MEGAN: Hi everyone, and welcome to The Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
CARRIE: Hi I’m Carrie Gillon.
MEGAN: And I’m Megan Figueroa, and today we are talking about grammar. We’re talking about the grammar snobs among us.
CARRIE: What we used to call “grammar nazis”, but it seems unfair to call them that now.
MEGAN: It does, and I’ve always wondered why you would want to be called that anyway.
CARRIE: I don’t think it was self-applied at first. But still: a little unfair.
MEGAN: Some people were totally proud of that. I remember the days when Facebook, you could have like little bios, people would put “grammar nazi”, put things about themselves like that to describe themselves.
CARRIE: That’s true. They adopted it.
MEGAN: Like a badge of honor.
CARRIE: I wonder how many people still use that now.
MEGAN: I know real Nazis have kind of ruined it.
CARRIE: Yikes. Just like everything.
MEGAN: Just like everything. I wonder how many people are already upset. Do you think there are people that are already upset?
CARRIE: Probably. This one is probably gonna piss off the most people, because we’re all trained to be grammar snobs. We’re trained to judge people for the way that they write and speak. We’re gonna try and undo that, and it’s gonna upset people, I know that.
MEGAN: It is, but I really think that if anyone can undo it, it’s two women. Specifically us two women.
CARRIE: Yeah, there’s no problem with that whatsoever.
MEGAN: We’re gonna start a corrections corner now.
CARRIE: Yeah we have a corrections corner.
BRADLEY COOPER: Yeah… listen. We fucked up.
CARRIE: The first thing I want to talk about is – I don’t even remember who it was – but someone tweeted at me – well at us – and another podcast, about how saying that “vagina” literally means “sword sheath” is an etymological fallacy – which is absolutely correct. What I should have said is “literally in Latin”. It’s nothing to do with how speakers of English think about the word. I just wanted to give people an excuse to not feel like they had to use “vagina”, because nobody likes that word. I don’t think it’s only because of what it describes. Yeah, people get squicked out about female genitalia, but I think it’s also just not an attractive word? I don’t know. It was just an excuse to be like, “hey”.
MEGAN: This actually might just all be Oprah’s fault. When she first said “vajayjay”, we were just like, “well, we gotta get rid vagina now”. Because of Oprah.
CARRIE: I wanna blame Oprah, but I don’t think so. I think it was already disliked before that.
MEGAN: We got our first email.
MEGAN: Yay! Do you want to read it Carrie?
CARRIE: All right, this is from Chris – I don’t I don’t know if we want to use last names, so I’m just gonna say Chris.
Hi, I just started listening after the podcast was recommended on the Lingthusisam Twitter feed
CARRIE: This is just me: thanks Lingthusiasm!
MEGAN: Shout-out Lingthusiasm, or Lauren and Gretchen: thank you.
CARRIE: Back to the email.
Really enjoyed the first two episodes. I just wanted to add/clarify some stuff you mentioned in episode 2, about swearing in British English. The first thing was that you said “cunt” in British English is not a particularly strong word. This is true for some Brits, but it’s really strongly region-dependent. So in Cockney, it’s as you said, and in Glaswegian, it’s entirely unremarkable…
CARRIE: That’s where some of my relatives come from, by the way.
… and probably other places too, but in other areas – I’m from Liverpool, this is certainly true there, and through the rest of northwest England, I also think much wider than that, but I’m less confident about areas further from home – it’s quite possibly the strongest word in the English language, other than ethnic slurs. So just to be clear about how strong I mean, I’m not at all timid with swearing, but not only do I almost never used that word, I feel kind of uncomfortable even saying it when quoting someone. The other thing was about “bloody”. You seem kind of unsure how strong a word that is, so to answer that, it is the absolute lowest level of swearing, to the point I’m really unsure if I want to use the word “swearing” or not. Like you wouldn’t hear it on a kids TV show, but as you said on the pod it is used in Harry Potter fairly regularly. I compare it to “damn”, but then I think that’s stronger in the US than in the UK. It’s really not much stronger than something like “flipping”.
