The Language of Love Transcript


Carrie Gillon: Hi and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast. The podcast about linguistic discrimination.

Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa

Carrie Gillon: and I’m Carrie Gillon.

Megan Figueroa: Hello, Carrie.

Carrie Gillon: Hello.

Megan Figueroa: So I I just wanted to say before I forget, I hope everyone’s staying safe.

Carrie Gillon: Oh boy. Yes.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I mean, I could mean anything. Right. I really could mean anything when I say I hope people are staying safe. It’s-

Carrie Gillon: That’s true. there’s lots of things going on in the world, but

Megan Figueroa: yeah.

Carrie Gillon: COVID and

Megan Figueroa: yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Ida and

Megan Figueroa: yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Fires.

Megan Figueroa: People are being evacuated as we speak, I believe still.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Once again, people had to scramble to their attics. It’s a complete replay of 2005.

Megan Figueroa: I heard that they can’t evacuate the hospitals because nearby hospitals are full of COVID patients.

Carrie Gillon: Not just nearby, there’s nowhere to send them in the states. There’s no room.

Megan Figueroa: nowhere in the states. Like they couldn’t come to Arizona.

Carrie Gillon: No, there’s no room. It’s worse in the South, for sure. But there’s no, there’s no extra capacity, basically anywhere. Yeah, so they didn’t even bother evacuating. And you know, many of the hospitals have the generators that have will, should work for 10 days, but at least one of them, the generators failed last night. So yeah.

Megan Figueroa: Oh, this is horrifying.

Carrie Gillon: It is horrifying. Yeah. So I hope, yeah. I hope everyone is as safe as they can be. And

Megan Figueroa: yeah. Well, we’re thinking of you.

Carrie Gillon: Yes.

Megan Figueroa: So I have to say Carrie, I’ve been watching this show on Hulu called Nine Perfect Strangers with Nicole Kidman. And I just wanted to put this out there on the airwaves because I need to know from people that are familiar with Russian accents, maybe, maybe someone with a Russian accent: is Nicole Kidman’s Russian accent, very inauthentic or not. Cause you’re not watching. Right. You’re not watching it-

Carrie Gillon: never even heard of it.

Megan Figueroa: I’ve just, she’s playing this woman named Masha. Who’s they, they state explicitly that is this Russian woman. and I’m just really wondering if it’s authentic or if it’s like it’s a, it’s supposed to be someone who came to the US. So like, is it authentic when you’ve spent more years in the US at this point, but you still have, you know features of, of Russian coming into your-? I don’t know, but I feel like it’s so inauthentic and maybe it’s just because it’s Nicole Kidman for me and I just can’t reconcile her speaking in a Russian accent.

Frances: How did you get in here?

Masha: I came in through the door. I’m Masha.

Frances: You’re her.

Masha: Why are you crying Frances?

Frances: You know, it’s a little bit of my career is over kind of thing. A bit of menopause, mix in a little bad relationship. a dash of crippling shame.

Masha: We’re going to get you well,

Megan Figueroa: Eric Singer, I wish I could ask Eric our favorite, our favorite accent coach, if it’s authentic, but you know, it’s funny because talking with him, I would have asked “is her accent terrible?” but now I’m using authentic and authentic because I know how hard, actors work on these things. So

Carrie Gillon: yeah, I have no idea. I’ve never heard her try to put on a Russian accent. They’re usually pretty bad as far as I can tell, like, I I have a number of friends who are Russian or grew up in Russia and yeah none of them sound like the people on tv.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah, exactly. Well, someone I did some work with when I was an undergrad, she was from Russia and this is not anything like how Nicole Kidman is sounding to me. but you’re right, that often people get the Russian accent wrong. It’s always like this villainous, over the top kind of thing. I don’t know. I don’t know what she’s doing. Maybe it’s the most authentic thing ever. And I just have no idea, but has any opinions, let me know. I’m very curious. It’s actually kind of distracting for me.

Carrie Gillon: Speaking of accents. I mean, this is an authentic accent, but last night we were watching CNN and I don’t know normally watch CNN, but hurricane and just the first anchor was I’m pretty sure Australian. And then it switched over to another anchor. And I was like, is she also Australian? Or is she British? And I couldn’t figure it out. So I had to look it up: South African. Oh, of course. If I can’t figure it out between those two it’s- of course South African.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. It’s like, yeah. That’s like, if you put those two together what does it equal? yeah. As a linguist and as our listeners, maybe they are like this too, even if they don’t consider themselves a linguist. It’s hard not to wonder about accents. I mean, in a, in a very, like, like not in a mean or disparaging way, but it’s like, where’s that from, I can’t place it. I can’t place it. And I always want to place it.

Carrie Gillon: There’s nothing inherently wrong about being curious about where someone’s from. It’s just like often it’s not innocent.

Megan Figueroa: Right.

Carrie Gillon: In this case, it really was like, I just wanted to know where that accent came from. I couldn’t place it.

So we had an email I thought might be interesting to listen to, and she has a really good point about like something, a topic that we haven’t addressed at all yet. And there’s many of those. Okay.

