about “good grammar”. What makes writing effective and there seems to recently be a huge focus on minute details and spelling, as if there is a standardized form of English, which there is not, actually. There isn’t a standard dialect of English written or spoken.
When you read about France French being “correct” and Quebec French being “wrong” it comes from this standardization. France controls French and therefore is able to classify the Quebecois as essentially outside the Francophonie.
But we can’t do that in English… usually. There are exceptions to this, one of which I actually plan to share some thoughts on (knowingly as a well-off white boy).
I saw a post the other day that said “I don’t judge people on their age, nationality, or race… I judge them on their grammar.”
News flash… that means you judge people on their age, race, nationality, region, and class.
When we make fun of southerners for their dialect, we are making fun of them for being the other and oftentimes for being uneducated. We are usually making fun of them for being poor. Or for being “belles” who are haughty and above us, shallow or back-stabbing. How many times after the Kim Davis bullshit did you see a comic with her speaking in a stereotypical southern dialect? How many? Because I can nearly guarantee 100% of the time it was to make her seem simple and uneducated. Beneath us.
Where we are born, what language we learn first, and the dialects that we pick up around us govern to a large degree how we speak English. It could take years to pick up Scots or Ulster-Scots. I don’t use the word “treelawn” because I chose to. I don’t end sentences with prepositions because I want to. And I certainly don’t pronounce “water” as “wader” like every other American because it sounds prettier.
I speak the dialect of English I grew up with.
And here’s where the problem begins to arise: We don’t chose our dialects, but we are judged by them. And no dialect of English is judge more than AAVE (African American Vernacular English), sometimes poorly referred to as “Ebonics”, a word which will ne’er again appear in this post.
The lack of understanding of AAVE, what it is, how it works, and exactly how prevalent and self-consistent it is leads to people making very rash, very harsh judgement on its speaker for nothing but their language. All of this is very touchy, and honestly it is often impossible to have this discussion and walk away with any friends left.
AAVE is a self-consistent dialect/creole/language prevalent in the African-American community. It is the result of many pressures ranging from economic, racial, to historical. It is mutually intelligible with English but sits on a fence with dialects like Scots on whether or not it is a language and calling it a language has repercussions to it. Calling it a language might legitimize it. Calling it a language would shed light on the difficulty that kids growing up speaking exclusively AAVE have transitioning to a setting where only AmE is acceptable.
But it also would act to further isolate its speakers from work and opportunity. The way I see it is this: the second we call AAVE a language hoping to achieve progress someone will use it as an excuse not to hire someone based off language aptitude but deep down it is because of race. The second AAVE becomes a minority language things change and it isn’t predictable.
We’ve long equated adherence to a non-existent set of rules to education and mobility. Whether consciously or subconsciously the effects are real and it impacts people day in and day out.
Watch a video of a British comedian making fun of an American accent. Now imagine the the punch line was, “So that’s why I didn’t hire him.”
Good thing you learned the right dialect, I hope.
Anyway, I had a point but in writing this I started to get pissed. So I’ll end it there. Stop judging people on their grammar. It makes you a twat.