Are you? You can take that many ways, especially all of my single girlfriends combing through perfectly good choices in search of the perfect choice, when they themselves are not perfect. But, I am not going to go there. Not today.
The story that is writing me this morning is the one about our language. Are you rejecting a perfectly good employee, boyfriend/girlfriend, pastor or friend simply because they don’t speak standard English?
You sit down to spend some time on Facebook, and for you it is effortless. You read this easily, but someone somewhere on your page struggles and becomes mute because they cannot turn out a Tweet, text or post fast enough and when they do it is laden with errors. IDK, the language has changed! In real time English, if you do not know that “IDK” stands for “I don’t know” and you write “I don’t no,” there are those who would discount you because you did not use “Know” for “No.” But why the unnecessary letters? Why the K and w if they are silent? Why must our intelligence be measured by whether or not we know (or remember) these things? But, it is.
And then, there is this thing many of us have about Ebonics or African American Vernacular English. American corporations are using these colloquialisms we say everyday, and laughing all the way to the bank. (Example: “I’m lovin’ it”.) I will never forget the time I wrote a story about Ebonics back when it captured many headlines for the Just For Me newsletter for girls. The parent company Proline was headquartered in Dallas, Texas, so you can imagine the Ebonics that you could hear all over Dallas. But, I was chastized for writing the article. One of my Dallas coworkers said “We don’t be needin’ to read ’bout no Ebonics down here. That is sumpin’ y’all keep in California.”‘ Puro Ebonics.
The way African Americans speak IS a second language –any two times you have to relearn how to write and speak in order to fit within corporate culture so you can get a job. My students work hard at it in speech and in writing. I remember a radio intern once was reading copy for a news story and she kept pronouncing “ax” for ask. I said “No, say ‘basketball.’ She said “basketball.” I said “Good. Now say bask.” She said “Bask.” I said “Great! Now drop the B and say the word “Ask.” She smiled and said “Ax.” Grrr. We joke about it when we see each other, but these tendencies to pronounce things a certain way are consistent with our African language patterns, just like the French put their twists on English, Asians, Latinos and so on. The difference is we see those accents as romantic and cute. Ours are seen as ignorant. UNTIL it becomes commercialized al la “Who Dat?” Wat up wit dat?
Same thing with writing. My students are graduating from high school to arrive at college functionally ill-prepared to compete in college English and Math! There are a lot of reasons why that is but for brevity’s sake, I’ll start with the Baby Mama syndrome. It’s the first thing you will notice. We were reading Sister Souljah’s “No Disrepect.” I had my students write in-class essays. (That way you KNOW they actually wrote them.) Question: What impact did Sister Souljah’s mother have on her teenage years? Answers across the board: “Sister Souljah mother was a….” I made them all go back and insert the apostrophe “‘s”. I asked “You’ve heard the term ‘baby mama drama,’ right?” Of course they had. “Well, how can you correct that grammatically?” It was like pulling teeth to get them to translate the baby mama into baby’s mother. So of course they would not write Sister Souljah’s mother.
Here is a test you can do at home. Have your children write for you –free write. Assign them a topic and see what they come up with. Turn on a recorder (most cells have them these days). Record your family as they sit around the table. Play it back and most of you will point out that they are steeped in Ebonics and don’t realize it. “I seen” it happen, time and again.
It’s not just with us. I call it the Luke Walton syndrome. Luke is one of the Lakers that keeps me in a constant state of pissivity. Shoot Luke, Dunk, Luke! And all the announcers wax on about how intelligent he is. So they keep him around and they do video diaries of his life but listen to Luke. Luke grew up with a father who is verbose and proper in standard English. But how does Luke speak? Like he has been hanging with the homeboys. He has been around the brothers so long he is picking up Ebonics.
Actually, we all are. Sometimes I can’t think of the word we used to use before “Diss” came into vogue. Ebonics (laced with hip hop speak and computer shorthand) is at the center of multi-million dollar music, film and comedy industry.The way we speak naturally is picked up by the advertising industry so you have “wannabes” who are white calling each other “dog,” and saying “Wat up?”and– shudders–calling each other the “N” word! Steve Harvey rarely speaks standard English. Just listen! And he will host “Family Feud?” Yikes.
I always encourage my students to appreciate their language and not think of it as wrong, However, if they need to transition from a PC to a Mac, they’d best know the language of the Mac world so they can get somewhere. And in college, I tell them, they need to master standard English in order to have their work pass muster. Code switching, as it is called, would have been much easier for African American students to have picked up in early years, because it is not as comfortable to learn when they are adults in college.
If you are a successful adult, you may struggle with English but you might hire someone like me to wordsmith your ideas and no one would be the wiser. But when you go to post on Facebook, or send a tweet you don’t have time for much more than spell check. Show of hands, how many of you have posted only to go back to look at what you have written to cringe in horror? (Me too!!!) But, thank goodness the world of high speed social communication is somewhat forgiving. Those of you who have your sons and daughters on FB can also be in for a rude awakening.
So the way to beef up your second language is to do what you would do if you wanted to learn any other language: read more standard English books, articles, etc. Have books on tape read to you so you can hear more of the language you are trying to learn. Books like the Coldest Winter Ever, or Midnight by Sister Souljah will get students into reading. Once these page turners have ended, they will look for other books. At least you will have sparked an interest, because you bridge from where they are to where you want them to go. They don’t have to be The Gumbel brothers, but good things await those who are bilingual, because many will reject you, no matter how good you are, in favor of another who speaks standard English.