CARRIE: I thought this was so sweet:
I really hope this comes across as the helpful clarification, since you seemed unsure about stuff, that it’s intended as, rather than some guy being a dick about you not being experts in British swearing. Greetings from a Brit in Germany and keep up the good work on the pod.
CARRIE: Thank you so much, Chris, that was very sweet.
MEGAN: Yes, and also, that’s the opposite of mansplaining. I just love it. That’s how ya do it.
CARRIE: Yes, and I really did not know about the regionality, at all. I was more confident about “bloody” than it probably came across, but I really did not know. So that’s awesome, thank you so much for that information.
MEGAN: I also wonder if he’s just really uncomfortable using “cunt” because he’s a man.
CARRIE: But it’s not uncomfortable for – say – Glaswegians as he was saying.
MEGAN: Oh right, good point. Yes.
CARRIE: If you watch Trainspotting.
MEGAN: Oh my god! Is that who… is that that?
CARRIE: That’s actually Edinburgh, right? They don’t have any problem saying it in that.
BEGBIE: You know me. I’m not the type that goes looking for fucking bother, like… but at the end of the day, I’m the cunt with the pool cue… and he can get the fat end in his puss any time he fuckin’ wanted, like.
MEGAN: Okay. You’re right. They do not have problems with that. Awesome. Okay, well. Christ is currently my favorite podcast fan.
CARRIE: Fan of the pod.
MEGAN: Fan of the pod. Thanks Chris. There was another thing that you wanted to talk about at the beginning of the podcast, right? Before we got into it?
CARRIE: Yeah, this is not actually a correction, this is just an explanation. My cousin, Murray, wanted to know why some people pronounce “street” “shtreet”. I don’t know if that’s gonna come across very well: “street” “shtreet”. Like a “suh” instead of a “shuh”. This is a phenomenon called “assimilation”, where sounds become more like other sounds. It’s sort of unusual, because they’re separated by another sound in the middle. The /s/ is becoming more like the /r/. The /r/ is pronounced slightly further back in the mouth than the /s/, and then the “shuh” is closer to the /r/. It’s a kind of assimilation, that’s what it’s called. I’m hoping that’s helpful to my cousin.
NOTORIOUS B.I.G.: And if you don’t know, now you know.
MEGAN: Awesome. Now into it? Should we get into to grammar snobbery?
MEGAN: Alright. This is the fourth episode we’re doing, and we’re late to the game when it comes to all other linguists when talking about prescriptivism versus descriptivism. Mostly linguists have already mentioned this. If you’re talking to a linguist, we usually mention this within the first two and a half minutes you’re talking to us.
CARRIE: It’s LING 101. First day class.
MEGAN: Right. We should probably say what it is.
MEGAN: Do you wanna?
CARRIE: Yes, sure. There’s a difference between prescriptive grammar versus descriptive grammar. Linguists are describers. We look at what’s actually out in the real world, and we describe that. And then we also try to explain it, but we look at the real world. Prescriptivists want the world to be in a particular way. So they want people to speak and write in a particular way. And it really comes down to – this is centuries ago – it’s a different men, different white men, depending on the era – we’re trying to make English seem more like Latin. Because in their mind, Latin was unchanged and this perfect language. Of course it changed, because it was a spoken language. And where do French and Spanish and all those things come from, other than Latin changing? But even in Latin proper, there are different varieties of it. So it’s completely insane on its face. Prescriptivists are idealists, I guess, whereas linguists or descriptivists are realists.
MEGAN: Right. And when we’re trying to explain what we see, we do it without judgment. I think that that’s important. Because that’s what this whole podcast is about, and that’s what we’re trying to advocate for. Don’t be an asshole. Don’t judge. Observe, hopefully one day, you all get to the point where you appreciate these differences, if you’re not already there.
CARRIE: Ok, so why are we talking about prescriptivism, besides the fact that all linguists do.
