Language Autobiography 2013: The Standard English vs. Slang Dilemma

Stephen White

Iron Stream

Introduction: In this unit my stream learned about language and how it affects people's lives. We were assigned a project that was called our Language Autobiography. In this assignment we were supposed to connect a story from another author and a story coming from our own life about language and how it affects our lives. This assignment was challenging for me but after a couple of drafts and outlines I think it's way better than what it was before, I'm proud of my language autobiography.

It was winter break and I was on the phone with my friend Jaaz. We were talking about the sixers and how they were folding in the fourth quarter. When my Grandmother overheard the conversation she told me to “speak like I have an education.”  She judged my language as a language of ignorance and unintelligence. I felt insulted. She made an assumption that has no connection to my intelligence.

Adolescents are regularly forced to speak a certain way. Just this Saturday I had a couple of friends over my house to play some video games and hang out. We were sitting in my living room playing NBA 2k13. The TV was blasting and the room had the aroma of pizza. Each of us were so glued to the T.V. that our seats were only a few feet away from the screen. While playing we got animated. Jumping up and down laughing, screaming, pointing, and arguing over a game. The game was so close and the pressure was on. My mom heard us speaking vernacular english and using slang terms that me and a couple of friends say often. Such as “that’s dead”, “drawlin’”, and “frying”. While we were talking about Jerry Stackhouse a basketball player who is no longer in his zenith. I said “Jerry Stackhouse? That’s dead.” My mom who also is a sports fanatic responded with “What? Speak regular.” We had to ease up on our vernacular english since my mom joined the conversation. I stated that “Jerry Stackhouse is buns, he’s like 70 still playing in the league. That’s dead.” We all started cracking up almost laughing out of our chairs. My mom seemed troubled. It was because in her mind I was speaking “ghetto” or “speaking without an education.” She made me speak the way she wanted me to speak.

Gloria Anzaldua was regularly forced to speak a certain way as an adolescent also. When she was younger she was caught speaking Spanish at recess when she wasn’t supposed to. Anzaldua was punished with three licks from a sharp ruler onto her knuckles. Her teachers didn’t like that she spoke Spanish when she was supposed to speak English she still had a Mexican accent. When she was older she was required to take two speech classes at Pan-American University to get rid of her accent. Anzaldua and I were both forced to speak a certain way because the people in power above us didn’t like it.

People’s intelligence shouldn’t be judged based on the way they speak. I believe this because the way I speak is a choice. When my Grandmother told me this winter break “speak like I have an education” I was judged that I am not intelligent but I choose to speak that way when I’m with my friends. We all speak a form of Jargon that wouldn’t be understood to the untrained ear of an adult. I believe that I’m intelligent and didn’t deserve to be judged because she didn’t understand what we’re speaking.

Gloria Anzaldua’s intelligence was also judged when she was younger. When she spoke Spanish in front of  her teachers when she was supposed to speak English they thought she wasn’t capable of speaking English and that she should “go back to Mexico where she belonged.” Both of us also speak a form of Jargon when we’re with our friends. The form of Jargon she speaks is called “Pachuco”. Pachuco is a language of rebellion and a secret language for adolescents to speak only. Some words from the secret language that my friends and I use are “that’s dead” which means that’s boring and “Frying” which mean I’m doing good in that area. Some words from Pachuco that she uses is “Ruca” which means girl or woman and “Vato” which means guy or dude. We both speak secret languages between us and our fellow adolescents.

Even though we speak different we are still communicating the same ideas. Even though I speak in a way that my Mom or any other adult doesn’t understand my friends still understand every word I say. My friends and I are fully capable of speaking Standard English but we speak our way because it’s a preference for when we’re comfortable. Anzaldua’s parents or teachers never would catch on to language of Pachuco because it wasn’t made for them. It’s both of our preferences and we or anyone else shouldn’t be identified as stupid or lacking of education because we have the ability to speak proper but just choose not to.

I see adolescents everyday being told to “speak this way” or “speak that way”. All that matters is that you know how to speak Standard English when it counts. The forms of English are infinite and you can’t force someone to change the way they speak and change their identity because you don’t like it. I believe we all should come to the agreement that we shouldn’t stereotype Standard English is for the educated, and Jargon is for the uneducated.

Anzaldua, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. Print.