“Hi, I’m Carrie and Megan. I’m a relatively recent fan of the podcast, but a long-time fan of linguistics. If you can, I’d really love to hear you talk with someone about Yiddish. I’d suggest Jewish languages, dialects in general, but that’d be, might be a bit much for a single podcast episode. My own relationship with Yiddish has evolved a lot because I actually converted to Judaism as an adult. I went from vaguely knowing that a few words and phrases like “schmuck” or “oy” had Yiddish origins to being fiercely protective of language against Gentiles who think that it’s inherently ridiculous slash unserious language or who believe that it’s useless slash data slash extinct. It’s very much a living language, but hey, do you think there might be a reason that there are so few speakers today compared to oh, 1939. Anyway, I love what you do and look forward to each episode that comes out. Best, Jessica.”

Thank you, Jessica.

Megan Figueroa: Thank you for your email and anyone who wants to email us before we talk about that. It’s We love your emails. I don’t know much about Yiddish. I just realized now, and I would love to know more. And this is one of those moments where I hope listeners are like, oh, even a linguist doesn’t know everything about language. Yes, of course not. I have so much to learn.

Carrie Gillon: most of what I know about Yiddish comes from like the language revitalization side of things. It’s a fascinating language and there there’s others too. Like she brings up that there’s other Jewish languages. Like she doesn’t, it doesn’t mention them, but like Ladino, which is like Spanish ish

Megan Figueroa: I was going to say Spanish.

Carrie Gillon: And there’s others as well. So yeah, I would love to there’s just so many topics to get to

Megan Figueroa: I know. Yiddish: on the list believe us that our list is long.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. There are many, many, many things on that list that we haven’t even gotten to, but yeah. So thank you so much. And anyone, yeah. Please email us other ideas. We will hopefully get to them as soon as we can. And then one last thing I thought maybe we want, might want to talk about just briefly: remember how we talked about bat communication for one of our episodes, way back when

Megan Figueroa: it was for Halloween.

Carrie Gillon: It was one of our Halloween episodes. Yeah.

Megan Figueroa: So Bat Pups Babble and Bat Moms Use Baby Talk.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. In Nature, it’s Baby Bats Babble Like Human infant, Infants and damn that alliteration. Yeah. It could have gone further somehow. Yes. Baby Bats Babble Like Babies. I don’t know.

Megan Figueroa: Oh, that’s so cute. Yeah. Infants babble, whether it’s sign or spoken. And so now I guess they’re finding that baby bats are babbling as well, which is adorable

Carrie Gillon: and also songbirds. They also babble

Megan Figueroa: yes. song birds, birds are so fascinating. I never thought I would think that, but their communication is so fascinating, but I want put this out on the record that bats are so underappreciated for their cuteness.

Carrie Gillon: Oh, yeah, I’ve always thought bats are cute

Megan Figueroa: And now they babble?

Carrie Gillon: So they, they converted audio snippets of these ba- baby bats into spectrograms and then they searched for these key features that characterize babbling in human babies, including repetition of syllables and rhythm in their sounds. And they had all eight of the features.

Megan Figueroa: Oh, all eight! Wow.

Carrie Gillon: All eight.

Megan Figueroa: And that’s. Okay. The songbirds and people. Okay. So birds vocalize using a syrinx Humans use a larynx. What are the bats using?

Carrie Gillon: That is an  excellent question that I do not

Megan Figueroa: see. does it say, it doesn’t say. Maybe I’m just missing it.

Carrie Gillon: Let’s see. Bat larynx. Yeah, they have a larynx.

Megan Figueroa: Okay. Well, that’s good to know. I learned something. Oh, that’s so cute. Very cool. Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Oh yeah. And Megan is going to do something special for our new patrons.

Megan Figueroa: Yes. Yes. So I have a weaving that I did of the word “fuck”, but it’s very colorful. I’ll post it on Twitter. but. Anyone that is a new patron starting when our episode is released to let’s say 48 hours, I will put your name in a hat and give away my fuck weaving to one of you. So yeah, if you want to join Patreon and you just haven’t yet, this might be the time for you. it’s

And this episode is very, very good. So as all episodes that we do, we have the best guests

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. we got to talk a lot about all kinds of things like that we’ve talked about before, but like not quite in the same way, like just like weaves all these things together.

Megan Figueroa: It is it’s and it’s just a testament to like the beautiful brains of our, of our two guests.


Carrie Gillon: Today we have two guests and we’re very excited to have them. Natalyn Daniels is the Clery Liaison for the University of California, Berkeley. And Dr. Rose Wilkerson is a sociolinguist and a lecturer in African-American Studies, where she talks about technology and race and all those good things. And she’s also at Berkeley. So welcome to both of you.

Megan Figueroa: Thank you so much for being with us.

Rose Wilkerson: Thank you for having me.

Natalyn Daniels: Yeah, I’m super excited. So thank you for creating the space.

Carrie Gillon: Okay. Before we get too into the reason why we wanted to have you both on, I’m curious about what is a Clery liaison.

Natalyn Daniels: Sure. so I’ll try to condense this into a really short description of, of what Clery is, but every institute of higher education that receives Title Iv funding which is going to be essentially all of your public schools and that’s most of the forms of financial aid that we understand from a federal entity come through Title Iv. So each of the spaces that receive title four funding are responsible for remaining compliant. The Clery Act. Jean Clery was a student who was unfortunately sexually assaulted and then murdered in her dorm room. And her parents worked with the department of education to develop what are now known as the Clery Act compliance steps. So campuses have to do a great deal of work on the backend to maintain appropriate record keeping around forms of violence that happened on campus. and also have to have transparent methods for reporting that information every year so that the public can know what sorts of incidents and violence and harm are actually occurring on campuses.

so that’s, a broad, broad understanding of what the Clery Act is. There’s a lot of finite details around different policy steps and prevention steps, and all of these other aspects, how we actually use that data in order to remain compliant. but yeah, so that’s sort of, sort of a broader overview of, of where the Clery act rolls.

