Author Topic: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?  (Read 2981 times)

accolay

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Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« on: September 25, 2018, 06:08:19 PM »
I don't even really know where to begin and I'm not very particular about my grammar. Does the author not know the difference between vernacular and established grammar rules? Is it wrong to point out where the English language originated?

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-proper-english-grammar-racism_us_5ba91ec9e4b069d5f9d549cd

ixtap

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2018, 06:21:38 PM »
The way it is usually done, I agree with the article.

When I taught Spanish, I always emphasized the difference between academic language and home language and the fact that in the work place you were just as likely to find one as the other, depending on the actual job. Basically, few people speak academically and the "May I" example demonstrates that pretty well.

accolay

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2018, 06:30:03 PM »
Basically, few people speak academically and the "May I" example demonstrates that pretty well.

That may be true however, that doesn't mean we shouldn't be teaching the correct rules in school. And I don't think it makes you a white supremacist to do so. I'm also certain we aren't going to start writing academic research with everyday language and slang.

Nearly ever school child, no matter ethnicity, has gotten the same response to the "Can I" question since time immemorial. It's not about race.

englishteacheralex

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2018, 07:09:36 PM »
As an English teacher...whole academic tomes have been written on this subject. Language is powerful. Language is political. Language is beautiful and multi-faceted and constantly evolving.

Some challenges facing standard English at the moment, off the top of my head:

Since nobody really says "whom" anymore, is it even proper grammar to keep saying it? I've stopped bothering with it, although I understand why and when to use it.

Why does English not have a gender-neutral singular pronoun for people? Since it doesn't, "they" is becoming standardized. Do I stop bothering to worry about pronoun-antecedent agreement since the default setting is just to use "they" in a gender-neutral situation, even if the antecedent is singular? Example: "Everybody got an A on (should be his/her because everybody is always a singular antecedent, but what if I teach a co-ed class?) their paper! Yay!"

When the author says "It's just a few short steps from 'Speak Proper English' to 'Make America Great Again'", I must beg to differ. There are many, many steps in between. Personally, my belief is the more you understand English's many iterations, the better an education you have gotten. Standard, collegiate English has its place, but if you can be intentional and grammatically correct in a different dialect, well, that's quite an interesting and appropriate use of language, too. I teach AP Literature and if I were to read a paper written in excellent Hawaiian Pidgin (I teach in Hawaii) I'd be inclined to give it an A, particularly if the student had a fluent command of standard English and wrote in Pidgin in order to make a point. That would be quite a student. Applause for THAT student. I'm a little surprised I haven't seen that happen yet. I'm inclined to make it an assignment, now.

Anyway, interesting discussion, but this is a clickbait article about a topic that has been debated quite a bit since I was in high school in the 90's. It's extremely relevant in Hawaii for a number of fascinating historical reasons but I should go grade some papers instead of writing incoherently here.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2018, 11:51:06 PM by englishteacheralex »

Taran Wanderer

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2018, 10:34:15 PM »
It wasn't incoherent.  It was actually quite informative!

Moonwaves

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2018, 01:40:35 AM »
Nearly ever school child, no matter ethnicity, has gotten the same response to the "Can I" question since time immemorial. It's not about race.
Off to read the article now but can definitely confirm that the "can I/may I" thing is something that my dad was very fond of teaching us.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2018, 06:15:13 AM by Moonwaves »

RetiredAt63

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2018, 05:36:12 AM »
Nearly ever school child, no matter ethnicity, has gotten the same response to the "Can I" question since time immemorial. It's not about race.
Off to read the article now but can definitely confirm that the "can I/may I" thing is something that my dad was very fond of teaching us that particular one.

Given the number of things people and society are able do but shouldn't, the difference between "can" and "may" matters. 

cerat0n1a

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2018, 05:53:36 AM »
Nearly ever school child, no matter ethnicity, has gotten the same response to the "Can I" question since time immemorial. It's not about race.

I wonder whether that is true in other English speaking countries? I would be quite surprised if many children in England had been told to use "may I" rather than "can I" in the last couple of decades.

Moonwaves

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2018, 06:29:45 AM »
Nearly ever school child, no matter ethnicity, has gotten the same response to the "Can I" question since time immemorial. It's not about race.

I wonder whether that is true in other English speaking countries? I would be quite surprised if many children in England had been told to use "may I" rather than "can I" in the last couple of decades.
Maybe it is more of an age thing.
I've read the article now and my experience of learning can/may is certainly very different than the author's. When my dad said it to me, I think I look puzzled or possibly asked what he meant but after he explained it to me, I had more of a "that's interesting" and "my dad knows everything" reaction than anything else.

In general though, I don't entirely agree with the article. She's talking about teaching dialect instead of the generally accepted standard version of a language. This doesn't just happen in English. It's certainly the case in German and I'm sure in plenty of (most?) other languages, as well. With some dialects being so distinct as to almost be entirely different languages I could accept an argument for them being taught separately but I don't think it should be at the expense of the standard language. It's kind of a learn to abide by the rules before you learn when and how to break the rules type of thing perhaps.

I do wonder, though, how much of my attitude stems (consciously or unconsciouly) from the fact that I'm Irish and our historical relationship with the English language has been at times somewhat fraught. It's possible I may have a deepseated attitude of "we dealt with it so everyone else should, too". Mixed in, of course, with that sneaky feeling of pride that so many Irish people took "their" language and made more of a success of it than "they" did (Yeats et al. :) ).

maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2018, 06:51:21 AM »
It seems like there are two issues that are being mixed together here.

One is whether or not it is reasonable to teach children all be able to speak and write a single consistent version of the english language.

The second is whether that single consistent version of the english language is frozen in time, or changes as the way the majority of american english language speakers alter the grammatical rules they follow and the words they use. 

A good example of the first from the article is using "be" as a substitute of "is" or "are." Most people will understand both, but is/are is clearly more broadly used across speakers of American english, both in the USA and around the world.

A good example of the second from the article is using "they" rather than "he" or "he or she" as a singular pronoun when the gender of the person being referred to is unknown. At this point I think the singular unisex "they" is both broadly understood and broadly used all over the world (I could be wrong in this though).

Personally I'm all in favor of trying to ensure each generation can speak a standardized english, but I'm also fine with defining and updating what that standardized english is based on actual usage, rather than an arbitrary set of rules defined at a single point in time. The fact that the grammar and vocabulary of english are both growing and changing concepts is part of what separates us from languages like french where the Académie française has to meet and discuss whether any give loan word will ever be accepted into the french language.

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2018, 08:26:48 AM »
I’m with PP who said that this is not even remotely a new concept and has been discussed and debated and length and in excruciating detail and will continue to be as long as we have society and language. Power and language, language and power... I thought this was all pretty common knowledge stuff.

Then again, I do see a lot of people posting quotes from the dictionary in debates about ideas as if the dictionary is an authority ...so...maybe not...?

I also laugh at the concept of scientific papers being written in “proper language”. Meanwhile, anyone who has written a scientific paper knows that it’s a totally different style of writing that needs to be learned anyway and takes a good chunk of practice to unlearn the narrative or essay style of writing that was hammered into you in high school.

I worked with a Chinese prof who could write neuroscience papers in English with ease but couldn’t possibly craft an email that made any grammatical sense because he only knew how to write in the passive past tense, which is close to useless in most forms of writing (and actively discouraged by writing professors).

It’s not like what’s taught in highschool is going to magically prepare someone for professional level writing. That’s absurd. If someone has to learn to write at a professional level, then they need to learn that writing style at a professional level, which can be taught to anyone. So what they learn in highschool doesn’t really matter.

