Linguistics: I Ain’t Gotta Talk Like That

November 27, 2018

How many times have you been corrected for “incorrect” grammar in a paper or simply in a conversation in the classroom? For most speakers of a nonstandard dialect, probably a lot. Did you know that there is a academic field of study that prefers cultural dialects over “standard American English,”? It’s called linguistics.

Linguistics is the study of language. Some branches of linguistics look at how language has changed throughout human history and how different cultures within a country use language differently.

For example, within America there are many cultural dialects of English. “Y’all” is a southern dialect expression that signifies a group. Many southerners also use double negatives such as  “I aint got none” in their speech. To many people this slang sounds uneducated, but these phrases are just a part of their dialect.

Different dialects have different stigmas associated with them. For southerners, the stigma is that they are uneducated; for Northern dialect speakers, it is that they are harsh or rude, and for California English speakers, it is that they are rich, dumb “valley girls.”

Whereas linguists describe how people naturally talk and use language, the prescriptive discipline attempts to make the language uniform and tries to assign rules that take away some of these cultural markers found in natural language.

Languages are constantly changing as anyone trying to read old English can tell; however, there is always some faction of people that wants to make them completely standardized. The Latin government tried to standardize the Latin language completely, down to the pronunciation of each word. These rules were found in the “Appendix Probi”, a Latin dictionary of sorts that listed how the people were speaking Latin at the time and attempted to correct it to the new uniform standard. Latin is no longer spoken and the Latin that is studied today is only the standardized version. We do not have any remnants left of the cultural dialects that the Latin government was trying to squash.

According to the UNC CH study standardized tests are written for a particular subset of speakers, and anyone outside of this area has a hard time understanding the wording of the tests, and therefore performs below those inside the area (Mike Terry, UNC-CH study).

I’m not saying that there isn’t a purpose for prescriptivism (standard American English). Language needs structure in order to be understood and not to stray too far away from the base grammar. However, we need to understand the importance of keeping cultural dialects diverse. With the capabilities of people to move around the country, our dialects are becoming diluted by “all of the dang Yankees.” If we keep trying to make language uniform, then we will lose our cultural individuality.

So your English teacher may correct your comma placement or sentence structure, but you are justified in throwing an “ain’t” in every once an a while.


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