MEGAN: Yeah, well it’s where most of linguistic discrimination is upheld. This is going to be the final frontier. Once everyone’s on board with Southern English, like we talked about last week, realizing that that doesn’t correlate with racism or how smart you are, using Southern American English. Once everyone’s on board with that kind of stuff, they’re still gonna be holding onto the idea that we should have proper grammar. I think this is gonna be the last one that sticks around. It’s because it’s so embedded. It’s so embedded. We go to school, we go through K through 12, at least in the United States, and we’re taught that there’s one way to speak. In most school systems, that’s what they teach us. I think both of us used to fight against this, right?
CARRIE: Yeah, I used to fight this in the classroom, and there’s always at least one student who just would never budge, the whole term.
MEGAN: Right. And you were technically in an English department. I graduated from the English department. I technically have a Master’s degree in English, okay. So I can say this with certainty: that being an English major doesn’t mean you have to be an asshole about grammar.
CARRIE: Right. It really doesn’t. And yet! It’s really inculcated in people. It’s really hard to fight.
MEGAN: It is.
CARRIE: But now that I’m not in the classroom anymore, I felt like I really need to fight it in the real world, and explain to people that this is not okay. Because what really what we’re doing, when we’re being prescriptivists, is we’re really being racist and classist. MEGAN: And ablest! We’re gonna talk more about why that’s the case.
CARRIE: Right. It’s also just really damaging to make people feel bad about themselves, because they think that they can’t speak properly, that they’re not good English speakers, when they’re just as good as anybody else, they just speak a different variety.
MEGAN: Right. It was really hard for me as a linguist, I needed money, so I taught at a local community college, which I actually loved. But I was teaching grammar, and that’s really hard to do when you’re like, well I don’t want to feel like I’m prescribing how these people should speak. So I started the class with, “listen. The way that you talk right now, the way that you write right now, the way that you text, the way you talk to your friends is perfect”. I’m not trying to change the way you do those things, I’m just gonna try to add to your repertoire, by giving you these tools to – we live in a system where we need to be able to write sometimes, in this particular way. It actually opens the doors to students coming up to you and appreciating you more, because they’re like, “oh, it’s really nice that someone’s not trying to change me”.
CARRIE: Right, it’s just an extra skill. It’s not right replacing anything, like you said.
MEGAN: Someone actually asked me, “so does that mean it’s okay that I say ‘y’all’”, and I was like, “oh…”
CARRIE: Of course!
MEGAN: Oh my god I didn’t even know that “y’all” was a thing that people – but maybe it’s because it’s associated with Southern American English or maybe African American English, which are marginalized for reasons we’ve talked about that. Yes, they’ve got that message.
CARRIE: Yeah, that’s exactly why. But it’s still very strange because every – well not everybody – a lot of people say “y’all” and it just doesn’t feel like anything you should be judging, but of course people are. Now that we’ve talked about why, let’s talk about what some of these prescriptive rules are. Again, they’re made up, they are made-up rules. Somebody just decided one day, “AHA! I’m gonna make this a rule”, and then for some reason, people stuck with it.
CARRIE: Yeah but it’s just one dude, and it’s always just one dude at first.
MEGAN: I know. But then it’s the people in power that keep perpetuating those rules, and unfortunately people in power have been white dudes.
CARRIE: Also because English was originally spoken mostly by white people, so that part…
CARRIE: So one of the examples is the ban on double negatives, and we talked about this in the last episode, in episode three. If you really want to know why we think this is a ridiculous rule, you can go back to that episode. I just want to give a little bit of background. In 1762, Bishop Robert Lowth – I think that’s how you pronounce his name – wrote a short introduction to English grammar with critical notes, and that seems to be where this rule comes from. So it’s just some dude, writing it down – okay he was a bishop, so I guess he’s not just “some dude” – one person just decides, “okay, this is a rule. I’m gonna write it down”. And it’s still around! We still obey this.