So whether or not kids are taught some arbitrary “correct way” has virtually no bearing on their future ability to write or communicate at a professional level if they choose to learn that particular professional level style of writing, either independently, in university, or in job training.

What’s super racist though is that many cultural dialects of English are recognized by linguists and are not considered linguistically innacurate or incorrect and have their own rules and structures that are as legitimate and understandable as other English dialects, and yet one will be considered more “correct” than the other because it’s the one that was taught in school as being the “right way” to speak and write. Guess what colour the people were who decided which dialect was right and which was wrong??

Meanwhile, a lot of the African American English dialect has grammar that sounds unusual to people because it’s preserved from Victorian British English (cuz slavery), which if you’ve read Victorian literature, you will agree can be challenging to understand if you aren’t a Victorian. Meanwhile, a lot of the gibberish rules taught today actually come from Latin and don’t make a ton of sense to impose on English.
...but whatevs.

It would seem obvious to me that a social construct of “proper language” within a racist society with rules from an even more racist past is likely to be...I dunno...probably at least a bit racist??
Seems pretty common sense.

After studying linguistics for 6 years, most of the pearl-clutching and hand-wringing over language just makes me shake my head. I think kids might be better off learning linguistics in highschool instead of prescriptive English writing. I know I’ve certainly found it more useful than my university level English writing.

maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2018, 10:10:13 AM »
I think kids might be better off learning linguistics in highschool instead of prescriptive English writing. I know I’ve certainly found it more useful than my university level English writing.

I will say I learned a LOT more about how language actually works from the way we were taught a foreign language in high school than I ever did from actual "english" classes.

Mississippi Mudstache

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2018, 10:35:28 AM »
I think kids might be better off learning linguistics in highschool instead of prescriptive English writing. I know I’ve certainly found it more useful than my university level English writing.

I will say I learned a LOT more about how language actually works from the way we were taught a foreign language in high school than I ever did from actual "english" classes.

100%. I learned Portuguese in college and spent 3 months in Brazil. Gave me a completely new perspective on the English language.

BDWW

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2018, 10:41:02 AM »
What utter nonsense. Is it also racist when teaching (white) rednecks and hillbillies not to use aint?

Or as people I know might say

I reckon that right thar is dumber than tits on a bull.

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2018, 10:44:47 AM »
Nearly ever school child, no matter ethnicity, has gotten the same response to the "Can I" question since time immemorial. It's not about race.

I wonder whether that is true in other English speaking countries? I would be quite surprised if many children in England had been told to use "may I" rather than "can I" in the last couple of decades.
Maybe it is more of an age thing.
I've read the article now and my experience of learning can/may is certainly very different than the author's. When my dad said it to me, I think I look puzzled or possibly asked what he meant but after he explained it to me, I had more of a "that's interesting" and "my dad knows everything" reaction than anything else.

In general though, I don't entirely agree with the article. She's talking about teaching dialect instead of the generally accepted standard version of a language. This doesn't just happen in English. It's certainly the case in German and I'm sure in plenty of (most?) other languages, as well. With some dialects being so distinct as to almost be entirely different languages I could accept an argument for them being taught separately but I don't think it should be at the expense of the standard language. It's kind of a learn to abide by the rules before you learn when and how to break the rules type of thing perhaps.

I do wonder, though, how much of my attitude stems (consciously or unconsciouly) from the fact that I'm Irish and our historical relationship with the English language has been at times somewhat fraught. It's possible I may have a deepseated attitude of "we dealt with it so everyone else should, too". Mixed in, of course, with that sneaky feeling of pride that so many Irish people took "their" language and made more of a success of it than "they" did (Yeats et al. :) ).

Except that the “generally accepted standard version” of English *is* in fact a dialect with no objectives validity or superiority to other dialects except that it was the dialect of the ruling class at the time that it was decided on as “standard English”. It’s considered the standard only because of the power of the class that decided it was.

She’s saying that teaching children that their ethic dialect is incorrect is problematic...because it is.
It’s not a case of “breaking the rules” it’s a case of learning a different set of rules, which are in no way linguistically inferior.

Even this perspective that other dialects are breaking core rules is a prime example of the racism that is entrenched in the way that we are taught about English. There are different dialects and different languages and they all have their own sets of rules. You can only break a rule WITHIN a dialect.
So yes, if you are learning Standard English, you need to learn the rules before you can choose or stylistically break them. However, a kid speaking African American English dialect isn’t breaking rules, they just know a completely different set of rules and are following them correctly.

Is there enormous utility in learning Standard English dialect? Absolutely! No one will ever argue against that. But don’t let that utility excuse the racist reasons behind why it’s so useful to be able to sound white aka normal.

Just as no one will argue the utility of children of many backgrounds learning English. 
However, the racial and social implications of promoting a single dialect or as superior should not be ignored or taken lightly. Just as trying to replace a culture’s native language with English for the sake of utility has been considered a humanitarian crime.


Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #15 on: September 26, 2018, 10:56:06 AM »
What utter nonsense. Is it also racist when teaching (white) rednecks and hillbillies not to use aint?

Or as people I know might say

I reckon that right thar is dumber than tits on a bull.

If “ain’t” is part of a functional and structured local dialect, then yes, it is just as socially oppressive to teach a kid that the way their culture speaks is wrong.

It remains, just as *useful* for kids raised with Southern US English to learn Standard English, but being made to feel like their cultural dialect is inferior is definitely culturally problematic.

Also...let’s not forget how incredibly and horrifically offensive it is to generalize people as “rednecks” or “hillbillies” in a negative way because of the use of ain’t. I’ve spoken with plenty of highly accomplished professionals who use the words “ain’t” “y’all” and “reckon”, etc.

So yeah, I would say that the same elitist prejudice applies.

« Last Edit: September 26, 2018, 10:58:47 AM by Malkynn »

BDWW

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #16 on: September 26, 2018, 11:10:53 AM »
If “ain’t” is part of a functional and structured local dialect, then yes, it is just as socially oppressive to teach a kid that the way their culture speaks is wrong.

It remains, just as *useful* for kids raised with Southern US English to learn Standard English, but being made to feel like their cultural dialect is inferior is definitely culturally problematic.

Also...let’s not forget how incredibly and horrifically offensive it is to generalize people as “rednecks” or “hillbillies” in a negative way because of the use of ain’t. I’ve spoken with plenty of highly accomplished professionals who use the words “ain’t” “y’all” and “reckon”, etc.

So yeah, I would say that the same elitist prejudice applies.

You really don't see how asinine this all is? I'll continue this nonsense oppression olympics charade by pointing out that you are the one generalizing people as “rednecks” or “hillbillies” . I didn't generalize by their use of the word aint[sic], I referenced them specifically, and any negative connotation was a product of your bias.


Slee_stack

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #17 on: September 26, 2018, 11:23:35 AM »
How efficient would it be to require every child to understand every other dialect or form of slang while learning in school?

Is that remotely feasible?

Understanding multiple languages is a noble (and cool) thing, but expecting to accommodate dialects and slangs seems absurd.  Where does it end?

Why does this need to be called racist?  If a child were growing up in any other country, would the grammatical expectations there also be considered racist?  How do other countries avoid this racist problem?

« Last Edit: September 26, 2018, 11:26:00 AM by Slee_stack »

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #18 on: September 26, 2018, 11:24:17 AM »
If “ain’t” is part of a functional and structured local dialect, then yes, it is just as socially oppressive to teach a kid that the way their culture speaks is wrong.

It remains, just as *useful* for kids raised with Southern US English to learn Standard English, but being made to feel like their cultural dialect is inferior is definitely culturally problematic.

