Let’s set aside for a moment the perennial discussion of whether or not English is the “official language” of the United States and ponder if, in the public square, it’s too much to ask that we simply allow the language to be spoken properly where it’s in use. Apparently so, at least if you ask the Social Justice Warriors. “Vietnamese femme” Alex-Quan Pham has taken to the pages of Everyday Feminism (?) to lecture us on how sticking to the accepted rules of grammar is offensive to those who are uncomfortable with how English makes them feel. In a piece titled, “3 Ways Language Oppression Harms Us (And How We Can Heal)” the author reminds us of the damage we can do by attending English class.
We are told that there is one correct form of English, and deviating from grammar and pronunciation rules associates us with the working class. Not only is this classist, but it fortifies the idea that English has a “proper” form — even though every variation of English has been constructed.
The kind of English that is privileged in job interviews, for instance, was made up like every other kind of English; it has no special value. But we’ve been taught that the version of English that middle-class white people speak is “correct.”…
Immigrants of color are especially made to feel ashamed of their own languages, because their languages remind them that they are not white. Their languages remind them that who they are and where they come from will always taint them in the eyes of America.
Pham is clearly quite concerned about this because he goes on to describe the concept of Language Justice and how we can all work together to remove the yoke of oppression from those who don’t conform to racial and “heteronormative” standards.
There is a clear difference between adding new words to the language as the world evolves or even adding new definitions (ugh) to existing words when they become embedded in our culture, and simply rewriting the dictionary and banning basic linguistic mechanics. We have plenty of regional dialects just as most nations do, but not all of these variations are considered correct English. I constantly grind my teeth when I hear people pronounce the word “ask” as “ax.” (Calm down, liberals… white kids are doing it too.) I’m not insisting that the government come in and begin imposing language fines for doing it, but at the same time I hope we haven’t fallen so far that Webster will add in yet another definition of “ax” which doesn’t involve implements used for felling trees or cutting and slashing things. (We’ll grudgingly allow an exception for musicians referring to their guitars, but that’s still listed as “informal” for scholastic purposes.)
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