Megan Figueroa: What an important job.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah. When I saw that was what your title was. I thought we at least needed to know what that is because I bet a lot of people probably have never even heard of it.

Natalyn Daniels: It’s always good to, for folks to know who Jean Clery was. So that, that, isn’t just another lost statistic, which was the whole intent of her parents working with the department of education is this cannot happen again. and yeah, so it’s, it’s been a huge movement on the, on the federal side to push for that level of transparency from campuses.

Carrie Gillon: One of the reasons why we wanted to have you on nataline was because you’ve talked about your experience of transferring to Berkeley from community college. Can you talk a little bit about your background and what it was like to arrive at Berkeley?

Natalyn Daniels: Yeah, I definitely can. So I was born on the Dine reservation into a, an extremely multicultural multi-regional multi-spiritual family. we have a rich, beautiful, complicated history. That’s woven together by a lot of systems, including systems of violence, but also systems of resilience. And so just naming that those things exist in tandem when it comes to my family and adds to the complexity, but also adds to the, I think the richness that, that my family offers whenever they’re anywhere, really. The reservation and my community there were the first to expose me to a lot of I would say the most fundamental human experiences and processes, like for example, even what it means to learn. What, how do you open yourself up to learning and what does that feel like? What does it mean to communicate, to heal, to apologize, to celebrate anything? All of those framings came from this core community that I had in a very small space on the rez. and I don’t know that I can describe so much what that’s like, as opposed to just sharing that it really. shaped me and that I’m still learning every day how that shaped me as I enter both difficult as well as pleasant circumstances in my life. So when I enter things that make me feel really good and I sort of just reflect on how I’ve learned to celebrate those moments. Those are, those are opportunities for me to learn how all of that education shaped me as a young person. and my family genuinely or generally has a genealogy that’s very difficult to map. considering that it’s, it’s a mix of enslaved Black populations and Indigenous communities. And all of those things are very difficult to understand where a lot of these things come from.

Outside of knowing that it’s been experienced at the hands of American imperialism and colonialism and genocide and things of that nature. but these are connections and identities that I’m really grateful for, and that I’ve learned to cherish as opposed to resent, which also took a lot of work just to, to hold all of that, all of those complexities at once.

As for transferring into Berkeley, that was surreal and incredibly challenging. And I was coming in as an out of state community college transfer. and I immediately recognized how little experience I had in producing academic content that met the expectations and caliber that’s normalized at UC Berkeley. It was a very steep learning curve. And I struggled to find my footing, I would say for almost a year, which was severely exacerbated by how difficult it was to find or identify folks from my communities on campus. So all of that sort of fed into this, this very complex relationship and dynamic that I had to my own public education, something that I had a right to, and that was supposed to be accessible to me. And it made it really very, very difficult. and I think a lot of these challenges extend well beyond communication approaches and are perhaps more vested or nested in cultural and value systems. So what do American institutions of education genuinely value? and I think that was something that was brought to my attention on a daily basis. Just with my presence on campus, to what extent did they want to value my assimilation versus my contribution. And those are two things that had to co-exist and had to become conflated in order to survive and thrive on the campus. and I really wish that hadn’t been the case, but those were sort of just, just some of the, some of the pieces to just touch on for now with how challenging that that transition was.

Megan Figueroa: I think it’s really great the way that you described all that,  because we, a lot of us are having to assimilate into someone else’s idea of success. What you took to Berkeley, you had to. Transform the way you, for example, speak to fit someone else’s idea of success.

Natalyn Daniels: Absolutely. I think, I think I had to frame both even my own, or I guess I had to juxtapose or question my own value systems at Berkeley in the sense of, of these things, that the campus heralded as the way of progress and the way of improvement, the way of developing. Right considering both of, both of the identities in my families come from severely underdeveloped spaces in the United States. And so acknowledging what they mean by development and what they mean by potential and all of these other aspects and recognizing that, that oftentimes when my communities were involved, it was either deeply embedded or deeply entrenched in assimilation, or they were the observation or research subjects. Right. And so recognizing how the university, what the university’s relationship is to my identities. And I’m just strictly speaking racial identities right now. Right? There’s so many other identities at play here that shaped what it meant for me to be quote welcomed end quote by the campus that theoretically accepted me. They accepted my application and sort of the standard that I had to meet upon arrival. So to recognize it’s like, oh, okay. So, so acceptance is contingent, right? Acceptance is, is conditional. These are, these are things that are, that are going to be conditional on. How do you still achieve. How do you still maintain this GPA in this construct, as opposed to it being, how do we accommodate our construct to, to meet the, the wisdom and expertise of all of the folks we’ve invited to be here? That is part of, part of the challenge coming into a campus like just in terms of my experience and my experience is not alone. I know there’s many, many other people who went through something similar and, and still are not just at Berkeley. It’s this is a globalized phenomenon within higher education, but the, yes, I absolutely agree with everything you’ve just framed.

Carrie Gillon: So what are the two communities that your family comes from?