Also...let’s not forget how incredibly and horrifically offensive it is to generalize people as “rednecks” or “hillbillies” in a negative way because of the use of ain’t. I’ve spoken with plenty of highly accomplished professionals who use the words “ain’t” “y’all” and “reckon”, etc.

So yeah, I would say that the same elitist prejudice applies.

You really don't see how asinine this all is? I'll continue this nonsense oppression olympics charade by pointing out that you are the one generalizing people as “rednecks” or “hillbillies” . I didn't generalize by their use of the word aint[sic], I referenced them specifically, and any negative connotation was a product of your bias.

Fair point on the bias. I rarely have ever heard the terms “redneck” or “hillbilly” be used in a non-negative way because I don’t live where that’s a common refrain and it’s mostly used incredibly offensively. That’s my bias from never having spent time where those terms might be commonly used in a positive way, which is something I look forward to remedying as I have a long list of states I want to visit. The concept of those terms being positive is totally unknown to me as of yet, so it will be cool to learn a different cultural perspective.

However, no, I don’t find the issues of language and power to be at all asinine. Nor do any of the faculty that I studied linguistics and anthropology with. Nor does the author of the article.

They seem asinine because they are the norm.
The norm is often questionable as to why it’s the norm and there’s nothing asinine in challenging norms and thinking outside of our comfort zones as to whether or not our norms are somehow oppressive...since they often are.

It’s cool if it doesn’t matter to you. That’s fine. You don’t need to care about this. I don’t give a flying fuck about a lot of sports, and despite their enormous cultural relevance, I don’t need to pay any attention if I don’t want to. 

A fuck ton of people do care deeply about language and power though and the role that it plays in social oppression and I have half of a bookshelf dedicated to that one topic alone.

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #19 on: September 26, 2018, 11:36:14 AM »
How efficient would it be to require every child to understand every other dialect or form of slang while learning in school?

Is that remotely feasible?

Understanding multiple languages is a noble (and cool) thing, but expecting to accommodate dialects and slangs seems absurd.  Where does it end?

Why does this need to be called racist?  If a child were growing up in any other country, would their grammatical expectations also be considered racist?  How do other countries avoid this racist problem?

It’s not practical for everyone to understand every dialect or every language. That is nuts.
Literally no one has suggested that.

What is offensive is teaching children that different dialects are wrong or inferior to the Standard English dialect, which is usually how it is taught. The fundamental presupposition that Sandard English is correct and superior just because that dialect of the ruling class got labeled “Standard”.

It’s cool to learn Standard English dialect. It’s useful the same way that people learn English as a second language for the sake of utility. That doesn’t make it more correct, or superior, or good, it’s just common due to being what has been taught for decades.

Looking critically at *why* something is the norm is not the same as saying that we should eliminate the norm and do something ridiculous and cumbersome as a result like teaching every dialect. However, a basic linguistics lecture that explains how languages work and that there are many ways to speak the same language and that the most common dialect isn’t necessarily superior might be worth considering.

Slee_stack

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #20 on: September 26, 2018, 11:58:25 AM »
How efficient would it be to require every child to understand every other dialect or form of slang while learning in school?

Is that remotely feasible?

Understanding multiple languages is a noble (and cool) thing, but expecting to accommodate dialects and slangs seems absurd.  Where does it end?

Why does this need to be called racist?  If a child were growing up in any other country, would their grammatical expectations also be considered racist?  How do other countries avoid this racist problem?

It’s not practical for everyone to understand every dialect or every language. That is nuts.
Literally no one has suggested that.

What is offensive is teaching children that different dialects are wrong or inferior to the Standard English dialect, which is usually how it is taught. The fundamental presupposition that Sandard English is correct and superior just because that dialect of the ruling class got labeled “Standard”.

It’s cool to learn Standard English dialect. It’s useful the same way that people learn English as a second language for the sake of utility. That doesn’t make it more correct, or superior, or good, it’s just common due to being what has been taught for decades.

Looking critically at *why* something is the norm is not the same as saying that we should eliminate the norm and do something ridiculous and cumbersome as a result like teaching every dialect. However, a basic linguistics lecture that explains how languages work and that there are many ways to speak the same language and that the most common dialect isn’t necessarily superior might be worth considering.
Perhaps I'm too simplistic.   I don't necessary care or have ever cared what 'standard' is used for anything...spoken/written language, programming language, software, whatever.

Give me the medium that makes it easier for the population to get things done quicker.

I'll agree that no one should be talked down to about their first or native language.  That's just wrong.

I would hope that most people could view Proper English (or whatever) simply as a communication standard that is used for the good of all.   Whether it was 'white based' at some point in time (or any other color based)  honestly means nothing to me personally.  Maybe some people are offended though.   

Personally, I think Proper English is unnecessarily complex (or at least confusing) as a language (compared to some others).  I don't worry too much about it though because its just a (very) common way to communicate in the US.

I will try to remember to put a linguistic class on my bucket list though.  I don't doubt I might learn something.

diapasoun

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #21 on: September 26, 2018, 12:04:11 PM »
So, I have a PhD in linguistics.

There's two ways to approach language, particular in terms of grammar: prescriptivist (this is what language should be) and descriptivist (this is what language is). A prescriptivist says that "we be hanging out" is bad English; it's not in the accepted standard dialect/register. A descriptivist says that it's perfectly good English, it just belongs to a particular dialect/register (African American Vernacular English in this case). "We be hanging out" is perfectly grammatical in AAVE; it's not grammatical in Standard American English. That's because they aren't the same dialects.

Linguists pretty universally approach language in a descriptivist manner, because we're concerned with language as an object: How does language work? What is the mental object that is language? For the sociolinguists, what is the social object that is language? Language is immensely diverse, and amazing, and we want to know all about. When you study language for long enough, you discover that there is literally nothing that makes one language or dialect better than another. "But German sounds so harsh!" -- that's an aesthetic judgment, and therefore it has all the weight of any other aesthetic judgment (i.e. basically zero). "But such-and-such people have eleventy billion words for X!" -- well, you're probably confusing "word" with "sentence", which is very easy in some languages. There's no one language that has special expressive power, though, and there's hundreds, if not thousands, of papers out there showing just that.

Most of the rest of society approaches language from a prescriptivist position. This is where power gets involved, and as Malkynn points out, the "preferred" dialects are (in the US at least) inevitably white and upper-class, and if you go deep enough, typically coastal (e.g. white upper class California English is becoming the standard TV dialect, for example). That's because these are the dialects spoken by the people in power; everyone wants to speak like the people in power, after all.

Insisting that the only "good" dialects are the dialects of people in power necessarily makes a value judgment on the dialects of people NOT in power. Those dialects, the dialects spoken by the poor/brown/gay/whatever people, those are the BAD dialects. That's where you get charges of racism, classim, and all the other -isms coming in. You're literally telling people that their language/dialect is worse, and you're making that judgment is based on power structures. People don't think of it that way, and it's very rarely expressed overtly that way, but that's what's happening.

There's plenty of value in learning the dialect of power. But acting like the dialect of power is the One True Dialect? Yeah, you're punching down in the power hierarchy.

@BDWW It's not racist to teach white people not to use ain't. It is, however, classist, and in the way you described it, urbanist, to tell them that "ain't" is inferior. "Ain't" is perfectly grammatical in the dialects that have it. You can tell them it's not part of Standard American English and shouldn't be used in that context, but

Also, a gentle reminder that some of the people on these boards are the exact people you just made fun of. I am a white, lower-class person from Appalachia. I find your post deeply unfunny. You used two shitty words ("hillbillies" and "rednecks", which I've never heard anyone outside those communities use in a non-shitty way) and a parody of rural white English as a way to -- what? Make a point by making fun of folks?

