The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Racism persists through language

Racism+persists+through+language

The dangers in linguistic gatekeeping

The last area in which racism will be able to exist is in language. For example, there is discrimination toward those with non-white names. Whether it be applying for jobs, or applying to buy a house, it’s the unfortunate reality that the person at the other end of the transaction is more likely to accept a “Joseph”  above a “José.”

Part of the reason why this is the case is because language is not seen as something related to race. What I mean to say is that the notion that there is only one way to speak English, and only one “correct” form of English, is seen as a standard for a certain group of people. 

These people, I’ll call them “snobs” for the sake of simplicity, reduce English dialects to “improper English.” 

In reality, it doesn’t take much thought to find fault in this way of thinking. American and British English differ greatly, but both countries seem to recognize that there’s no point in disproving the other’s dialect.

I would argue, though, that this armistice is the result of both nations being Western and predominantly white. Other English dialects and cultures are not given the same respect by snobs; their way of speaking English is viewed as improper, or incorrect. Such an attitude is not only pretentious, but dangerous. 

People are largely discriminated against because of their language and verbal expression. This is especially disadvantageous to immigrants for whom English is a second language; if they began learning English after the age of 18, it is all but certain they will speak their new language with an accent for the rest of their lives. 

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#cecece” txt_color=”#000000″]“We should be mindful of the history behind our language and dialects, as language is a key part of every people’s culture and ought to be respected. This is especially true for speakers of English, a language with a majority of its speakers having the language as their second, third or fourth.”[/mks_pullquote]

This accent marks them as a “foreigner” to xenophobes across the country and could prevent them from finding jobs in their new home. 

In addition to foreign accents, dialects rooted in America for centuries are also subject to discrimination. African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is the most prominent example in the United States. Despite what white language snobs believe, AAVE has set grammatical rules that are obeyed by speakers. 

Some of the rules AAVE shares in common with Romance languages or African languages. When black Americans who speak in AAVE are perceived as uneducated, it is immensely discriminatory. 

We could, of course, get into the dichotomous position to AAVE, in how accents from European countries are often seen as attractive or cute while accents from countries that are not predominantly white are labeled as “uneducated,” but that requires much more time.

I’m not saying we should write our contracts or scholarly essays in the same way we write our tweets. There is a usefulness in writing standard English, namely to reach the broadest audience possible. 

However,  we should be mindful of the history behind our language and dialects, as language is a key part of every people’s culture and ought to be respected. This is especially true for speakers of English, a language with a majority of its speakers having the language as their second, third or fourth. 

Native English speakers are a minority in the English speaking world; who are we to dictate what is correct and incorrect in what is, effectively, linguistic gatekeeping? In our interconnected world that seems to shrink each year, we should be celebrating all forms of communication that let us talk to people that we never would’ve met decades ago. 

The ultimate goal of language, after all, is to understand and be understood. Snobs who pretend dialects like AAVE are incomprehensible are only lying to themselves, are refusing to try and understand difference, or are simply using a person of color’s dialect as an excuse to discriminate against them.

Until we eliminate the myth that standard English is the one acceptable English, racial bigots and language snobs will continue to use language as a means to further their prejudice. 

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Hawk News

Your donation will support the student journalists of St. Joseph's University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hawk News

Comments (0)

All The Hawk News Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *