Like recent letter-writer Joseph Koss, I went to grammar school many years ago. I conjugated verbs correctly and diagrammed sentences perfectly and with great enthusiasm. I was a word nerd, getting top marks in English. Our world was infused with exclusionary beliefs in absolutes, and correct English was a central tenet.
I left for the “inner city” in the late 1970s and learned African-American vernacular English (AKA “Ebonics”). How else could I coach hoops and understand Bootsy’s Rubber Band? I lived in Canadian First Nations and Alaska Native communities and learned Village English in the 1980s —– where the English vocabulary is beautifully woven into Native language grammar.
Later, as a graduate student, my linguistics professor introduced me to Prison English, spoken in Walla Walla Federal Penitentiary. It was no Prisneyland, but they ran a game on English incomprehensible to most new boys.
I lost the “prescriptive” view that proper English is superior.
Different cultures interpret the world in various ways, and their language encodes these differing views and opinions. Absolutists tend to identify their language with Ultimate Truth and any disagreement is interpreted as an attack on Truth itself. Those who understand cultural diversity seek to understand and explain, not judge.
— Chris Wooley
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