reply to post by kimish
If African Americans have their own vocabulary and grammar isn't that degenerate in a way because that way of speaking isn't taught in the
majority of US schools, to my knowledge?
Is the version of English taught in American schools the standard by which everyone’s speech and writing should be judged? The English language
originated in England, and it was the British Empire, not Hollywood, that carried it round the world. The country with the largest number of English
speakers on Earth is India. I am South Asian, though not Indian, yet my mother tongue, too, is English. I don’t understand why the dialect of
English taught in one former colony of the British Empire should be considered the universal standard of the language.
And of course, it isn’t. In truth, there is no such standard. There is a dialect known to linguists as Standard English, but it isn't American; it
is based on the English spoken by educated natives in the southeast and East Midlands areas of England. And not even this is considered to be an
absolute standard nowadays. Watch the news on the BBC and you'll hear presenters speaking in all kinds of accents, from Lancashire to Lucknow, Lusaka
to Linlithgow. The era is past when anyone could point to a single, absolute standard of English.
It was short-lived anyway. The story of English goes back to Anglo-Saxon, the language that came to be spoken by Englishmen and Englishwomen in the
centuries after the Roman withdrawal from the island. That language was already a hybrid, a mongrel, a bastard – an amalgam of the old Celtic tongue
with Latin and no less than three Germanic dialects. To this mishmash the ‘Danish’ invasions of eastern England added a powerful Scandinavian
influence on vocabulary and grammar in the century or so before the Norman conquest. When the Normans arrived in 1066, they added to the language a
cargo of French loan-words, as well as a heap of Latin borrowings into French. The unholy mess which resulted, with its multitude of synonyms and
multiplicity of grammatical constructions existing side by side and sometimes in contradiction to one another, was the English tongue as it was known
to Chaucer and his contemporaries.
Two hundred years later, in the era of Shakespeare, the King James Bible and Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, things had begun to settle down a bit. Yet
neither vocabulary nor spelling nor pronunciation nor even grammar were fixed; there was no absolute standard. And people in different parts of
England still spoke in different dialects and regional accents, as indeed they do to this day
The idea that there is a 'proper' way to spell a word is a child of the printing industry – obvious when you think about it, no? – and didn't
exist much before the early seventeenth century even though Caxton opened his first press in London in 1476 or thereabouts. Standardized spelling was
a big deal in the eighteenth century, but even then no universal standard was agreed; America, thanks to Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster, came to
fix on one orthographical standard fairly quickly, while in Britain it took a great deal longer and the process was never really completed. In fact,
it never is; a living language is continually growing and changing.
So much for spelling. Grammar Nazism is yet more recent, dating back to the nineteenth century, when people in Britain and America were becoming
seriously socially mobile for the first time in history. Formerly poor people from rural areas who had migrated to the city and made it big wanted to
be able to ‘talk posh’ like their social betters so as to disguise their humble beginnings and gain acceptance among the elite. Their bourgeois
aspirations were catered to by elocution tutors eager to help them ‘normalize’ their accents and dozens of books on ‘proper’ spelling, grammar
and style whose authors told us it was wrong to end a sentence with a preposition, split infinitives, use ‘which’ instead of ‘that’, and so
All such rules are rubbish. Where did they come from? Many are borrowed from Latin, a language that has nothing in common with English, structurally
speaking, and are not suited to it. Certainly, masters of the language have never obeyed them. Examine the corpus of English literature from Chaucer
to, say, Charles Dickens; you'll find that great writers and poets all cheerfully split infinitives, ended sentences with prepositions, started them
with conjunctions and perpetrated every other one of the grammatical and stylistic so-called errors of the lingo pundits, and their works were all the
better – and all the more English – for it.
Basically, the idea that a single, ideal version of English exists has had wide acceptance for slightly less time than the United States of America
has been in existence. This is an eyeblink in the life of a language. And thanks to the global spread of English and widespread acceptance that there
are many ways, all fundamentally ‘correct’, to speak and write the language, the idea of a single, pure linguistic standard is dying – among
linguists and authors, it is really already dead. Don’t be a slave to a dead linguistic ideology. Embrace difference and celebrate it. So long as we
understand one another clearly, all is well.
I were than to start or invent my own math (representing African American grammar and vocabulary because that isn't what's being taught),
wouldn't that be along the same lines as being degenerate?
Depends. Does your maths produce the right answers to sums? Say you decided to count in a base 2 (binary) rather than a base 10 (decimal) number
system. In such a system, 10 plus 10 equals 100. It looks bizarre, and may confuse your teacher if she doesn’t realize what you’re doing, but in
fact it is correct; 10 in binary is 2 in decimal, and 100 in binary is 4 in decimal.
On the other hand, if your invented mathematics kept giving wrong answers (for example, that the circumference of a circle is exactly 3.25 times its
diameter), it would be... well, I don’t know about degenerate, but it would certainly be wrong.
Now, which of these two situations do you think is analogous to African-American English? Is it a different way of expressing things clearly and
accurately to another speaker of the same dialect, or is it likely to cause misunderstanding?
Language is being invented, or reinvented, all the time. This is done by ordinary folk as well as by authors and poets. Most of these inventions never
gain currency or are soon forgotten, but a few go on to further enrich what is already the world’s richest, most diverse, most syncretic and
multicultural language. Long may it live, grow, change and prosper.
Btw, I don't always agree with what you say but I sure do enjoy reading your posts.
Many thanks. You could not have paid me a more welcome compliment.
edit on 2/5/11 by Astyanax because: of spelling and grammar, what do you think?