Natalyn Daniels: Yeah. So my family is very, very heavily mixed Black Indigenous. So we’ve got a lot of, a lot of different national cultural identities wrapped up in those things. both of those identities are pretty ambiguous for the most part because it’s very hard to trace back exact lineages for, for any of those aspects. I know that my grandmother, for example, has been trying to trace back information for as, as long as she’s been alive to just try to understand where we come from. she has an incredible history that she’s maintained herself via photographs. So she’s got a lot of photos and every single photo has words written from top to bottom on the back, describing who the person is, who they married, who their children were, what their lineages were, et cetera, et cetera. Those are not seen as valid forms of recordkeeping. But it’s the best record keeping we have. So and that dates back several women on that side of the family having done that work which I’m exceptionally grateful for, because that is the best, that’s the best family history I’ll ever have. it’s the closest, closest I’ll get to, to knowing to knowing any of those, any of those pieces.

So I think both of those communities in terms of of saying like, what exactly is this identity? I think both of those communities have struggled for so long to know what the answer is. To say it’s to say, I wish I knew. Right. And so that’s sort of the, the place that we sit with that, but we do know that we’re mixed with, with several communities several tribal communities.

We were also, obviously I was born and raised on the Dine reservation. And then we also have my grandmother was- still lives about 20 miles out from the most recent plantation to own that side of the family. So just recognizing how all of those histories are still so connected while making sure all of that information is withheld from us. And so, yeah, so that’s sort of the, the very complex identity web that exists in my family.

Rose Wilkerson: Talking about your family and your history and cultures reminds me of my cousin, who I have a cousin who has been doing research on our Indigenous lineage. Cause we have a Indigenous, although most of us were pretty much brought up as African-American or African or African-American culture. We have some Indigenous family on my mother’s side of the family and we were always told that that they were from the Blackfoot tribe, but a cousin found out when doing her research was that she said, number one, sometimes people would say Blackfoot because it was a formidable force against the European colonists. So sometimes people would say, oh, we’re Blackfoot. Or, and, and I think what she found out was that, and I don’t remember the name, name of the of the particular group, but that there’s that there was a translation thing. It’s not that we’re connected to the Blackfoot tribe that most people know about it northern areas like the Dakotas and whatnot, but there was another group where the translation was Blackfoot, but it’s a completely different Indigenous group altogether. So it’s just, it’s really interesting that you talk about that and then these can be very complex, you know?

Natalyn Daniels: Yeah. That’s so fascinating to hear it because I I’ve heard of similar translation errors in terms of oral history, then getting translated to written history across multiple lingual influences and the result being oh, like the paperwork said this and it’s, and in reality, it’s this whole other tribe, it’s this whole other part of the United States that the folks are connected to. I definitely hear you. That is, and, and how politicized the power and strength of the Blackfoot resistance is in wanting to align with those circumstances. That’s so fascinating. Thank you for sharing.

Rose Wilkerson: You’re welcome. And I just wanted to add something else about the complexity, like in our family in particular because the, the way that I’ve grown up in my generation, it’s pretty much African-American, but, and my mother’s and grandmother’s generation, it’s a little bit, it really was complex. I’m not quite clear on this, but I think that our family was involved with the Trail of Tears, which we never heard stories about. And part of that is that sometimes things are so traumatic. And it’s just so traumatic in a way that a lot of the Elders, our Elders didn’t like to talk about. You know, or even if they did talk about something, they’re doing a whisper. Oh yeah. Well, he is a gone because of something happening. Like there’s no one that’s going to do anything at this point. Right. But, and you know these people are long gone I’ve passed away from from here, but you know, a lot of times they didn’t talk about these things because just too much for- it’s too emotional, it’s too traumatizing. And it’s sometimes it was about asking the right questions. You just, there were certain ways that you communicated with the older generations then you know, then we do now, now everybody asks questions and we put all that information out, but then it’s just, it just, wasn’t a part of, you know some of the communication, depending upon what was going on. So I want to appreciate that. Just give you some about how complex that can be.

Carrie Gillon: Rose, tell us about the classes you’re teaching at Berkeley.

Rose Wilkerson: So I have a, just a quick bio. I have a PhD in linguistics and I focused on African-American English in particular. And my dissertation research was on African-American English in the Mississippi Delta.

Megan Figueroa: Is that where you’re from?

Rose Wilkerson: No, I’m not. I met a colleague who had sociological interviews on tape and tape recordings, and so she had tons of them and I went through, listen to them and I thought, oh maybe I could. Research on, on that. And so that’s it was my dissertation research and what have you. So after I got my PhD, this was like 2008. And then we had a new president, which was President Obama. And then the economy kind of dropped out so there weren’t really a lot of positions open at the time. but, and so what I did is I went to lecturing. well, I had a post-doc for about two years and then I went into lecturing.