 

BDWW

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #22 on: September 26, 2018, 12:15:30 PM »

Also, a gentle reminder that some of the people on these boards are the exact people you just made fun of. I am a white, lower-class person from Appalachia. I find your post deeply unfunny. You used two shitty words ("hillbillies" and "rednecks", which I've never heard anyone outside those communities use in a non-shitty way) and a parody of rural white English as a way to -- what? Make a point by making fun of folks?

Hilarious, and very illustrative of the problem of the aforementioned oppression olympics. Anyone figure out the elephant yet?

MOD EDIT: You are being rude and not adding to the conversation. Please stop.
« Last Edit: October 01, 2018, 11:54:56 AM by arebelspy »

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #23 on: September 26, 2018, 12:21:44 PM »
How efficient would it be to require every child to understand every other dialect or form of slang while learning in school?

Is that remotely feasible?

Understanding multiple languages is a noble (and cool) thing, but expecting to accommodate dialects and slangs seems absurd.  Where does it end?

Why does this need to be called racist?  If a child were growing up in any other country, would their grammatical expectations also be considered racist?  How do other countries avoid this racist problem?

It’s not practical for everyone to understand every dialect or every language. That is nuts.
Literally no one has suggested that.

What is offensive is teaching children that different dialects are wrong or inferior to the Standard English dialect, which is usually how it is taught. The fundamental presupposition that Sandard English is correct and superior just because that dialect of the ruling class got labeled “Standard”.

It’s cool to learn Standard English dialect. It’s useful the same way that people learn English as a second language for the sake of utility. That doesn’t make it more correct, or superior, or good, it’s just common due to being what has been taught for decades.

Looking critically at *why* something is the norm is not the same as saying that we should eliminate the norm and do something ridiculous and cumbersome as a result like teaching every dialect. However, a basic linguistics lecture that explains how languages work and that there are many ways to speak the same language and that the most common dialect isn’t necessarily superior might be worth considering.
Perhaps I'm too simplistic.   I don't necessary care or have ever cared what 'standard' is used for anything...spoken/written language, programming language, software, whatever.

Give me the medium that makes it easier for the population to get things done quicker.

I'll agree that no one should be talked down to about their first or native language.  That's just wrong.

I would hope that most people could view Proper English (or whatever) simply as a communication standard that is used for the good of all.   Whether it was 'white based' at some point in time (or any other color based)  honestly means nothing to me personally.  Maybe some people are offended though.   

Personally, I think Proper English is unnecessarily complex (or at least confusing) as a language (compared to some others).  I don't worry too much about it though because its just a (very) common way to communicate in the US.

I will try to remember to put a linguistic class on my bucket list though.  I don't doubt I might learn something.

Standard English is the name of the dialect that is taught and commonly recognized as the “norm” for English in the US and Canada.

It’s not that it’s proper, or better, or more correct than other dialects, it’s just the one that was settled on years ago to make the standard, hence why it’s called standard.

Other dialects are no less correct or valid, they are just less common and more culturally specific.
Someone speaking a different cultural dialect is no different than someone who speaks a different language, it’s just that you will have A LOT more language in common with the dialect than with another language altogether. Similar to how someone who speaks Spanish will understand more Portuguese than someone who only speaks Japanese.

Other dialects should be respected as valid the same way that other languages should be. It’s culturally offensive to tell someone that their legitimate dialect is wrong.

This is why the author feels like the way she was taught grammar is racist, because she was told that the way she speaks is fundamentally an error and not just a respected cultural variation. She was taught that the Standard form is the correct form and that her natural “mother tongue” is incorrect and should be replaced.

Seeing dialects as inferior necessarily translates to imposing a certain level of inferiority on those cultures.

So yes, I think it would be great if children were taught to respect that there are multiple forms of nearly every language and that they are as valid and correct as the form that they are being taught in school and that they are being taught a sandardized form for the sake of standardization, not superiority.

Instead, kids get told that when they say “we be going to the store” is simply wrong and that they are making an error, which leads a lot of black kids to feel stupid and judged and a lot of white kids to judge those who do speak that way as uneducated and ignorant. When they could be taught that though it’s a legitimate phrase in AAE dialect, that Standard is just different.

diapasoun

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #24 on: September 26, 2018, 12:50:36 PM »

Also, a gentle reminder that some of the people on these boards are the exact people you just made fun of. I am a white, lower-class person from Appalachia. I find your post deeply unfunny. You used two shitty words ("hillbillies" and "rednecks", which I've never heard anyone outside those communities use in a non-shitty way) and a parody of rural white English as a way to -- what? Make a point by making fun of folks?

Hilarious, and very illustrative of the problem of the aforementioned oppression olympics. Anyone figure out the elephant yet?

What does a word mean?

A word means what a community uses it to mean.

In most all of the US, and definitely on an internet forum talking with total strangers, "redneck" and "hillbilly" are used as offensive terms to denigrate rural white people, especially rural white people from the south and/or Appalachia and rural white people without higher education.

So, yeah, you used two offensive terms. And I'm telling you as someone born and raised in that community that I don't care if you were too. It's still hurtful language, I don't appreciate it, I don't think it's funny, and I said so -- and your response was to tell me that it's hilarious that I find that language hurtful. Maybe it doesn't hurt you, but it hurts others, and you clearly don't care.

Good to see your colors, dude.

Slee_stack

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #25 on: September 26, 2018, 01:36:59 PM »
When a dialect introduces confusion or reduces the chance of the overall population's understanding, it is inappropriate to utilize in that population's setting (ie work, school, etc.).

Being corrected with respect to the 'standard' in that environment should not be taken as an offense.

If a teacher says 'That's wrong', why must one immediately presume the most negative interpretation and view it as an attack on dialect/culture/etc?  Why can't they instead see the correction with respect to the application of the standard?  What wrong was done?

Are people helping to generate their own offense simply by presuming the worst?

I know that personally, it gets extremely tiring trying to walk on eggshells in every facet of life and at every moment.   Isn't part of the burden to improve things also on the offendee?

No really...I'm not being racist when I don't understand something that is said at work in a dialect I can't understand...

I'm asking (ok expecting!) you to use standard English so we can all understand the task at hand and address the problem.  Why is that racist?

Why would a school that is trying to teach the standard NOT correct improper use?   If someone changed the standard to Swahili tomorrow...I would have an incredibly hard time...but I'd probably suck it up and learn it to the best of my ability.  And I would WANT people to tell me when I was wrong if I was mis-applying it.

« Last Edit: September 26, 2018, 01:38:57 PM by Slee_stack »

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #26 on: September 26, 2018, 02:14:48 PM »
When a dialect introduces confusion or reduces the chance of the overall population's understanding, it is inappropriate to utilize in that population's setting (ie work, school, etc.).

Being corrected with respect to the 'standard' in that environment should not be taken as an offense.

If a teacher says 'That's wrong', why must one immediately presume the most negative interpretation and view it as an attack on dialect/culture/etc?  Why can't they instead see the correction with respect to the application of the standard?  What wrong was done?

Are people helping to generate their own offense simply by presuming the worst?

I know that personally, it gets extremely tiring trying to walk on eggshells in every facet of life and at every moment.   Isn't part of the burden to improve things also on the offendee?

No really...I'm not being racist when I don't understand something that is said at work in a dialect I can't understand...

I'm asking (ok expecting!) you to use standard English so we can all understand the task at hand and address the problem.  Why is that racist?

