Thursday, August 31, 2006

A brief taxonomy of English language and literature related Facebook groups.

Let me begin by saying that the English major in me is overjoyed, and the linguist in me is completely appalled.

I am pleased as punch that there are groups uniting English majors, uniting specific classes (like Arden of Tombstone), professor/TA fan clubs (Prof. Rita Railey has one), and some others.

But the groups that proclaim that English needs to be spoken in this country at all times, the groups that proclaim a hatred for non-native speakers being TAs and professors, and the groups that are dedicated to the so-called preservation of the English language . . . I am worried about all of these groups.

Mostly because there are a fuckton of them.

I'm sure that group of hearty defenders of the English language would really not appreciate my use of "fuckton" just now.

But you know what? Fuck them.

English is a wonderful language because its most heralded writers have contributed so many completely made-up words to a language that had otherwise cannibalized basically every language with which it came into contact. No language is pure. Languages change and evolve as people do. And anyone who thinks that languages are better off in their dictionary form really has no basis making an opinion about language use.

Dictionaries do not include the richest parts of languages: slang and dialect. English dialects are so rich, and if these naysayers had read any Harlem Renaissance writings they might understand that Zora Neale Hurston is a better speaker than they are because she can successfully navigate both dialect and cannonical, grammatical English. When you push out slang and dialect, the language loses the character of its people. Which is a complete tragedy.

These people also seem to have a disdain for "netspeak." Which makes me wonder about their opinion on medical and legal speak, both of which are comprised more classically than the rest of English speech as they are heavily reliant on Greek and Latin. As for netspeak, I can only assume they're talking about IM shorthands and misspellings, which, for my side of the story, are really only improving the completely whack spelling of this language by reducing it to what language essentially is: symbols that stand for phonemes. Netspeak reflects an essential part of English-speaking culture: the internet. It's our essential mode of communication. It has its own grammar, own rules for usage.

To the people who hate this, get with the times. I'm sure you can't stand that you're reading this diatrbe in a blog, which is a far better word than weblog, for my money.

For those who are represented in the groups that discuss the frustration with non-native speakers, I understand. I know its hard. I can't fault you for expressing your frustration. But you all have won. English is now the official language of the good ol' USA. And I can not even begin to tell you how much that kind of Nativism hurts me. My family lost its language coming here because back in 1901, being American was the thing to do to fit in in America. That, and Italian-Americans were only allowed certain kinds of jobs, so being a fucking WOP got you absolutely nowhere. So we stopped speaking Italian. And now, 3 generations later, I am the only person left in my family who speaks our once-native tongue. And that's because I chose to learn it on my own. It's all I've got that's Italian about me. That and my last name.

Like me, many 3rd generation sons and daughters are struggling with their cultural identity, their loss of culture. So why are we all so eager to make our new citizens conform? Have we really forgotten that they're here for the same reason our families came here? I guess we have. The reason I love Europe is because I can walk down the streets in Milan and here 8 different tongues. The same thing happens in LA. NYC. San Francisco. In any big city, there's multiculturalism. There are many languages. Deal with it. America is a country of immigrants.

You have your official language, but that doesn't mean you have to take away everyone elses.

And as to professors and TAs who speak English as a second or third language, they're not stupid. They have MAs, Ph.Ds. Just because they don't speak English exactly as you do doesn't make them any less qualified than those who do. In fact, even if they are teaching an English lit class, they may have a better perspective on the work studied as relative newcomer to the language. Just ask Professor Huang. The man gets Ezra Pound. And Gertrude Stein. And I do not have to tell you just how difficult of a work Tender Buttons is if you've ever read it.

Every language has equal value. And all languages evolve and change as the culture of its speakers evolve and change. I say we embrace it, and erase and notion of linguistic purity from our vocabularies.

1 comment:

Bri said...

Here, here, fellow English lover!
I get bloody tired of the whole English-only thing, but even more tired of these "English elitists." I just want to slap them with a copy of Canterbury Tales in Middle English and then back-slap them with Beowulf in the Old English. That is "elite English"; that is what English would be without evolution.