Now what I’m teaching? I taught some at Berkeley in the Linguistics Department the American Languages course, which is a wonderful. course about the different languages that are here. I mean, the funny thing is that sometimes when I tell people the American languages, people say, “what?, there’s more than one?” Yeah. So it talks about some of the Indigenous languages, talks about the different colonial languages that have been here as well as different English dialects and how they got started. And so I taught that for a few years. And then I was, I was asked by African-American Studies to do a course on African-Americans in the tech and the technology industry. And that was because at the time I was working on some research on language and video games, and that was a fun thing for me. So I never got to publish. I do have a paper somewhere. I have to publish this. But it was something fun that I was doing. And the head of the department had heard about it. I guess I was talking about it with her one time and she called me and “Hey, we would love to have a course on this.” And so that’s how I got started. And now I’m teaching Information, Society and Technology. And the other course is Lives of Struggle Minorities in a Majority Culture, both of them focus on technology and bias and racism in just different ways. A lot of the topics cross each other the Lives of Struggles in American cultures course. And so the focus is more on the impact of this biased technology. And on Native American African-American and Latinx communities. so I look at things such as facial recognition technology, basically policing algorithms. That’s a huge part of my course and, and how they’re using technology to predict crime. And that’s a huge thing. No one can predict- it’s like trying to predict earthquakes. You can’t predict earthquakes. As a matter of fact, one of the technologies that they’re using in, I think -they’re using an L in Los Angeles. I’m not sure if they’re still using it. I think they are- is based off of earthquake prediction technology, which we can’t really predict earthquakes based on where earthquakes have happened. And so there’s a prediction of, well, possibly the same thing with crime well, crimes have happened here and there and in these particular areas. So therefore, it’s going to happen in these areas. Again, they, they even have it down to like almost predicting where it’s going to happen. But the problem with that is that when you have an overpoliced communities, especially Black and Latinx communities, then what you’re really doing is doing the same thing of overpolicing. That’s what it is, but it’s in the guise of technology to make it seem like it’s neutral. So in other words, it’s not based on bias or racist or racism. The computer is telling us

Carrie Gillon: The computer does it all on its own. [sarcastic]

Rose Wilkerson: Right. It’s, it’s still repeating the same problem. You know, it’s not, it’s not resolving it in in any form or fashion. So that’s kind of like the thing that we look at and the other course, kind of broaden it a little bit where we are looking at what’s a chatbots and how they’re used to, you know so Microsoft in particular, put out a chat bot. Tay, and it had a weak point that some people discovered and it was supposed to, yeah. Just being able to gather conversations and have conversations with people just around the world. And when they put it out there, I think on Twitter or something like that, it didn’t do well. It started, some people took advantage of it and it started spewing out racist stuff and sexist and, and whatnot. And, but the way they handled that, those more of you, our list of terms that you don’t talk about. You know, that’s what they told the software to do, rather than have it learn from conversations about race and, and, and other things. It just said just it it’s I brought the, I bring the question to the students. Race is not a blacklist of terms. Like you just don’t use. That doesn’t resolve it. Yes. So we just talk about those kinds of things. It’s a lot of fun to, to teach and whatnot. I think the students really learn a lot about, you know this, this, the overall topic of racism and, and, and, technology,

Megan Figueroa: Both you and Natalyn have mentioned words like standard

English and power, oppression, and then saying that nothing is neutral. We talked about this before on the show, but can you tell us what standard language ideology is?

Rose Wilkerson: Yes. When I teach about American English, I always start off with: what is Standard English. And why is it that we believe it’s a standard? Most people in this country country are taught to believe that Standard English is somehow correct English and everything else usually means which usually means the English varieties of people of color or people at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale or something like that. Or social scale, social pole, I call it is somehow bad, broken, whatever, disturbed English or, or what have you. And we have a lot of research, especially in education with African-American children of what that means. So for example, if you guys have heard about the Ebonics controversy back in the 1990s and how big that was blown up in so many ways I’ve taught a course specifically about that, about what, what happened was that Oakland, the Oakland school district found that many African-American children were being put into Special Education because of their speech, not because of any intellectual issues or that there were special needs or anything like that. So what that tells you is that there’s a perception that, that their speech is not the standard form of English, meaning that there’s something wrong with them, these kids intellectually. This is really a part of a long history in terms of dealing with African-Americans in this country. So it’s not, it’s not that surprising when you know, the, the history. It’s unfortunate because a lot of the kids were really in a sense, misdiagnosed and placed into Special Education classes when they didn’t belong. And so even some, some parents came out and said, wait a minute, this is not correct. Not in Oakland’s case, but it didn’t. And I think there was another case in Chicago, Detroit, or something like that, where that happened. So. There’s a perception that there is a correct way to speak English and an incorrect way to speak English, which is not true.

So what people don’t realize is Standard English is the English of the people who have socioeconomic power. That’s all it is socioeconomic and political power, I should add to them. That’s what that, that means. And that has actually shifted in US history in particular. Standard English used to be East Coast, almost like New England kind of English, almost British sounding or something very different.

If you remember back probably in the eighties or so seventies or eighties where the, a lot of the what do you call it? newscasters national news came from the East Coast and there was a certain kind of way that they spoke English. That was looked at as upon I mean that, in a way that kind of English was looked at as being somehow more standard, that there’s a long history to the actually proceeds the seventies, for sure.But then what, what ended up happening is that you’d have the economic center of the country that shifted to the Midwest. And that was the industrial period and with the industrial period, then it became more of a Midwestern English that was the standard. So there have been shifts in terms of what is considered the standard, then you also have the influence of Hollywood of Los Angeles in particular. You know, Valley Girl used to just be in the Valley, but now it’s all over the place. We used to call it Valley Girl speech when I was younger. And that’s how we knew that the ways in which what does the people from Southern California and the Valley area spoke, but because of, of Hollywood and the popularization or the use of what we used to call Valley Girl talk that has in a way it’s kind of spread throughout the country in different ways. So you also have television that plays a role in that as well. But there is no standard language. And that’s one of the things I teach in the class. There is no standard English and I’m like, what? And I’m like, no, there isn’t what it is, is that it has to do with people who have some socioeconomic and political power. So in other words I would say white middle-class, if anything, Midwestern kind of or it could be kind of Los Angeles too. It just, it’s a little bit of a mix that basically if I want to work in your company and then I need to speak the variety of English that you speak, and that’s very clearly understood. And in many areas and in the United States, that’s what it has to do with that.