MEGAN: It’s so frustrating! Well, Robert Lowth is on my shit list. Another rule that we love – well me and you love to hate – ban on ending a sentence in a preposition. This is just bonkers.
CARRIE: Agreed. My favorite quote, which is often misattributed to Winston Churchill, is – I don’t remember the whole sentence but basically – “this is something up with which I will not put”. It’s trying to show how horrible it is to have a ban on ending a sentence with a preposition. It’s kind of a cheating sentence, because nobody suggests that the preposition that goes with the verb in a phrasal verb should somehow float further into the front of the sentence. It should be “this is a rule with which I will not put up”. Even that sounds bad though. Most people would normally say “I will not put up with that” – no, “this is a rule I will not put up with”. That sounds the best. That sounds the most fluid. It’s kind of a cheating sentence because you’re doing something that nobody says you should do. You’re allowed to end sentences in prepositions, as long as they are prepositions that are part of a phrasal verb.
MEGAN: We don’t think like this when we’re speaking. That’s some like mental gymnastics for me. To be like, “oh I just ended that sentence with a preposition”. When I’m writing, I’ll notice that I put the period and it’s next to a preposition. If I’m writing a scientific paper, I’ll go and fix it, because that’s what the rules tell me I need to do to get published, or whatever. But I certainly am NOT gonna go back and fix it when I’m speaking.
CARRIE: Right. Nobody – well I shouldn’t say nobody – fewer people do this in speech than in writing, because you’re not gonna be attacked for this violating this particular rule when you’re when you’re speaking. It’s still completely manufactured, and apparently it was rule it was created in 1672 by the essayist John Dryden.
MEGAN: Ah! Another guy to add to my shit list. I’m guessing he’s white.
CARRIE: When you don’t end a sentence in a preposition when you should, but that’s just most fluid way to say it, and it just sounds really stilted. Again, this is to make English behave more like other languages, as opposed to just accepting English as it is. For example, French, you can’t – well, most dialects of French you cannot – end a sentence in a preposition. French does not have these phrasal verbs like English does, so we don’t have that issue. English is not French. And we shouldn’t force languages to be like each other.
MEGAN: Right. And another big one that grammar snobs like to say is that “‘ain’t’ ain’t a word, so I ain’t gonna use it.” That was the thing I remember hearing growing up, and I totally bought into it.
CARRIE: Yeah, I think I did too. I was quite the snob, when I was growing up. But words are words because we use them. If you have a community using a word, it becomes a word.
MEGAN: Yeah and some people will say, “well, now we can use it because “ain’t” is in the dictionary”, but again that’s true that it’s in the dictionary, but dictionaries are changing, just like language is changing. It’s a little bit slower because…
CARRIE: … because the communities have to be using the words first, and then, the dictionary describes what’s being used.
CARRIE: So there’s always gonna be a lag.
MEGAN: Right. I’d like to say, relatedly, that slang words and texting language are not destroying language or fucking up English grammar. It might be changing English grammar. We have yet to see, because these things evolve over time, but if it is, it doesn’t fucking matter.
CARRIE: That’s right. MEGAN: That’s how it works.
CARRIE: Language changes no matter what. In fact, English would be changing faster, if we weren’t literate, because the literacy wouldn’t be slowing us down. We have these rules for written English that make us speak in a particular way, to keep certain words around. So yeah, it’s not destroying language. It’s just changing. Another rule that we see is you have to use past tense forms for past tense and perfect forms for past perfect, like, “I have seen it” would be the perfect and “I saw it” would be the past. When we hear people say things like, “I seen it”, all the time. I’ve noticed that this is happening across the board, all the verbs are fluctuating between past and perfect. So: see~seen or – I can’t think of another one right now. Can you?
MEGAN: Wrote~written, sorry.
CARRIE: You written it? I don’t know if I’ve heard…
CARRIE: I don’t think I’ve heard that one. So we have these conflations happening, and again this is kind of a normal change. It actually happened in Latin, where the past tense and the perfect reduced to one form. This is just something that happens in language, and if you think Latin is perfect, then maybe you should be okay with this.