Why would a school that is trying to teach the standard NOT correct improper use?   If someone changed the standard to Swahili tomorrow...I would have an incredibly hard time...but I'd probably suck it up and learn it to the best of my ability.  And I would WANT people to tell me when I was wrong if I was mis-applying it.

As I said above, could a school not also respect other dialects and still teach Standard English without teaching that those other dialects are grammatically wrong? I honestly don't know how to be clearer about this...

The education system currently teaches Standard as "correct" and all other cultural dialects as being incorrect and consisting of bad grammar. The educational system currently very clearly implies that those who speak a culturally different dialect are speaking poorly, which simply isn't the case. They are speaking differently. Each dialect has their own grammar rules, these are not errors, they are systematically different rules, which native speakers understand very well and are just as elegant and structured as Standard English rules.

There is nothing wrong with taking offense to a normal part of your culture being represented as inferior, incorrect, ignorant, and uneducated, which is exactly how people raised with different dialects are made to feel, especially AAE speakers. I've personally seen kids who were raised speaking rarer French dialects in Quebec full on humiliated in class by their teachers for "butchering French". It's unnecessary, and unquestionably offensive to their culture given the history behind it.

That doesn't mean Standard English shouldn't continue to be taught, that doesn't mean it should be replaced, but it does mean that a little education in how languages *actually develop and are structured* would go a long way in the public education system.
It literally took only about 40 minutes into my first linguistics class to understand this whole concept and to realize that the way that we are taught "grammar" as one way being right and all others being wrong is pretty closed minded and disrespectful to many regional cultures.

Honestly, it really wouldn't take much to prevent kids who were raised with different dialects not to feel so shitty about the way they speak. They can absolutely be taught Standard, taught the benefits of being fluent in standard in both academia as well as the business world internationally. That's cool. However, we could also teach all kids that various dialects are all also valid and respectable forms of language that do not need to be eliminated and replaced with Standard just because it's worth learning.
« Last Edit: September 26, 2018, 02:28:37 PM by Malkynn »

accolay

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #27 on: September 26, 2018, 02:40:03 PM »
Insisting that the only "good" dialects are the dialects of people in power necessarily makes a value judgment on the dialects of people NOT in power. Those dialects, the dialects spoken by the poor/brown/gay/whatever people, those are the BAD dialects. That's where you get charges of racism, classim, and all the other -isms coming in. You're literally telling people that their language/dialect is worse, and you're making that judgment is based on power structures. People don't think of it that way, and it's very rarely expressed overtly that way, but that's what's happening.

What do we do to attempt to elevate the dialects of those who are not in power? Do we agree that all other dialects are valuable then.... go back to using Latin and Greek? How does a multicultural society decide how to avoid confusion and communicate effectively?

Is it ironic that we're using these grammar rules to communicate effectively?

maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #28 on: September 26, 2018, 02:55:19 PM »
That doesn't mean Standard English shouldn't continue to be taught, that doesn't mean it should be replaced, but it does mean that a little education in how languages *actually develop and are structured* would go a long way in the public education system.
It literally took only about 40 minutes into my first linguistics class to understand this whole concept and to realize that the way that we are taught "grammar" as one way being right and all others being wrong is pretty closed minded and disrespectful to many regional cultures.

Honestly, it really wouldn't take much to prevent kids who were raised with different dialects not to feel so shitty about the way they speak. They can absolutely be taught Standard, taught the benefits of being fluent in standard in both academia as well as the business world internationally. That's cool. However, we could also teach all kids that various dialects are all also valid and respectable forms of language that do not need to be eliminated and replaced with Standard just because it's worth learning.

Okay, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to get this (I blame it on being so long out of high school and the torture that was english class). So if I understand you correctly, are you saying that teaching Standard English to students across the USA isn't a bad thing, it is that you are saying it would be much better if it was presented/positioned as "here is a particular variant of english, being fluent in this variant is a useful life skill for both historical and pragmatic reasons"?

If so, I'm in complete agreement with you. My previous post was just arguing that the grammatical rules of the Standard English we teach should reflect a descriptivist rather than prescriptivist understanding of what that Standard English dialect is. (Thank you to diapasoun for the correct terminology here!)

Most of the rest of society approaches language from a prescriptivist position. This is where power gets involved, and as Malkynn points out, the "preferred" dialects are (in the US at least) inevitably white and upper-class, and if you go deep enough, typically coastal (e.g. white upper class California English is becoming the standard TV dialect, for example). That's because these are the dialects spoken by the people in power; everyone wants to speak like the people in power, after all.

Huh. Does upper class California English sound more like what you'd hear in southern California or norther California? One of the things that always struck me as weird in that at least right in the San Francisco bay area, the local accent is quite similar if not identical to what you hear in a lot of the midwest, which is where I was taught the old "default" accent for radio and television originated. (I do realize dialects and accents are different concepts, but I'm bad at picking out dialects, a little better at accents, and figure a different accent is a better marker for when people might be speaking a different dialect that guessing entirely at random).

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #29 on: September 26, 2018, 02:57:50 PM »
Insisting that the only "good" dialects are the dialects of people in power necessarily makes a value judgment on the dialects of people NOT in power. Those dialects, the dialects spoken by the poor/brown/gay/whatever people, those are the BAD dialects. That's where you get charges of racism, classim, and all the other -isms coming in. You're literally telling people that their language/dialect is worse, and you're making that judgment is based on power structures. People don't think of it that way, and it's very rarely expressed overtly that way, but that's what's happening.

What do we do to attempt to elevate the dialects of those who are not in power? Do we agree that all other dialects are valuable then.... go back to using Latin and Greek? How does a multicultural society decide how to avoid confusion and communicate effectively?

Is it ironic that we're using these grammar rules to communicate effectively?

Like I said above, we could simply choose to teach kids that other dialects aren't wrong, they're just different.
We can teach kids that Standard English grammar has a functional purpose is global communication, but that that doesn't make it superior to any other language or dialect, it's just very useful.

Besides, you hear other dialects all the damn time. You already understand most of them extremely well. It's a rare case where you might hear something you truly don't understand, but you can always ask for clarification, like when speaking to an Aussie or someone from Newfoundland.

Besides, the hilarious part of this whole discussion is that most speakers of Standard English do actually have piss poor grammar as it's actually taught, and yet, we still understand each other just fine.

Also, um, what makes you think that Latin and Greek didn't have the exact same class-based dialect issues? It's not an English-only phenomenon. Classism and racism occur in judgement of regional dialects all around the world and throughout history. It's a common human behaviour to shit on people for the way they speak.

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #30 on: September 26, 2018, 03:02:02 PM »
That doesn't mean Standard English shouldn't continue to be taught, that doesn't mean it should be replaced, but it does mean that a little education in how languages *actually develop and are structured* would go a long way in the public education system.
It literally took only about 40 minutes into my first linguistics class to understand this whole concept and to realize that the way that we are taught "grammar" as one way being right and all others being wrong is pretty closed minded and disrespectful to many regional cultures.

Honestly, it really wouldn't take much to prevent kids who were raised with different dialects not to feel so shitty about the way they speak. They can absolutely be taught Standard, taught the benefits of being fluent in standard in both academia as well as the business world internationally. That's cool. However, we could also teach all kids that various dialects are all also valid and respectable forms of language that do not need to be eliminated and replaced with Standard just because it's worth learning.

Okay, so it took me an embarrassingly long time to get this (I blame it on being so long out of high school and the torture that was english class). So if I understand you correctly, are you saying that teaching Standard English to students across the USA isn't a bad thing, it is that you are saying it would be much better if it was presented/positioned as "here is a particular variant of english, being fluent in this variant is a useful life skill for both historical and pragmatic reasons"?

