Language is a Caste System


Below is a recent response I penned after reading a few articles on “Language Diversity.” If you read and understand what it says, were you ever tempted to “correct” my language choice? If so, why?

Yeah this gonna be one of the most int’restin’ week for [my professor] i bet, huh? M’I gonna be alone, or will i be one of many who choose to write as close to how they speak for this response? If ol’ Young1 ain’t a beat me to the punch, Ida be writing like this anyway to emphasize da point of the articles. Least, one of the major takeaways, ya know. For years I been so damn wishywashy on this exact subject of “correctin’” people’s speech and writing so it match what the book called Standard English. This week, though, clarified ‘bout two decades of my true stance on the issue of monolingualism in America. I know I prolly already said that once before at least, but this here is the one that’s been eatin at me for years and years, boy. 

My ass ain’t get nothin’ BUT “formal English” training all through school, you feel? Then, come like junior year or whatnot, old stern Mizz Kramer be handin’ out these “American classics” by authors who ain’t follow da damn rules of grammar. I ‘ohn know who said it once in a class but I damn know for sure i done repeated it after I started teaching: “When you become an author you ain’t gotta follow da rules no more.” Now ain’t that some shit? I jet outta high school and str8 into my hometown university. I’m teetering on findin’ myself bounced from there due to bad grades and watchin’ my dreams of becomin’ a teacher wither away when I take this Intro to Creative Writing course and the teacher say somethin’ that stuck with me to this day. He say, “Look, y’all. We gonna spend time on proofreadin’ but we ain’t touchin’ no dialogue whatsoever. You write how you want your characters to talk and that’s that.” See, that got me really thinkin’ ‘bout communication as a whole now, ya dig? Like, yeah, I see how maybe knowin’ the diff’rence between “definitely” and “defiantly” can’t be ignored, but he talkin’ about usin’ language in a whole new way to me. Sure it’s for creative writing but get this: we tryin’ to capture how REAL people talk, so howzat any different when it come to something that aint creative? Anyway, he opened my eyes big, now. 

Then I started likin’ classes and doin’ better. Take another creative writing course or two along the way but start readin’ all kinds of badass books that i aint never heard of before. I get my degree, get on the job hunt, and land myself a job in this small small town ‘bout 30 minutes from home. My supervising teacher show me these raggedy ass ten-year-old books i’m gonna be usin’ with my classes. She tell me that I gotta spend about half the year in the literature book and the other half in the grammar book, no joke. But fam, get this now. I learn more about Standard English that first year by basic ass repeatin’ the same rules four times a day than I did all through my own 16 years of education. We didn’t diagram no sentences, but we did damn near everything else to try ‘n learn all them rules. 

S’gotten to the point where I dont even wanna tell people I meet in social circumstances that I be an english professa cuz they always seem to just straighten up and say some nonsense about how they best, and dis a quote now, “watch how they speak” (tho, fo real, that particular phrase always baffled me). “What,” I wanna say but don’t. “You seein’ dem words come out you mouth? I ain’t! You a comic strip character now?” Anyway, I just usually smile and say some dumb shit like “It’s all good, fam…I’m off da clock. You speak however you want,” but they definitely more often than not kinda tighten up their words. Why zactly? I assume for fear of embarrassment, or that maybe I gonna judge they ass. Hey, as long as we each think the other has something int’restin’ to say, whatzit matter how we say it? 

Lemme wind down by makin clear the best part of this week. As I was wrappin’ up the SRTOL document from deadass 45 years ago, I had a sorta vision: I got this clarity, ya dig, for my dissertation topic. Now listen, it’s rough still. But I wanna discuss the caste system of Standard English as it has under-served the works of Black writers, specifically one Black activist author-poet named Ronald L. Fair. 

  1. Young, Vashawn Ashanti. “Should Writers Use They Own English?” Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 12, iss. 1, 2010.

UWT #3 – And This One’s Important!


It’s been far too long since I provided my half-dozen readers (exaggerated for obvious reasons) with a fresh Unsolicited Writing Tip.  This is #3.  To find the first two, you will have to do some deep, Other-Net surfing.  Or click below.  It might come up automatically.

Today, a student cornered me (I really must stop exaggerating) after class and asked if beginning a sentence with the word “And” was acceptable.  I immediately thought of Mrs. Thompson, my fifth grade teacher.  She fit whatever you picture in your head to be the classic grammarian schoolteacher.   Mrs. Thompson also despised what she called “prison talk” among the boys at recess.  In those days, we were entrenched in insulting one another by lassoing one another’s maternal caretaker in a buffet of situations and twisted imagery.

For anyone who hasn’t seen the movie Finding Forrester (starring James Bond), here’s my very similar take:

Starting with any coordinating conjunction [and, but, or, for, nor, yet, so] is, from a technical view of writing, impossible.  One cannot “coordinate” anything if the first part isn’t there. You can’t plug your phone into a steel wall.

Yet, our language is far from a stagnant one, right?  For God’s sake, “howbowdah” is (probably) going to make it into Webster’s online dictionary next week.   Things change.  Language evolves right along with the species.

The point the young writer makes in the movie when told by Connery’s character that he’s breaking a firm rule is this:  Starting a thought with a conjunction can intentionally bring attention to it and thus impact him to the point of an awakening.  In street terms, your reader will get “woke” (I know I’m probably not using that right.  And I also know that a vast majority of you have ceased reading.)  The key–Rob Brown’s character and I agree–is that it should be used sparingly at most.

When I taught younger students, I discouraged the use of this technique, though it rarely arose in student writing.  As writers develop their voice into- and throughout adulthood, however, I think it’s proper to encourage experimentation and a general toying with our gorgeous language.

But it needs to stay within reason.  Students should still exhibit Standard English in their major works.  Perhaps more leeway would be afforded in a creative writing course.  And some professors have probably stopped caring about those types of rules by now.

Professional authors in multiple genres do it, so wouldn’t it be a bit hypocritical of us to suggest that it’s never to be done?   I think we can ease up on this one with the caveat that doing so cannot become a regular act.  And it must have impact.  So, try it out once or twice in a rough draft.  But no more than once in a final draft.  I hope you don’t get my fifth grade teacher, though.

There you have it.  If you have found this commentary useless, I’ll end with this tip:


So is your mom.