So think about, like, for example, in the Civil War, there was a Civil War between the North and the South and what have you, and, and if the South won the war, what English variety do you think would be would be mainstream English or Standard English. It would be Southern English. So whenever you have a power shift like that, that’s what becomes the standard of language. It’s often based on I would say white middle class speech in some form or fashion and the, and that’s what it is. So the, the ideology behind it is that this is the correct way and everything else is incorrect. Well, that’s not how it really operates. Language and how people learn languages. So there were even different varieties of British English that came into this country. some will tell you many of the, what is it? Appalachian English. I wish I had my map in front of me and I don’t unfortunately. But do you have what is it in Appalachia? They have influence from the Scots. I want to say Scots-Irish, I think, in terms of the way that they speak English and then. I believe that Southern English came from Southern British English. So there are these different things that depending upon where the people came from, they brought that variety of English into particular areas of the country. And that’s how, why you have so many varieties. One of the problems with Standard English ideology is how we treat children of color in education. That’s the one of the biggest issues. And they really do not- many teachers do not understand or even know about the history of English that for example, Black English or African-American English, it’s just another variety. And it’s not just because it’s Black like, like somehow, race, you know. If you were born Black, you somehow will speak African-American and that language doesn’t happen that way. You can, you speak whatever the language of love or the language of communication from your family and your community. That’s how you, that’s the variety of English. It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with race, but much of the you know, African-American English has some Southern English that’s connected to it. Um other kinds of varieties, it just really depends upon where they are and the where, where they are in the country. But there are a lot of similarities because we have a common kind of a, I would say a history in many African-Americans come from the south and have migrated in other parts of the country. So whether it’s the, let’s say the East Coast and North or, or West, some of the Southern English variety is still a part. Some structures are still a part of the, of the language. So, and then people, and in terms of what region you’re in there’s a difference in terms of how you speak, not to say that African-Americans from California sound just like the people in the South. Not necessarily sometimes there’s some differences and things of that nature, but we do understand each other. We tend to understand each other when we’re speaking you know, African-American English. So, and we have a common culture and history, and that, that is also tied into the communication tied into African-American English. So it’s the same, Chicano English is very similar. And, and one of the things that’s really interesting is that varieties of English that are spoken by minorities in particular, tend to be looked at as communication deficiencies. They can’t really speak the standard. When it’s really about the fact that it has to do with the, the the, their networks and their families that they navigated. And there’s the language of love. And so when you go into, it’s a language of family and communication and community. So when you go into a school system that tells you that way you speak is incorrect or bad. you’re not just talking about the structures and the words that are coming out of their mouth. You’re really talking about the people and their culture, the kids and their cultures. And that’s the message that comes across.

Megan Figueroa: So to both you and Natalyn, how can we push back against these harmful ideologies? The deficit thinking about people that don’t speak the quote unquote standard. so how can we push back against this, both in secondary education in our lives, because this is,  like I said, harming all of us.

Natalyn Daniels: I can definitely weigh in just briefly on this. I think one of the biggest parts of sort of the process you just named, which is monumental, right. This is, this is a huge, huge paradigm shift that’s necessary. And I think one of the biggest, biggest pieces of it is really investigating our practices and our expectations in- not just in academia, but in professionalism and success in capitalism and production, all of these things. We have to investigate

what are the expectations, both conscious and subconscious that we’re projecting onto these spaces. And then, when those expectations are confronted, what do we do? Is it forced assimilation, or is it us recognizing that the system isn’t truly accommodating all, all of the things that everyone can contribute to our society? So I think a lot of our framings for validity are inherently exclusionary just by, just by default, just by practice. American professionalism, American scholarship all of the rules and frameworks around those things are fairly new and were created without the majority of people at the table. So we have selective historical acknowledgment combined with rampant historical ignorance and revisionism, and that’s what we’re operating through. That’s our lens. So if we truly want historical education to be accessible and empowering we need to make sure that we’re not regulating and policing the individuals who don’t- who don’t have conventional access, right? And even conventional I’m saying in quotes, conventional access to their own history and rulemaking, let alone others. So they’re coming into systems they can’t even educate themselves on until they are at the chopping block, until they’ve already run through the gauntlet and wind up at the end and learned that they’ve lost. This is, this is not sustainable and it’s obviously not inclusionary, so that’s, that’s sort of the framings I’ll just offer on that. But I think what you’ve named is so critical and it just, it’s going to require a lot of, a lot of commitment and dedication from us as a society to recognize that it’s, that it is as pivotal and integral as you just named.