If so, I'm in complete agreement with you. My previous post was just arguing that the grammatical rules of the Standard English we teach should reflect a descriptivist rather than prescriptivist understanding of what that Standard English dialect is. (Thank you to diapasoun for the correct terminology here!)

Honestly, I don't have the answers for systemic racism, but I do think that that small effort would be a great and simple thing to do that could go a long way.

accolay

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #31 on: September 26, 2018, 03:10:07 PM »
Also, um, what makes you think that Latin and Greek didn't have the exact same class-based dialect issues? It's not an English-only phenomenon. Classism and racism occur in judgement of regional dialects all around the world and throughout history. It's a common human behaviour to shit on people for the way they speak.

I'm sure there were class-based issues for those Latin and Greek users in their own time. I'm thinking maybe it would level the playing field.... but then again... those who know Latin and Greek would probably look down on those who use that crappy old formal English grammar.

My point is, what do we do? There are at least 100 languages used around where I live. If teaching everyone in school to speak english grammar is inherently racist, then I guess... we're all basically fucked?  One step closer to "Idiocracy"? Which language should we then choose for formal education?Maybe teach Chinese, Indian or possibly Russian since it seems like they'll be the ones overtaking us anyway. Which would again continue the cycle.

accolay

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #32 on: September 26, 2018, 03:13:02 PM »
Could you post a link to someone speaking "white upper class California English"? I'm from the midwest and I've always felt that professional TV announcers are speaking my accent. So I'd just really like to know what this "white upper class California English" sounds like.

Here you go:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC2fdRnBEoY&list=PLS_gQd8UB-hJqmD_2fyFYEvC-lvIgsdRr

diapasoun

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #33 on: September 26, 2018, 03:14:29 PM »
Insisting that the only "good" dialects are the dialects of people in power necessarily makes a value judgment on the dialects of people NOT in power. Those dialects, the dialects spoken by the poor/brown/gay/whatever people, those are the BAD dialects. That's where you get charges of racism, classim, and all the other -isms coming in. You're literally telling people that their language/dialect is worse, and you're making that judgment is based on power structures. People don't think of it that way, and it's very rarely expressed overtly that way, but that's what's happening.

What do we do to attempt to elevate the dialects of those who are not in power? Do we agree that all other dialects are valuable then.... go back to using Latin and Greek? How does a multicultural society decide how to avoid confusion and communicate effectively?

Is it ironic that we're using these grammar rules to communicate effectively?

I don't think there's anything wrong with teaching "standard" English. I think standards are really useful, because they do enhance communication. This is especially true in languages with much stronger dialectal differences -- for example, people from some parts of Japan really can't understand people from some other parts, because even though they're speaking Japanese the dialects are so different that they're really different related languages. The school standard gives them access to each other, and that's GOOD. The dialectal differences in American English are really pretty small overall, so a standard doesn't do much for us (it's why we can yell so much about this, because the standard isn't clearly as helpful). That doesn't mean that a standard isn't helpful at all. It's nice to have a dialect that we all have some access to; it can keep us from spiraling even further from each other.

I do think that it's wrong to tell or signal to people that their dialects are inferior, and we need to teach standards without doing that. (I had teachers tell me growing up that people sound dumb when they use "ain't"; that's a pretty strong value signal there.)

maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #34 on: September 26, 2018, 03:16:16 PM »
accolay, if you go down that road -- which I know you're proposing as a counterfactual rather an a genuine solution -- you end up everyone should learn esperanto (which a small and dedicated group of people have been arguing for a decade without a lot of success).

Malkynn, I don't know that I agree with you that is is a question of systematic racism rather than systematic classism, but if we agree on the solution to the problem, perhaps it is not as important that we agree on the name of the problem we're trying to solve.

diapasoun

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #35 on: September 26, 2018, 03:22:08 PM »
Most of the rest of society approaches language from a prescriptivist position. This is where power gets involved, and as Malkynn points out, the "preferred" dialects are (in the US at least) inevitably white and upper-class, and if you go deep enough, typically coastal (e.g. white upper class California English is becoming the standard TV dialect, for example). That's because these are the dialects spoken by the people in power; everyone wants to speak like the people in power, after all.

Could you post a link to someone speaking "white upper class California English"? I'm from the midwest and I've always felt that professional TV announcers are speaking my accent. So I'd just really like to know what this "white upper class California English" sounds like.

Oh yeah, the midwest accent has been a long-time TV standard! That's slowly changing, but it's not done yet. California Englishes are generally really close to "general" or standard American English, so it's hard to hear the differences. There's some vocab that's distinctive ("hella" is one people often point out), but the biggest non-vocab differences are actually in the vowels.

There's a nice page here on California English; partway down the page is a TV news segment on California English. The news announcers speak California English.

omachi

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #36 on: September 26, 2018, 03:29:27 PM »
As I said above, could a school not also respect other dialects and still teach Standard English without teaching that those other dialects are grammatically wrong? I honestly don't know how to be clearer about this...

The education system currently teaches Standard as "correct" and all other cultural dialects as being incorrect and consisting of bad grammar. The educational system currently very clearly implies that those who speak a culturally different dialect are speaking poorly, which simply isn't the case. They are speaking differently. Each dialect has their own grammar rules, these are not errors, they are systematically different rules, which native speakers understand very well and are just as elegant and structured as Standard English rules.
I feel like you're deliberately disposing of context here. When your context is standard English, anything outside of that is sub-standard. That is to precisely say it is grammatically wrong in the context of standard English. That isn't to say it is grammatically wrong in the context of the dialect, but that isn't the context in which the teaching is happening.

There is nothing wrong with taking offense to a normal part of your culture being represented as inferior, incorrect, ignorant, and uneducated, which is exactly how people raised with different dialects are made to feel, especially AAE speakers. I've personally seen kids who were raised speaking rarer French dialects in Quebec full on humiliated in class by their teachers for "butchering French". It's unnecessary, and unquestionably offensive to their culture given the history behind it.
This seems particularly funny to me, given that l'Académie française probably has something to say about those in Quebec "butchering French". That aside, it seems it should be understood shorthand for "butchering [the standard] French [that is being taught]". And if it's the case that the teacher is intentionally offending by stating the speakers of a dialect are somehow inferior rather than simply speaking incorrectly in the context of the standard, then yes, of course, the teacher is in the wrong.

accolay

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #37 on: September 26, 2018, 03:34:14 PM »
accolay, if you go down that road -- which I know you're proposing as a counterfactual rather an a genuine solution -- you end up everyone should learn esperanto (which a small and dedicated group of people have been arguing for a decade without a lot of success)

Well, it is a little facetious. But I do think the Chinese will probably end up taking us over. Their English grammar is better than ours anyway. Oh, I think it's best to embrace being concured. Instead of me sulking about the future demise of the English language while being dominated by the Chinese speaking powers that be, I'll just learn fluent Mandarin.

omachi

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #38 on: September 26, 2018, 03:39:25 PM »
Most of the rest of society approaches language from a prescriptivist position. This is where power gets involved, and as Malkynn points out, the "preferred" dialects are (in the US at least) inevitably white and upper-class, and if you go deep enough, typically coastal (e.g. white upper class California English is becoming the standard TV dialect, for example). That's because these are the dialects spoken by the people in power; everyone wants to speak like the people in power, after all.

Could you post a link to someone speaking "white upper class California English"? I'm from the midwest and I've always felt that professional TV announcers are speaking my accent. So I'd just really like to know what this "white upper class California English" sounds like.

