Before entering 7th grade, my perspective on grammar and the way people communicated was very indifferent. I often spoke lazily and didn’t notice much difference between what’s considered standard english and what’s considered slang. One very strict teacher implanted the idea in my head that the level of grammar that you use determines your intelligence level. One day, a classmate of mine asked her why she was so aggressive over grammar and writing. She replied with, “Well, how do you want people to view you? Educated or illiterate?” Ever since then, I couldn’t get that idea out of my head.
One of my close friends Jackie always talks in slang. To her, it’s her first language. This worried me because she has to maintain a scholarship at her high school, and if she’s talking in this manner then her grades must be suffering from it. I would always try to correct her grammar, even if we were texting! She would say to me, “Oh Amy, stop worrying!” but I couldn’t help it. One day, she asked me to proofread one of her english essays. “Oh God” I thought, “This will take a while”. But as I was reading, I was shocked. I had been terribly wrong this entire time. Her grammar and spelling was nearly perfect, along with the fluidity of her paper. This took me back a bit, and made me reevaluate my thinking. I felt so narrow minded for having judged her on just her street language. People have many different personalities, and ways of showing who they are. In school they always teach you that there’s a right way to do something, and there’s a wrong way. The way children translate that is ‘if you do it the wrong way, then you’re considered stupid, if you do it the right way, everyone will love you.’ This is enforced majorly in grammar / english classes. So if you use grammar wrong, you’re stupid. If you misspell something, you’re stupid. Many people live their entire lives along these lines, while for some it goes in one ear and out the other.
This mindset that I’m in is starting to affect my relationships with people. When I start talking to a boy, I always analyze how they talk while texting or by things they post on the internet. I think to myself, “Okay, well if they have good grammar then they’re educated and smart. If not, then they aren’t worth my time.” That right there is horrible to think. Who am I to judge who a person is by the way they talk? I’m always fighting an inner battle to remind myself that it’s more about what they have to say, rather than how they say it. My friend Joe recognized this, and since then he’s been using close-to-perfect grammar to impress me. When people use good grammar, I automatically feel much more comfortable talking to them. Needless to say, Joe’s been one of the top people I talk to on a daily basis for a while now.
To this day I catch myself noticing other people’s grammar mistakes and thinking “Wow, do they even know what they’re saying?” without taking into mind that everyone makes mistakes. One of the biggest places that this happens is the internet. When people post things for everyone to see and it’s illiterate, it makes me wonder how they’re doing in school. All these thoughts are extremely judgemental of me to even think of. You could be extremely intelligent in some subjects, but not so smart in others. The realization moment for me was reading the essay, ‘If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?’. That essay opened up my mind to a whole new perspective. One quote that stood out to me was “It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power. It is the most vivid and crucial key to identify: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” The way people speak comes from their culture, and who they are as a person. They grow up in houses and have history, they aren’t perfect grammatical robots. You don’t need to use standard english to be intelligent. Standard english is what’s commonly seen as ‘correct english’, but in today’s language, I don’t think there’s a right or wrong language. For me or anybody else to say that the way somebody speaks is wrong, would be wrong of us.
Baldwin, James. "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me What Is." New York Times. (July 29, 1979): <http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-english.html>.
(Vimeo still hasn't allowed me to make an account, I'm sorry for the inconvenience)