MEGAN: Who thinks Latin is perfect, besides Classics majors.
CARRIE: I don’t know.
MEGAN: Is that a thing?
CARRIE: Apparently, it’s a thing. Or it was.
MEGAN: It was a thing, yeah.
CARRIE: But it’s fine, it’s a language, it’s cool, but all languages are kinda cool.
MAX FISCHER: I saved Latin. What did you ever do.
MEGAN: Yeah, exactly.
CARRIE: I found this – okay so this is modernized version of Chaucer, from Troilus and Cressida – but he actually points out that language changes. I think this is really nice. You know that even forms of speech can change within a thousand years, and words we know were useful once, seemed to us wondrous strange foolish or forced – and yet men spoke them so. and they spoke of love as well as men do now
MEGAN: Oh, that’s really nice!
CARRIE: Right? That’s from 1385. Chaucer knew what he was talking about centuries ago and we still have to fight this fight.
MEGAN: Wow. I’m gonna get that tattooed on my forehead.
CARRIE: It’s a lot of text.
MEGAN: It is. My forehead’s not that large. Another thing that if you’re a grammar snob – which again, I’d like to say that I used to be one, so whoever I’m calling a grammar snob right now, I was one of you – another thing grammar snobs might judge are typos, and spelling in general, but typos.
CARRIE: Yes. Typos happen. We all make them. Even if you’re a really good speller, you’re going to make a typo at some point in your life. Just let it go! Just let it go, if someone makes a typo. And if you’re fighting with someone online and your attack is, “ha ha, you’re stupid, you spelled ‘you’re’ wrong”: you’ve lost! Because you’re attacking the spelling, not the argument. It’s almost like an ad hominem, except you’re not attacking the man, you’re attacking the spelling – which is irrelevant!
MEGAN: No, it’s so frustrating to me, because a lot of the people I follow on Twitter have really good arguments, but they have a lot of trolls. And they’ll often retweet a troll that has spelled something wrong or has used quote “improper grammar”, and then I’m like “no! All your arguments are so good! Why are you dragging this into it?”
CARRIE: Because they don’t know yet it’s just as bad. Because we’ve told everybody over and over and over again that it’s okay to judge people for the way that they spell or write or speak.
MEGAN: I would just like to make a confession right now that I used to spell “ludicrous” the way the rapper does.
CARRIE: That’s awesome. I love that.
MEGAN: This was before spellcheck, obviously. It may never have come up before spellcheck if it weren’t for AOL Instant Messenger, when one of my friends totally called me out on it. A friend who would consider themselves a grammar snob, I’m sure. But they were really mean about it!
CARRIE: Yeah, this is the thing it brings out people’s meanness. I remember one time I used the word “nauseous” to mean “nauseated”. I still use “nauseous” to mean “nauseated”.
MEGAN: Yeah, me too.
CARRIE: She was so mean about it, “like, oh my god, you’re a linguist and you still say that?!” I just like, “yeah, because I’m a linguist, I know what words you are ‘supposed to use’”, quote-unquote, but that’s how we use it in English. It means nauseated, and it has for a long time now.
MEGAN: Yeah. I have the thing where I’m always called out for saying “less” instead of “fewer”
CARRIE: Yeah. You know, it took me a long time – I was probably in my mid-20s before I even realized what the difference was, That’s how useless that distinction is.
MEGAN: It is. I know!
CARRIE: I switched now though, now I use “fewer” but ugh.
MEGAN: I never will. I’m gonna die on this hill.
CARRIE: Good! Good. You should. Oh and one more thing about typos is there’s also a law called “Muphry’s Law” – as in “Murphy’s Law” but you’ve…
MEGAN: Oh, I love it!
CARRIE: …switched the ph with the r. So if you call someone out for a typo or a grammar mistake, chances are you’re gonna make a mistake in your response. That’s my favorite law.