Oh yeah, the midwest accent has been a long-time TV standard! That's slowly changing, but it's not done yet. California Englishes are generally really close to "general" or standard American English, so it's hard to hear the differences. There's some vocab that's distinctive ("hella" is one people often point out), but the biggest non-vocab differences are actually in the vowels.

There's a nice page here on California English; partway down the page is a TV news segment on California English. The news announcers speak California English.
And it was previously Mid-Atlantic English, that seemingly odd, almost British English that you may associate with old-timey films and news reports. So it wouldn't be that surprising if things switched again.

maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #39 on: September 26, 2018, 03:52:54 PM »
accolay, if you go down that road -- which I know you're proposing as a counterfactual rather an a genuine solution -- you end up everyone should learn esperanto (which a small and dedicated group of people have been arguing for a decade without a lot of success)

Well, it is a little facetious. But I do think the Chinese will probably end up taking us over. Their English grammar is better than ours anyway. Oh, I think it's best to embrace being concured. Instead of me sulking about the future demise of the English language while being dominated by the Chinese speaking powers that be, I'll just learn fluent Mandarin.

Good luck to you! I've been trying to learn mandarin off and on for years (and before that my parents were trying to get me to learn it). The nice thing is that most chinese speakers I know realize just how hard a language to learn it is, so, for now at least, if you can stumble through one or two broken sentences they'll be thrilled.*

So anyway, I'm really hoping that at this point enough people in enough countries have learned enough english that the usefulness of the language as a default for communicating around the world significantly outlasts the end of pax americana.

And a little less off topic, I don't think anyone is debating the importance of being able to speak the dominant language/dialect, are they?

*I'm not exaggerating for effect. I once received a standing ovation for "Hello my name is [maizeman], thank you for inviting me to Shandong."

Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #40 on: September 26, 2018, 04:15:23 PM »
As I said above, could a school not also respect other dialects and still teach Standard English without teaching that those other dialects are grammatically wrong? I honestly don't know how to be clearer about this...

The education system currently teaches Standard as "correct" and all other cultural dialects as being incorrect and consisting of bad grammar. The educational system currently very clearly implies that those who speak a culturally different dialect are speaking poorly, which simply isn't the case. They are speaking differently. Each dialect has their own grammar rules, these are not errors, they are systematically different rules, which native speakers understand very well and are just as elegant and structured as Standard English rules.
I feel like you're deliberately disposing of context here. When your context is standard English, anything outside of that is sub-standard. That is to precisely say it is grammatically wrong in the context of standard English. That isn't to say it is grammatically wrong in the context of the dialect, but that isn't the context in which the teaching is happening.

No, I’m not disposing of context.
I completely understand that Standard English is a common dialect taught pretty universally. I also get that teaching the rules of that grammar is important and that someone raised speaking African American English or Southern US English will need to be corrected when they are trying to learn Standard English.

What I do see is a generalized societal lack of awareness that other dialects are just as legitimate and that the ways they are different from Standard English are not errors or grammatical mistakes, but are instead a different grammar with different rules.

When someone writes an article about how the way grammar was taught to then made them feel judged for their normal cultural language pattern, and made to feel as though their native tongue is made up of mistakes and errors as opposed to being legitimately different, then I see a problem within the context.

I feel like a broken record, but honestly, what is so wrong with teaching everyone that multiple forms of English exist and that just because one is taught in school doesn’t mean that the other forms should be seen as just ignorant mistakes being made by people who don’t know better.

Why can’t a teacher say “AIN’T is common in some forms of American English, but in Standard it’s said as ISN’T” instead of just telling kids that things like “ain’t” and “we be going” are wrong and shouldn’t be said.


Malkynn

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #41 on: September 26, 2018, 04:22:52 PM »
accolay, if you go down that road -- which I know you're proposing as a counterfactual rather an a genuine solution -- you end up everyone should learn esperanto (which a small and dedicated group of people have been arguing for a decade without a lot of success).

Malkynn, I don't know that I agree with you that is is a question of systematic racism rather than systematic classism, but if we agree on the solution to the problem, perhaps it is not as important that we agree on the name of the problem we're trying to solve.

I would say that there is absolutely an element of systemic racism since African American English is not limited to a certain socioeconomic class of African American, and yet it rather systemically fails to be respected as a dialect and many African Americans feel a lot of pressure to “sound whiter”.

Besides, a whole fuck ton of classist shit is also super racist.
Would you feel more comfortable calling it systematically culturalist?

maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #42 on: September 26, 2018, 04:32:46 PM »
accolay, if you go down that road -- which I know you're proposing as a counterfactual rather an a genuine solution -- you end up everyone should learn esperanto (which a small and dedicated group of people have been arguing for a decade without a lot of success).

Malkynn, I don't know that I agree with you that is is a question of systematic racism rather than systematic classism, but if we agree on the solution to the problem, perhaps it is not as important that we agree on the name of the problem we're trying to solve.

I would say that there is absolutely an element of systemic racism since African American English is not limited to a certain socioeconomic class of African American, and yet it rather systemically fails to be respected as a dialect and many African Americans feel a lot of pressure to “sound whiter”.

Besides, a whole fuck ton of classist shit is also super racist.
Would you feel more comfortable calling it systematically culturalist?

Yup, I'm comfortable with systematic culturalism.

Calling it systematic racism to me would seem to exclude the strong biases you also see against people who speak with appalachian or white-southern accents and/or dialects, while incorrectly including a lot of highly educated African immigrants (particularly in the 1980s and 1990s less so today just because immigration from african countries has declined so much) whose natural english dialect is standard english either as a second language for first generation immigrants or as a mother tongue for second or third generation immigrants.

omachi

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #43 on: September 26, 2018, 05:27:54 PM »
What I do see is a generalized societal lack of awareness that other dialects are just as legitimate and that the ways they are different from Standard English are not errors or grammatical mistakes, but are instead a different grammar with different rules.

When someone writes an article about how the way grammar was taught to then made them feel judged for their normal cultural language pattern, and made to feel as though their native tongue is made up of mistakes and errors as opposed to being legitimately different, then I see a problem within the context.

I feel like a broken record, but honestly, what is so wrong with teaching everyone that multiple forms of English exist and that just because one is taught in school doesn’t mean that the other forms should be seen as just ignorant mistakes being made by people who don’t know better.

Why can’t a teacher say “AIN’T is common in some forms of American English, but in Standard it’s said as ISN’T” instead of just telling kids that things like “ain’t” and “we be going” are wrong and shouldn’t be said.
I've no resistance to teaching everybody that multiple forms of English exist, though it seems rather obvious. I somehow doubt that people looking to latch onto whatever is different as "proof" that the different is inferior are going to sit up and take note. That said, there is certainly possible good in stating it if it corrects misunderstandings, as most people don't seem to care about linguistics in general, whether that's with respect to the standard form or the dialect they were raised speaking.

Personally, I don't care if people want to speak in a mess of inconsistencies that could fit only the loosest of grammars; great for them if they have a cohort to whom they're intelligible. I do take umbrage with people insisting I should accommodate such things when they would interact with me, rather than having those seeking to be understood use the standard, as that's the whole point of teaching a standard in the first place. I mean, I'll generally do my best, but I've been in situations where it was simply hopeless.

BookLoverL

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #44 on: September 27, 2018, 01:39:35 AM »
Accents are all equally valid, from my perspective, and anyone who thinks that somebody is speaking incorrectly just because they're not using the current prestige dialect is wrong, and kind of an asshole.

However, it is not inherently racist or classist to teach people the current prestige dialect, with an attitude of "if you want to do academics/write letters to people in positions of power/etc., writing it this way will go down better".

