Too Unintelligible, Too Proper, Too Fast
¨Say, ‘Yo son, you drawlin’,¨ My cousin said.
¨Yo son, you drawling.¨
¨No, drop the d. Drawlin.¨
¨There you go.¨
I was around six or seven at the time, sitting in my cousin's room next to my mom with my cousin sitting across from me. This is the first time I remember being taught AAVE. AAVE stands for African American Vernacular English. Growing up in Philadelphia, it feels as though there is a new word being thrown around everyday. To some, using words such as ¨jawn¨ or ¨boul¨ may seem equivalent to ignorance or lack of basic understanding of the human language, but to me it’s the exact opposite - I feel these developments of the English language are one of the most innovative advancements of our society. By creating words like these and more, we also create efficiency. Some people, however, continue to disagree.
Jawn. Noun; word that can be used to describe a person, place, event, etc. Example: I went to the jawn with the jawn last week after we dipped from the other jawn cause jawn was dead. At first glance, this sentence may seem unintelligible. However, using context we can translate this sentence to: I went to the event with the person last week after we left from the other event because said event was boring. See? The sentence makes perfect sense, you just have to learn how to make sense of it. In a lot of languages, certain details are emitted from speech if the context is specific enough. “Jawn” serves a very similar purpose to this.
“Yo, pass me the jawn.” I say. I’m not gesturing to anything or making it obvious as to what I’m talking about, but if I’m sitting next to one person and there’s a marker on the table out of my reach, that person can assume the “jawn” is the marker.
“Hey, did you go that jawn last week?” I ask. At first, you may not know what I’m talking about, but
as you see me looking at my homework assignment in confusion, you remember our class went to a
presentation last week that had the answers to my homework problems. This supports why AAVE is a language within itself; it has to be learned to be understood.
“What did you do in school today?” My mom would ask.
“We watched a movie!” I would respond.
“Oh, what was it about?”
“It was about a girl who had three friends and they played a lot together but then one day they were at the park and one tripped and their parents didn’t want them playing with them anymore so then-”
“Seyni, stop. You’re rambling, Summarize it for me.”
“...It was about a girl who had three friends…”
“Try something like this: It’s a movie about three friends who faced hardships because of their families.”
Growing up, I was taught to speak one way by my mother and another by those in my everyday life. I used to be extremely frustrated with my mom for not letting me speak the way I wished, but now I’m the one who gets frustrated with people who don’t know how to summarize. Seeing as my mom consistently taught an African American studies course at Temple University during my adolescence, she would often stress proper grammar and speech unto me. Because of this, I often struggled with slang - the words not rolling off my tongue as easy as it did for the other kids.
“Seyni, you sound so white.” A friend would say.
“I… what?” I would reply, confused.
“Like, you speak so proper.”
“Thanks, I guess.”
I wasn’t quite sure if I should’ve taken those statements as compliments back then. I was glad to be praised for good speech, but equating good speech to white speech always left a bad taste in my mouth. If two sentences can be said in two different ways but get the same message across, what did it matter if it was “proper” or not?
“Seyni, slow down! You talk so fast!”
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard this phrase said to me. By family, friends, teachers and alike, my tendency to talk fast is consistently pointed out. I don’t have a problem with the act of being called out on it, because it is a trait that I would like to work on. However, sometimes my brain works too fast for my speech to be slow, and it is this balance that causes me trouble.
“So what happened?”
“Right! So I had this crazy dream andIwasatschoolandyouwerethereandIdon’trememberwhatwasreallygoingonbutIjustrememberthishugexplosionand-”
“Seyni. You’re talking wayyyy too fast right now.”
“Sorry, I think I just got excited.”
I’ve had an active imagination since as long as I can remember. My family tells me about all the times I would wake up in the middle of the night as toddler crying and screaming because of vivid nightmares I had - some of which I still remember to this day. I feel this translated into my early need to storytell. Growing up, writing class was always my favorite. The ability to make up the most outrageous stories and be able to make them believable with good enough word choice was a concept I admired. However, sometimes I would find myself too overwhelmed with all the stories I wanted to create and the fact that I could only write with one hand. I was burdened with all the lingering thoughts in my mind and no way to flesh them out.
“So then I said,”
“What if we’re all just living in one big projection and I’m not actually talking to you guys right now.
What if all of us our living in our own individual worlds and you’re not actually here with me right now, but off at an Amusement Park somewhere?” I would bring up randomly.
“Seriously, where do you even get these ideas from?” Some would say.
“You should write a book or something.” Others would say.
I like to think I’ve developed a fairly good brain-to-mouth filter, but once I get an idea going it’s hard to stop talking. Sometimes I even jump from one topic to another if I find something else more interesting than what I’m already talking about.
“So then I’m sitting there… Actually you know what? Nevermind, I just thought of something better to talk about.” I would say.
“Wait, what? You can’t just do that.” My friends would argue.
“Why not?” I would press.
“Because… you’re not just supposed to jump around like that.”
I know this, but sometimes I truly can’t help myself. With a brain that’s always active, it becomes difficult to prevent literal word vomit from emitting from my mouth. However, at the end of the day I feel all these factors make up who I am and my unique way of speech. Being able to switch between casual tones and formalities without a second thought shows versatility and flexibility. This skill has also helped me to receive several compliments and praises from a multitude of people about my speech and manners, which has benefited me in landing jobs and other opportunities. My tendency to talk fasts let’s people know who’s speaking, even if they’re not looking at me. I feel it also emphasizes my personality as a young writer - with a brain constantly whirring and coming up with new ideas, you never quite know what I could say next. It’s variables like these that I feel help me to stand out as an individual.