MEGAN: That’s amazing. I also want to say one more thing about spelling and writing in general is that writing is artificial. We all learn spoken language and it’s fine, but writing is artificial, and we must be taught it. We must practice it. We don’t have to practice our native language. And English spelling in particular is hard to conquer, because, just like many of our ancestors, English pillaged and plundered and took a lot of words from other languages. And I joke about that, but I actually like this about English. We have so many words from so many different languages.
CARRIE: Well some of that is because we were pillaged – well, “we”. The English were pillaged by the French
MEGAN: Yeah, by the French.
CARRIE: And the Vikings. So it’s not only the conquerors but also the conquered.
MEGAN: Yeah. No, good point! It’s a good point. But I really do like it about English that we have so many French words, Spanish etc., but it makes it hard, because we’re taking words and we’re taking their spelling. And maybe they make sense in the language that they come from, but it’s just lost in translation.
CARRIE: Sometimes it’s because of that, but also even just English. The Anglo-Saxon words, we have such a horrible spelling system. Like “meat” and “meet”, they should be spelled the same. They’re pronounced the same.
MEGAN: It’s true, and there’s some words like “knight”, used to be pronounced k-night.
MEGAN: Oh, I didn’t even know that. The /k/ made sense, at I was a certain point.
MONTY PYTHON: If you will not show us the Grail, we shall take your castle by force. MP: You don’t frighten us, English pig dogs. Go and boil your bottoms, sons of a silly person. I blow my nose at you, you so called Arthur King. You are your silly kkkkkkk-nig-uts.
MEGAN: But anyway, spelling is hard.
CARRIE: It doesn’t have to be, but we’ve decided to continue with this horrendous system – although the problem with reforming the English writing system, which I’ve said many times that we should do – the problem with it is then which dialect do you choose. MEGAN: Yeah. CARRIE: So it’s not gonna happen.
MEGAN: No. I’d also like to do a shout out right now to Spanish. Spanish has the greatest spelling system. It’s just how it sounds.
CARRIE: Yeah, it’s much more related to the sound. The next one is splitting infinitives. An infinitive is like, “to go”, and if you split the infinitive you get something like, “to boldly go”…
KIRK: where no man has gone before
CARRIE: … which sounds way better than not splitting it. “Boldly to go.” eh “To go boldly.” eh – I mean they’re okay it’s not like they’re as bad as the not ending a sentence in a preposition examples, but again, it’s a made-up rule. Basically English has two words to create an infinitive so “to” and “go” or “to” and “see”. So of course you can split them, because that’s the property of words as you can stick other words in between them. Again, I think this rule was made up so that it English would feel more like Latin. Latin infinitives are one word, so of course you can’t split them, because they’re one word. English didn’t always have split infinitives but in the 18th century, 19th century they became pretty common. There’s an example from Robert Burns or Robbie Burns, as I like to call him, “who dared to nobly stem tyrannic pride”. So this is literary. It’s got a very long tradition, and apparently the earliest comment against split infinitives was by an anonymous American…
TEAM AMERICA: AMERICA, FUCK YEAH!
CARRIE: … in 1834. So he was like, “yeah, it sounds better if you keep the ‘to’ with the verb”, which is just weird and wrong. I was in a dissertation defense many years ago now, before I finished my dissertation, and one of the committee members called my friend out for splitting an infinitive in his dissertation.
MEGAN: Oh my god.
CARRIE: This is supposed to be about the ideas in the thesis, why did you say this about this, or how do you explain this phenomenon given your analysis. And by the way, this was in a metals and materials engineering defense. What do split infinitives have to do with anything in that context? I was really mad and if I had been finished my PhD, I might have actually said something to him, because that was completely irrelevant.
MEGAN: The next one is a really famous one – well, infamous – “who” and “whom”.
CARRIE: Every time I hear someone say “whom” I want to slap them, it’s so unfair.
MEGAN: I know. I’m like, who do you think is watching you right now. Who are you trying to impress.