I personally tend to write in a grammatically correct way according to standard British English, complete with semi-colons and everything, especially if I'm writing an essay or something, but in a more informal setting I will absolutely switch to what I perceive as a better version of writing for that scenario (e.g., in an instant messaging program like Discord, it would be kind of silly to insist on capitalising everything and always using punctuation), and in spoken language, I normally just speak in my usual middle-class Lancashire accent, which does a variety of things considered "ungrammatical" by received-pronunciation puritans. I also have several relatives who speak with a Black Country accent (similar to, but NOT the same as, the Birmingham or "Brummie" accent), which, by the standards of prescriptivist language snobs is considered to be one that makes people sound "stupid". All of them are perfectly intelligent, and, as far as I am concerned, do not sound stupid at all.

I once got into a small argument with someone in my university halls about the "correct" pronunciation of scone. Personally, I pronounce it to rhyme with "on", but I think that BOTH rhyming with "on" and rhyming with "throne" are correct, because large numbers of people do both those things, but she was insisting that only rhyming with "throne" was correct...

cerat0n1a

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #45 on: September 27, 2018, 08:16:25 AM »
I normally just speak in my usual middle-class Lancashire accent, which does a variety of things considered "ungrammatical" by received-pronunciation puritans.

Me too, which means I get corrected by my own kids on how to pronounce "graaass." I grew up in a time and place where friends and family could be addressed with thee and thou, which passed out of Standard English a couple of centuries ago.

I'm reminded of George Bernard Shaw's comment: "It is impossible for an Englishman to open his mouth without making some other Englishman hate or despise him."  Seems like we can substitute American in there and it works just as well :-)

The comments about Mandarin are funny, because the idea that Chinese is a single language is a political fiction. Cantonese or Hakka or numerous other "dialects" are mutually unintelligble with a Beijing Mandarin speaker. "Chinese" has vastly more diversity than the variants of US, British, Indian English. I think English has actually become much more homogenised than it was in the past, due to tv, movies, internet etc.


maizeman

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #46 on: September 27, 2018, 08:53:51 AM »
The comments about Mandarin are funny, because the idea that Chinese is a single language is a political fiction. Cantonese or Hakka or numerous other "dialects" are mutually unintelligble with a Beijing Mandarin speaker. "Chinese" has vastly more diversity than the variants of US, British, Indian English. I think English has actually become much more homogenised than it was in the past, due to tv, movies, internet etc.

Yup. The language situations in India and China are a lot more similar that you'd guess from the number of officially spoken languages. I remember being in Hainan and asking what language people were speaking (because it didn't sound anything like "chinese" to me) and being told "oh yes, they have a strange sounding dialect down here." Many married Chinese couples speak the standardized version of chinese taught in schools, and mutually unintelligible versions of supposedly the same language to each set of parents.* In India the situation is similar, except they call these languages rather than dialects.

China is trying to deal with the situation by doing everything they can to encourage people to only speak and use the standardized mandarin chinese language, which may be a multigenerational undertaking.** India deals with the situation by effectively requiring fluency in at least three distinct languages (regional/state language, Hindi, and English) for many high-status/high-education-requirement jobs.

As you pointed out, in the USA we've really only had a couple of centuries to develop distinct dialects and accents, and about half of that time has coincided with the advent of commercial radio and television which tends to push people back towards a standardized language rather than diverging into regional dialects and then languages. So the stakes are much lower for us than in places like India or China. But ultimately the question of which of those two approaches to take may still be the same.

*I've been told all/most of the dialects or languages in China are mutually intelligible when written. If true, that may be a perk of a written language where each symbol represents an idea rather than a sound.

**This isn't a project unique to China. For example the french language as we know it today is descended from the language spoken right around Paris, and the fact that it is spoken throughout France today is the result of a multi-century effort by the french government starting back in the 1600s.

gaja

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #47 on: September 27, 2018, 11:01:41 AM »
How efficient would it be to require every child to understand every other dialect or form of slang while learning in school?

Is that remotely feasible?


Understanding multiple languages is a noble (and cool) thing, but expecting to accommodate dialects and slangs seems absurd.  Where does it end?

Why does this need to be called racist?  If a child were growing up in any other country, would the grammatical expectations there also be considered racist?  How do other countries avoid this racist problem?

In Norway we learn to recognize and understand the different Norwegian dialects in school, in addition to Danish and Swedish. Dialects are also part of the curriculum for the other languages we learn, such as English, German, Spanish, etc. There are dialects in Norway that are so strange that I struggle to understand them, but admitting that to the person speaking that dialect will reflect badly on me, not them. My dialect can be difficult for some people, especially Swedes and Danes, and I will tone it down and speak slower if I see them struggling. You are expected to keep your dialect when you move, and if someone can hear that you are trying to speak "more poshly", it is not an admired trait. Immigrants that choose to adopt a rural dialect will find integration becomes easier. Slang is more difficult, since teenagers often want a secret language. But it is mostly seen as positive. Also, "spot the dialect" is a common icebreaker when you meet new people, and a common topic on tv and radio shows. Like these kids filming themselves playing a online game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tA-9veCfs9Y

We do not have a standardized spoken language, and you can choose between two different types of written Norwegian (and a large variety of grammar and vocabulary within the two written languages). We learn to read and write both varieties in school, but you choose one to be your primary written language. I can't write 100 % like I speak, there are some grammatical rules in the written languages that are stricter than the spoken, but I can get pretty close. And shifting between different dialects, sociolects and written varieties can make it easier to adapt the message to different target groups.

The strong positive emphasis on dialects comes from being forced to use Danish (and to some degree Swedish) as an official language. Freedom of language was an important part of the fight for independence. Language is power, and can easily be used to suppress certain groups. I would not necesserally connect it to race, but rather socioeconomic background. This TEDtalk from a Scottish auditory neuroscientist is very interesting in this regard: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRnQ8lYcvFU

PDXTabs

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #48 on: September 27, 2018, 01:57:34 PM »
What utter nonsense. Is it also racist when teaching (white) rednecks and hillbillies not to use aint?

No, that's ethnocentric, or possibly classist. I believe the that current word (because language evolves) for this is intersectionality. That is, having a bunch of white guys define correct language usage in the USA 200 years ago, and how it has evolved, is an exercise in colonialism, classism, nationalism, and ethnocentrism which all have a tinge of racism. That's why I was never allowed to hand in English assignments with English spelling in them. Because the American colonialist language cabal wouldn't let me.

With that said, I'm not sure that the answer is to not teach it, but to deny the roots is to ignore the truth of the matter. With that said, every linguist ever will tell you that languages evolve, and that the most common usage is definitionally correct. Of course, to get to the point where your usage is most common, first only, like, a handful of people were using it. Any argument to the contrary is jankey.


Indexer

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Re: Yikes. Grammar is... Racist?
« Reply #49 on: September 27, 2018, 09:36:02 PM »
Why is this so complicated?

Teach standard English. People in their respective areas might still use their own regional versions of certain words. They've been learning "English" but still speaking the way they want for a hundred+ years.

PS. I live in the South, and went to school in an area where redneck wasn't an insult. People learned English. They knew not to write "ain't" in a paper, and very few people actually use that word BTW. Say "ain't" in the south and a redneck will probably joke with you that "ain't ain't a word." No one thought it was classist that you couldn't use ain't in an English paper.

Considering how connected we all are now I would say it's pretty important that we have one set standard, at least for writing. A national firm with employees and clients all over the country probably doesn't want it's employees in the south putting "Y'all" in emails.