On the Subject of Standard English Being Racist…

grammar

English, along with its dialects, is a language developed and nurtured over many centuries. It is a standard used for clarity in everything from law to poetry. It is certainly not the only language, but for anyone to call Standard English racist descends from some social and moral decrepitude that smacks of laziness, envy, and some level of self-imposed ignorance. Standard English is the conventional templet that provides the benchmark or measure for clear communication. It is for those who wish to share basic verbal communion in The United States, Great Britain and other places where the language and grammar are used as a yardstick of verbal exchange through speaking, reading, and writing it in a shared effort to make thoughts understood by all who have taken the time and effort to study and learn it. It doesn’t mean one has to read and learn Chaucer or Shakespeare, but it does mean putting forth the effort to use standard basic rules of grammar and communication that will work everywhere from Seattle to Little Rock. All races have their own idioms as well, but they are not standard in business and law. That’s just the way it is.

Uncle Sam

Frankly, someone who plays the race card for language itself is indulging in the worst case of sour grapes I can imagine. The study of Standard English is open to all who wish to learn and use it. It would seem that anyone who wishes to rise socially or at least to participate in a society shared by others would take advantage of the most important key to convivial communication with the same basic rules and expectations anywhere it is taught and studied. Does anyone call Ebonics or other forms of dialect “racist?” Someone traveling to a foreign country doesn’t call the language there (i.e. French, Spanish, German) racist just because he or she is having trouble learning it. The choice to learn a language well is open to anyone who wishes to put forth the effort required. That knowledge is an arsenal against the poverty, ignorance, and bitterness that come from the shadow of not understanding a standard language in one’s own country, wherever that may be.

subject-verb agreement

Language is fundamental to prospering in any nation. English is not an easy language to learn, but as soon as someone begins fishing for excuses not to endure the labor of knowing and using English (or any other language), he is doomed to a life of blaming others for his own indolence and sloth. Excuses and accusations will not change the landscape of that person’s life, nor that of the nation itself. One part of the American system, for better or worse, is that anyone may choose to wallow in his own ignorance and make it appear as though it’s always someone else’s fault, but if one looks at history, he can see so many examples of those from all races who rose from poverty and prejudice (which exists on both sides of that coin) by resolve and hard work without spending all their time and energy blaming others for their own lack of ambition and toil, as well as their choice not to embrace our best mode of universal communication, which is language itself. Standard language usage is intended to bring people together in something shared, not to separate people as if language were some impossible code to break in an elitist club.

subject-verb 2

History is filled with ugly and irreparable error and greed of one race against others, but the tools for reparation are here now for everyone to use. It is a choice to learn or not to learn the standard language of one’s own country, but choosing not to learn it and blaming history as an excuse is simply not reasonable. Using standard communication through speaking and writing is essential. Language is power, and only the individual can choose to take advantage of that power…but no one ever said it would be easy.   My question to those who are against keeping a set of language standards is what do you see as a solution? Shall we scrap standard language and start over or simply have hundreds of mini-forms of English to confuse even further the issue of communication?  JB

About John

John Bolinger was born and raised in Northwest Indiana, where he attended Ball State University and Purdue University, receiving his BA and MA from those schools. Then he taught English and French for thirty-five years at Morton High School in Hammond, Indiana before moving to Colorado. He spends his winters in Pompano Beach, Florida. Besides COME SEPTEMBER, Journey of a High School Teacher, John's other books are ALL MY LAZY RIVERS, an Indiana Childhood, and COME ON, FLUFFY, THIS AIN'T NO BALLET, a Novel on Coming of Age, all available on Amazon.com as paperbacks and Kindle books. Alternately funny and touching, COME SEPTEMBER, conveys the story of every high school teacher’s struggle to enlighten both himself and his pupils, encountering along the way, battles with colleagues, administrators, and parents through a parade of characters that include a freshman boy for whom the faculty code name is “Spawn of Satan,” to a senior girl whose water breaks during a pop-quiz over THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Through social change and the relentless march of technology, the human element remains constant in the book’s personal, entertaining, and sympathetic portraits of faculty, students, parents, and others. The audience for this book will certainly include school teachers everywhere, teenagers, parents of teens, as well as anyone who appreciates that blend of humor and pathos with which the world of public education is drenched. The drive of the story is the narrator's struggle to become the best teacher he can be. The book is filled with advice for young teachers based upon experience of the writer, advice that will never be found in college methods classes. Another of John's recent books is Mum's the Word: Secrets of a Family. It is the story of his alcoholic father and the family's efforts to deal with or hide the fact. Though a serious treatment of the horrors of alcoholism, the book also entertains in its descriptions of the father during his best times and the humor of the family's attempts to create a façade for the outside world. All John's books are available as paperbacks and Kindle readers on Amazon, and also as paperbacks at Barnes & Noble. John's sixth and most recent book, Growing Old in America: Notes from a Codger was released on June 15, 2014.
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3 Responses to On the Subject of Standard English Being Racist…

  1. Pam Heath says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts on this issue. You are my inspiration for being a “grammar monitor”. My goal is to help, and I never do it publicly or more than once. It’s more like whispering to someone that they have spinach in their teeth. Now feel free to correct my grammar in this response. I’m still learning!

    • John says:

      Thanks, Pam. As someone who has devoted his life to language, I feel a bit impatient about people who decide they are victims, because they are expected to know basic and standard usage of the mother tongue…but they don’t really want to study English enough to know those basics. I feel strongly that language we all recognize as “ours” can bring us together as a society, but there are still those who would rather coast on their own without any regard for a language that should be binding us together in our ability to communicate clearly. If one is in France, he learns French. If he’s in the United States, he learns English. End of story. I feel little sympathy for those who don’t want to learn standard English. In that case, they shouldn’t expect a slice of the pie if they haven’t contributed ingredients or labor to help bake it. During the Middle Ages in England, there were many dialects that fragmented language, which was useful in the wider view only by the wealthy, educated folks. Today with mass media, we still need a standard for communication, regardless of dialects and rural differences. If a person doesn’t want to work at learning standard English, then he should stop whining about benefits he is not receiving. Bah, humbug!

  2. Mike says:

    Even if we move to an area with different dialects, it still serves as a base to adapt. It was like learning a whole new language when I first moved to the south.

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