Rose Wilkerson: I totally agree with you, Natalyn, on that one, especially when we talk about a paradigm shift, it’s with my years of teaching and it’s not been a lot of years, I’ve come to realize how in, how can I say it? What’s the word I’m looking for? I would say embedded. It’s not quite what I mean, but embedded racism is into all of our systems into everything that we do from, from housing to, to having access, just having access to technology, to education careers and jobs. And I don’t think people, most people do not know that his- my thing is that what I want to say is that we cannot move forward. We cannot change this until we have a real wake up call. And that means not just that racism exists. Everybody has some kind of general idea of what racism is. They usually think it’s someone shouting at someone else, a racial epithets, because they don’t like the color of their skin kind of thing, but it’s, it’s more to it, to that. It’s very intricate and you really have to know the history. One of the things I’ve been teaching in my Lives of Struggle class is talking about if you’ve ever read the Condemnation of Blackness. It’s a really eye opening book. It’s by Kaloga Gibran Muhammad. And in my class we looked at, he talks about the social scientists that came out of the after the Civil War. This is post Civil War. During this time you have 4 million people who were suddenly no longer slaves. And now the, the, the white men in power were thinking, okay. So are we going to say that these people are going to be citizens? Does that mean that they will have the same opportunities that we will, which means that they could be in a position of power to affect our lives? That was one of the thoughts that they had. And then you see all of this, not that this wasn’t there prior to this, but then you see all of this science so-called science, around, African-Americans being inferior, not capable of taking care of themselves, having all these problems, which is so funny because it’s like, well, all of the problems that many of them have reduced to the fact that you enslaved them! Nothing to do with them, you know?

So until you really understand that history, And to see how it has effects every area of our life. You can’t really change this. And I think, I think it’s just keep transforming . I think there’s some, some progress we can make a little bit here and there, but until we really, as a society, recognize how racism has infected every area that we of life. I don’t think we’re going to, I think we’re going to still be struggling with the same issues and people do not know. They don’t know the history. They like, like Natalyn said, revisionist history, everything was great. You know, white people came and they civilized all the savages, you know, built all these things. I mean, that’s what, that’s what people know, because that’s what it’s accepted as, as history. but until you really go through and see how these things, how the history connects to what’s happening now and, and how it’s transformed, you really don’t have an idea.

Like, I didn’t know until I started looking at this, how even just having access to the internet is part of the system that we live in. Racism. And, but I mean, I just being in a metropolitan areas, to everybody has the internet here, but there are many communities that don’t have, especially reservations that don’t have it for various reasons. And when you rely on the part again, this is relying on in, in my mind, you’re relying on the, on society to really teach you and educate you. That’s one thing I have to say about my parents that was really wonderful about them is that they, they always taught me about Black history and African-American history and culture because I, I would’ve never gotten that from public school at all. The only thing I got from elementary school black people were the first there were slaves and then there was Martin Luther King

Megan Figueroa: yeah. Harriet Tubman was in the middle, but that’s about it. Yeah.

Rose Wilkerson: Yeah. Right, right. Yeah. Harriet Tubman was there. I don’t even know if I’d recognize Harriet Tubman when I was – wow. That was not taught. Whatsoever. I mean, but it was my parents that taught me about that, about literature, Black literature, and Frederick Douglas and, and Langston Hughes and musicians like Scott Joplin. That’s how I found out about it. Not because it was taught in schools and now you have this whole movement about not teaching anything related to ethnic studies, critical race theory. Any of that, which is again, that’s revisionist history. You’re saying that now you’re “what you know, and what you experienced is not important. It’s not even real, you know we came and we took savages from Africa and once we were already here and we civilized them and that’s all you need to know.” So that’s, that’s until we really know that history. And I mean, all of us that really has to be taught. And I think the reason why. There’s such a pushback against it. I don’t think it’s necessarily just the fact that it’s coming from people of color, which it often is, but it’s about changing the power structure. So that means that if we, if we really enlightened people about this, most people are going to say, “Hey, we gotta stop this. We gotta do something. You know, this is just a repetition of what we’ve done in history. And here are some new ways to construct whatever it is you know, construct our lives and things of that nature.” That takes away a power structure. That means that as a, I would say white, maybe heterosexual, man. I can’t just get by my looks and, and maybe a little bit off of my education. I don’t have that step up from other people I have to now compete with everybody else. And that’s a big, that’s something that you see throughout history, even at the labor, the would you call it physical labor, have jobs where whenever it looked like they were going to have to compete against immigrants people of color, there was a big thing. “Oh no, no, no, we can’t have this. We know we somehow have to restrict immigration. We have to keep these people oppressing in the way. We don’t want to have to be in a position to compete with them.” And so it’s really a power structure thing. And that’s part of the reason what we’re hitting up against when you want to educate people with critical race theory.

This whole idea of making white people feel bad. That’s, that’s just no, no, it’s, it’s changing the power structure to me. That is what we’re running up against is a real, I think a power shift and that’s what we keep hitting. This is a, it’s a. And I hate to use this in general terms, but in a sense, those at the top who want to remain at the top.