CARRIE: Whom. I’m just kidding.
MEGAN: Oh my god. As a linguist, a lot of people don’t know what we do. Whenever I meet someone new, they’re like, “oh, don’t correct my grammar.” This is one of the things where they’ll ask me, “did I use did I use ‘whom’ correctly”” And I’m like, “oh, honestly, I don’t fucking know. I wasn’t paying attention.”
CARRIE: I only notice if you use it incorrectly.
CARRIE: Yeah, if someone uses it correctly, I might notice, and I might just sort of like roll my eyes a little bit, but if you use it incorrectly, then I’m like, “ohhhhh”. This is hypercorrection. So if you said, “whom are you?”
MEGAN: Oh yeah.
CARRIE: … that would be really wrong. But I just don’t like it. I don’t like “whom”. I think we should get rid of it. Nobody knows how to – I shouldn’t say nobody – lots of people do not know the rule, which tells you that it’s not an important rule. So we should just let it go.
MEGAN: Right. It doesn’t say anything about people that don’t know the rule. It says everything about how stupid the rule is.
CARRIE: Then another one is the “who”/“that”. You’re supposed to use “who” for human and “that” for non-human. “I saw the man who left” versus “I saw the cat that left”. I would never use “who” for an inanimate object, but other than that I use “who”/“that” interchangeably. And yes, in my writing I will sometimes correct it, because I know people will judge me for it. But it’s just the silliest rule.
MEGAN: It is. I feel the same way. I actually feel a little bit of shame. I haven’t shed that yet, because people call me out on it. I guess just I’m harboring some intense insecurities, because I’ve been called out for using “that” with people, with humans. It so doesn’t matter.
CARRIE: It so doesn’t matter, people do it all the time. If you listen to people speak, they will say things like “I saw the man that left” all the time. I think it’s fine to be like, “okay, ‘who’ is only for humans”. Fine. If you want to make that rule, I could probably get on board with that part, but “that” just doesn’t care.
MEGAN: Yeah, and also you understand us when we say it, so that’s all that matters.
CARRIE: Right! If you’re critiquing something where you totally understand what the person has said, maybe you should rethink your critique. Because it really should be about the ideas. So if you’re critiquing the idea, critique the idea.
MEGAN: Yes. Stop and ask yourself, “am I being an asshole?”
CARRIE: It just takes two seconds of your time.
MEGAN: It really does. It really does. So, should we talk about why you should fucking stop judging people for these things?
CARRIE: Yes! I think we’ve kind of scattered it throughout this, but it really is a shitty thing to do.
MEGAN: It really is. We could stop there, but why is it shitty?
CARRIE: Well because you’re attacking things that are irrelevant to the argument, as I said before. It’s a sneaky way to be racist or classist or ableist.
MEGAN: Or ableist. So I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been working with kids and literacy and dyslexia and dysgraphia. These are legitimate reasons why people struggle with writing, with spelling. So it’s ableist. This is a new thing for me, like literally in the last week, I was like, “oh shit this is ableist.” I’m still learning and growing
CARRIE: Right, we all are.
MEGAN: Yeah, but for a while now I’ve known it’s racist and classist, and I think it’s because – for me, I learned this the hard way – people are really proud of the fact that they are good at grammar, and I feel like I was one of those people that was really proud of that fact too, because I was constantly praised for my writing, for my language. But then I realized it was fucking at the expense of the language of my parents. My parents use double negatives, my parents say “ain’t”. There’s these things that they do that would be judged as improper grammar. I realize how unfair that was.
CARRIE: Yeah. I grew up in a family that is basically very prescriptive. It was in my house, it was at school. It wasn’t until I got into linguistics that I realized just how horrible it is. So that’s the best thing about linguistics.
MEGAN: It really is!
CARRIE: It undoes at least some of your biases. Obviously, we still have biases, because we’re human beings. But it helps. It helps a lot.
