Chamblee54

Grammar Oppression

Posted in GSU photo archive, The English Language, Undogegorized by chamblee54 on July 23, 2020

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An MF writer (Melissa A. Fabello) at Everyday Feminism chimes in today with Why Grammar Snobbery Has No Place in the Movement. She means a social justice movement, not a bowel movement. The two movements have a similar aroma. This is a repost.

With more and more people using written english, there are more grammar mistakes. Some people enjoy pointing these out. The EF post says that such behavior is elitist, privileged, and yes, racist. The distinction between written, and spoken, is not made.

“So, if a person wrote a Facebook comment that said “That their was an example of cissexism,” a prescriptive grammarian might comment back, “I think you mean ‘there,’” and a descriptive grammarian might respond, “You understood what they meant.” And while both schools are accepted forms of linguistic thought, it’s important to note that any time we create a hierarchy by positioning one thing as “better” than another, we’re being oppressive.” (“That there” sounds clumsy and ignorant, even using the correct “there.”)

“Ghanaian blogger Delalorm Semabia, in a conversation about the eradication of “the Queen’s English” in Ghana, explained, “The idea that intelligence is linked to English pronunciation is a legacy from colonial thinking.” And this is precisely where we need to start this conversation. As educated (and – okay – snarky) activists, we’re quick to respond to “According to the dictionary” arguments with “Who wrote the dictionary, though?” We understand that a reference guide created by a white supremacist, heteropatriarchal system does nothing but uphold that status quo. Similarly, we have to use that line of thinking when talking about the English language: Who created the rules? And who benefits from them? As per usual, what this comes down to is an issue of privilege (of course!). In fact, grammar snobbery comes down to an intersection of multiple privileges.

…You’ve probably never given much thought to this, aside perhaps from believing that you speak “correctly” and that everyone else who speaks a different type of English than you do speaks the language “wrong.” And perhaps you’ve noticed how often “those people” are people of color. And we (as a society) denounce any form of the language that isn’t “white” enough. Umm, that’s racist.”

English is a living, evolving language. Spoken english changes faster than written english. The written form, devoid of vocal inflection and facial expressions, is more dependent on rules of grammar to communicate.

As different people use english, they develop different ways of speaking. Many of the phrases that are common today began as slang in ethnic populations. As time goes on, these phrases become accepted as standard english. (Some see this use of “other culture’s expressions” as cultural appropriation. PG is neutral in that debate.)

The rules for written english are slower to change. At what point do we criticize the grammar of others? It can be a useful rhetorical tactic, along with -splaning what the person really meant. Or do we just accept that some people are not privileged enough to use good grammar? (There is a certain condescension in excusing the bad grammar of others because of their background. “Oh, they can’t help not knowing that, because they is a poor oppressed POC.”)

In the list of grammar nazi privileges, MF quotes Kurt Vonnegut. PG likes to research quotes, and found a reddit page about the passage. The full quote (MF only used one sentence.) “First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I’m kidding.” And yes, Kurt Vonnegut does use semicolons in his work.

Pictures are from “The Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library”. “Photographs taken at a horse show in Atlanta, Georgia, 1937.” UPDATE: There was an twitter exchange with the person who tweeted about the article: Knowing the difference between there and their is not oppression. ~ Not everyone has the luxury.

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2 Responses

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  1. Amy said, on July 27, 2020 at 12:27 am

    Well said! As a person of color, I agree that it is condescending to regard the “Queen’s English” as “talking white”, as if black people are incapable of learning the rules of grammar and when to use them appropriately.

    That being said, what if a feminist of color corrects the grammar of a cis, white male…oppression?

    • chamblee54 said, on July 27, 2020 at 9:49 am

      This should be looked at on a case by case basis. Correcting grammar boo-boos is an easy way to take a pretentious person down a notch. As for a FOC correcting a CWM … I would have to look at the specific incident. There is a very good chance I would not care either way.


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