Megan Figueroa: well, now I’m going to have to go rage do something. Any last messages for our listeners,

Natalyn Daniels: just in terms of last, last sentiments out to folks, I think these conversations on, and I know today, we, we almost exclusively talked about just, just like surface level racial identities, right? It’s like, this is like, there’s so much more to this conversation that needs to be had. And I don’t think that it’s so much about, about us all needing to get on an education train as much as it is like a commitment train. I was like, w do we, are we committed to seeing these changes? Because it could take us forever to educate ourselves on all the things we’ve missed and we should be putting resources into doing that. And also, how do we, how do we attempt or allocate our energy and time towards manifesting change in real time. Right now, while we all try to get caught up on our own histories, because there’s so much I learn about my own identities all the time that’s been withheld from me or, or that the powers that be attempted to destroy, so that I would never have access to that. You know? So this is a lifelong journey for me that maybe maybe 200 years later from now, I could say someone could have a true history of something, but, but it’s not going to happen in my lifetime. So what, what does it mean to, to move forward? Ignorance, which we all have ignorance. So like how do we actually take those steps? And that’s hard. It’s really, really difficult. That’s the conversation that I think is often either missed or overlooked in the sense that if we can just do enough, enough diversity, trainings enough DEI training, like we’re all gonna get there together, you know? And it’s, it’s, it will never happen with, with trainings that revolve somewhat around like vocabulary lessons, right. Where it’s like, just know what these words are, that, that doesn’t achieve what we need. that’s not real time change. And so that’s, that’s the only thing I I’d like to leave off on is that we should, we should embrace our ignorance as, as motivation, something for us to say this, this needs to change to like, step one. How do I get past this? How do I, how do I say I’m less ignorant today than I was yesterday. And really leverage that. Improving conditions for everyone. cause I definitely think if folks are waiting to be educated or to have access to that education, especially for marginalized communities, that may never come, I may never actually get ahold of my history and that so those are just some of the framings I, that kind of sit in my head that I’d love to just share out at the end of this.

Megan Figueroa: Oh, I love that.

Rose Wilkerson: One of  the things that I would say, thank you Natalyn for your words, cause I just resonate with them deeply one of the things that I think that this is not always easy work and it’s not about there are a lot of feelings that come up. There’s a lot of trauma. Sometimes that will come up. I remember when I probably shouldn’t say this, but when I was learning about the history of the Mississippi Delta, writing my dissertation, there were times where I had to stop and just sit, get a drink and like, wow. You know, because there’s so much to it. I, I think one of the beautiful things I think about you Natalyn is talking about learning your own history and it’s, it’s, it’s complex. It’s not easy. Sometimes there are painful realizations, painful situations or just complex situations in terms of identity a lot of what you’re doing, it is not as clear cut as, as we would like to think that they are in terms of culture and race, all of those are social constructs, but I think one way to start is to really know about your own history and, and be inquisitive about, you know, your family and what did they come from and what did they do when they get here? And not necessarily, it’s not always about judgment, but just to recognize who we are because our families and our histories are what kind of shape us into who we are today in whatever way that that looks like. I think that’s a wonderful place to get started and it’s right. And not everybody has access to academic education about race and critical theory, critical race theory. I just think about learning more about who you are and, and, and be open to history. It can be painful sometimes. And I think that’s just a part of, I look at, sometimes I look at things at a broader perspective. Sometimes that’s just a human condition. If you look at cultures, historically the many cultural groups have gone through traumatizing prior- you know, a lot of times we talk a lot about colonialization. Because that was very, a defining moment even to now. But, but before that there were wars, there were fighting, there were, you know all kinds of things. And I think that’s a part of the human condition, unfortunately, that a lot of our past does have some pain, but to be open to that and to just be inquisitive, if you don’t, if you’re not in school, if they’re not teaching critical race theory, that’s okay. But look into your own history. And even sometimes there’s problems with that because we’re, as scholars, we’re always learning and redefining trying to are we, are we just repeating what we’ve been told or their, their issues like Natalyn has brought up many times in terms of academia and how we do our research and how we talk about people. There’s always those issues as well. But I think a great place to start is with your own family. your own cultural groups and finding out more about that. What, what did they do when they, when they came here, they came here from someplace or, or what did they do prior to whatever period of history and, and, and be inquisitive about that? A lot of our identities are, especially from our families, are a lot more complex than black and white. I think that’s the general idea is that there’s maybe two, maybe three racial groups and this, but things are a lot more complicated than that. And just being inquisitive if you don’t, like I said, if you don’t go to a university, college or whatever, that’s fine. But there are libraries. You’ve got public libraries. There’s a lot that you can learn. There are people that you can talk to.

Megan Figueroa: Yes. Shout out to public libraries.

Carrie Gillon: Thank you so much, both of you for coming on.

Rose Wilkerson: Thank you guys for inviting me and we’ll talk again. Let me know.

Natalyn Daniels: Thank you all for creating the space and for sharing.

Megan Figueroa: Absolutely

Carrie Gillon: We always leave our listeners with one final message.

Megan Figueroa: Don’t be an asshole.

Rose Wilkerson: I love it.


Carrie Gillon: Okay. So this month we would like to thank Paris, Kristen Denham.

Megan Figueroa: Yeah.

Carrie Gillon: Yeah.

Megan Figueroa: I’ve never heard the last name Denham.

Carrie Gillon: Oh really?

Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Never.

Carrie Gillon: She’s a famous linguist.

Megan Figueroa: Oh!

Carrie Gillon: Samuel Vincent.

Megan Figueroa: Thank you.

Carrie Gillon: And Freya Scott.

Megan Figueroa: Thank you as well. I think I’ve seen all those names except Denham on Twitter, all those last names. Thank you.

Carrie Gillon: Thank you. And anyone who wants to join once again: And we have Bonus episodes and stickers and oh, and our newest thing is a mug.

Natalyn Daniels: Yes, it’s very cute. Cool mug. So join us there.

Carrie Gillon: The Vocal Fries podcast is produced by me, Carrie Gillon for Halftone Audio. Music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at And our website is

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s