MEGAN: I guess we should say why it’s racist and classist. Again, writing is artificial. If you don’t know the difference between “your” and “you’re” in writingm this may be because of the education system that you grew up in, the quality of it, how far you got in your education, how many times you were made to practice this. If you didn’t go that far in your education system from one reason or other – and maybe that’s because of socio-economic reasons – so class – then you don’t have time to practice this. Again, these are things that you practice, and you learn. So that’s one reason.
CARRIE: Yeah and that’s the same thing for racism, because again many of the schools in the United States in particular are separated racially. The same kind of arguments that you just made about class can apply there.
MEGAN: Yeah, and we haven’t talked about African American English or Chicano English yet, but these are varieties that do have things like double negatives. If a child that grew up speaking African American English decides to write something and they use double negatives, this is gonna be perfectly grammatically correct in their grammar of African American English. But that’s not the type of grammar that we as a society have prescribed to be the correct one. It’s gonna be incorrect in the eyes of a grammar snob
CARRIE: There are many people who can switch back and forth between the quote unquote correct English, basically the prescriptive English, and then their own variety. You might catch them using their own variety, and then judge them for that, even though they can use both equally well. So. It’s just bad.
MEGAN: A positive thing to say about that is I’ve seen video of K through 12 classes where they’re teaching kids to code switch now. They’re calling it code switching. They’re saying – just like I tried to do when I was teaching at community college – they said, “this is the language you’re bringing, let’s talk about your language, or your dialect that you’re bringing to school, and then let’s talk about code switching to this other one, when we’re in a school setting or whatever.”
CARRIE: Yeah, that’s exactly it. You should be able to use your variety whenever you want, but unfortunately the world that we live in penalizes this.
CARRIE: So if you put it phrase it that way, kind of like you did with your community college class, if you phrase it that way, “hey look, there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, but let’s add to your skill set, so that you can move in the world in a different way, when you need to.”
MEGAN: You’re totally right. When I said “code switch” to the school setting, let’s leave this language in the school setting, it felt so wrong. My stomach kind of hurts, there’s so many fucked up reasons why so called standard American English is the one that we use in a school setting. And that’s problematic on so many reasons, so racist, so classist, so many terrible things intersect to make that the reason behind – that’s the language we use in the school. But since we live in this fucked up society, if we teach people to code switch, and we frame it as that in schools, and tell them there’s nothing wrong with the way that you’re speaking, and maybe even explain that it’s fucked up that this is the reason why. I think we we’d get a lot further with people.
CARRIE: Yes we would, and also people could not feel superior anymore.
MEGAN: Yeah! The opposite too, right? People won’t feel so shitty about the way that they speak. CARRIE: Both are bad feelings, and we should discourage both feelings. So do have any other issues we wanted to discuss?
MEGAN: No, I don’t think so. I hope everyone enjoyed our first interview. And we have some exciting interviews coming up. We’ll pretend like we don’t know what they are, to keep you in suspense.
CARRIE: Also we don’t know exactly which order we’re gonna do them in. But yeah, I’m excited, I’m very excited for the next two that we have lined up. And then, we have others lined up for even later. It’s getting exciting.
MEGAN: It is getting exciting. My partner asked me, “is this sustainable? Are there that many topics?” I’m like, “listen”.
CARRIE: Bitch, please.
MEGAN: Yeah exactly. Don’t get me started. Wait until I have a microphone in front of me. I think that’s it. I don’t know, were we angry in this episode? I think we sound a little on edge?
CARRIE: There was definitely not enough nerd rage. There should have been more nerd rage.
MEGAN: I kind of promised that on the Twitter account. I think I cussed a little bit more on this one, so maybe that was what my rage manifests as.
CARRIE: Okay good.
MEGAN: I don’t raise my voice though. That’s as far as I can get.
CARRIE: Okay, well, I guess: thanks for listening again, and don’t be an asshole!
MEGAN: Don’t be an asshole! And send all your hate mail to Carrie only. I’m just kidding.
CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.