photo by Ivan Shilov on unsplash
It’s ask, not aks. Many black Americans like myself have experienced and or witnessed other Linguistic supremacists correct black people on their “incorrect” English. But within the linguistic community, many linguists will tell you the main purpose of a language is the ability to communicate and be understood. So why is it that when black people use African American Vernacular English(AAVE), ebonics, or black English, it’s considered incorrect and less than? Yet American English isn’t considered broken English from England. English from England isn’t considered broken Latin, German, Greek, or any other language it derived from. Yet have you noticed that within the English language, there are many aspects of how it is spoken, that to a nonnative speaker it may sound “ broken” or incorrect? I teach English as a foreign language and trust me, many students of mine have questions about why native English speakers break so many of our linguistic rules.
Many English speakers skip sounds, add sounds, and or switch sounds. Did you know that the word humbly, used to be pronounced humblely? Or England used to be pronounced Englaland? Ration used to be pronounced like nation. Schedule used to be pronounced like “said you’ll”. We even skip sounds such as in the words memory, interesting, internet which are pronounced like “memry,” “intresting”, and “inernet” You might even hear sounds being added like when children say “hamPster” instead of saying hamster.
Going back to my last example of hamster being pronounced like “hamPster” by many children and being accepted or considered adorable, a black child saying “aks” instead of ask or cuz instead of because will be corrected quickly.
Now some might not actually be aware of this, but AAVE actually has rules to grammar, pronunciation, and has a unique set of vocabulary. In addition, AAVE also adds, skips, and switches sounds. For example, “A” replaces “R” in brother, sister, and mother. Also, “R” disappears in words like sure, your, four, and gets pronounced like “sho”, “yo”, and “fo”. There are numerous examples of how AAVE has its unique set of rules which makes it unique, all of which can be researched on your own time.
What often happens in American society is that many people, often white but not always, use linguistic and white superiority to correct black people or other group’s usage of AAVE. This behavior is white and linguistic supremacy because it’s telling the speaker that their standard of English is not correct, professional, or intelligent; furthermore, it’s devaluing black speech and culture. Additionally, someone speaking AAVE might get denied a job for their speech, but someone with a southern accent or east coast accent would not necessarily get denied for their speech but rather their qualifications. But who should get to decide which standard of English should be the holy grail of standards, especially when English is spoken in numerous countries in every continent, with ranging accents and dialects within those countries?
We must educate ourselves on AAVE and how it’s a legit dialect; moreover, we must check our biases and beliefs towards speakers of that language. The language someone speaks does not directly correlate to one’s intelligence nor ability to do a job, as many who speak AAVE can also code switch, which means switching one’s style of speech depending on the audience. Language, as I said earlier, is to communicate, so if I can understand someone and be understood, one’s dialect or accent should be irrelevant. If you want to be #antiracist in regards to language, make sure you are placing equal value in the varying dialects and accents of the English language, as well as the speakers of those variations.
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Linguistic Supremacy was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.