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Holla Back: Responding to Your Comments

June 18, 2012

Holla Back is a new segment where we’ll be responding to reader questions and comments. We appreciate all the great feedback we receive from readers and encourage you to keep it coming!

On “Why Would You Study that Bad English”:

Commenter Stan writes,

“To support the use of AAE is tantamount to saying you’ve gone nowhere, you’re behind, and you’re going backwards. As far as I’m concerned, all dialects that aren’t SAE are backwards”.

Many people share Stan’s opinion that all dialects that aren’t “Standard American English” are inferior, but as we’ve written before this is often due to Standard Language Ideology which is prominent throughout our culture. American children are taught in public schools that there is one “proper” way to speak and write and that anyone who speaks differently sounds somehow “uneducated” or “uncultured”.  Commenter Jon M. points out that ideas about which dialects are prestigious have a lot to do with historical circumstances and traditional ideas about language and race.  As scientists, linguists are trained to look at different dialects as functioning systems of communication that have no intrinsic value as “good” or “bad”. One objective of this blog is to challenge the school of thought that AAE is somehow objectively less valuable than Standard English or any other dialect.

Commenter Chris writes,

“Most everyone feels the same about the best dialect being the one that they speak…By best we usually mean that we feel comfortable with hearing and using it”.

Chris’ comment is really insightful, because often are ideas about language are informed by our surroundings. Thus, it may be comfortable for individuals to feel that “the best” or “most normal” dialect is the one that they have had the most exposure to. One interesting phenomenon that supports this theory is the way that people talk about others “having an accent”.  According to Anetha Fraser Gupta, on LinguistList:

“An accent is a way of pronouncing a language. It is therefore impossible to speak without an accent. Some people may think they do not have an accent. Or you may think that there are other people who do not have an accent. Everyone has an accent”.

No two individuals speak exactly the same as one another, and individual and group differences contribute to diversity and help us to understand the world from the perspectives of others. Clinging to the unscientific idea that there’s some kind of “proper” or “correct” way to speak can limit our ability to understand new ideas and learn from those who are different from ourselves.

Thanks for all your comments and we look forward to hearing from you more in the future!

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 18, 2012 9:44 am

    I’ve wriiten a book for teachers called Funner Grammar that people might find interesting. I have a couple of chapters talking about appreciating AAVE and other language as a social justice issue.

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