I confess to being a bit of a language snob. That is, I may make a judgement of a person’s character or intelligence based on how they speak. Even though I often habitually use language that is informal or incorrect – what would be called colloquialisms, slang or the dreaded jargon. I actually prefer it in speaking and in writing. I am, however, careful not to expose myself to the potential harsh judgement of other language snobs and am on My Best Behavior in situations where I am with other language snobs or unsure of the company. Here at the blog you will frequently see me in my rhetorical underwear. Language snobs – don’t look!
That’s why it was with interest that I read “In Defense of Talking Funny” by Kory Stamper at her blog Harmless Drudgery. As a defender of talking funny she has some cred (see what I did there?) since she is a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. I may e-mail her and ask if she gets to carry a badge or something. But I digress. In reading her article she gave a name to the practice of changing how we speak in different situations. In those instances what we are doing is changing dialects, a practice she refers to as “code-switching”. But what is a dialect? I will quote the lexicographer’s explanation of what makes a dialect:
To get technical, dialects are varieties of a language that have their own set of speakers with their own vocabulary, grammatical rules, and accent, and they can be regional, socioeconomic, ethnic, tonal, and even a combination thereof. American English has eight major dialects–or 24, or hundreds, depending on who you ask and what they define as a “dialect.”
So languages are made up of dialects and English is no different, and the casual language I have adopted is a dialect. I don’t know where it came from, I’d like to believe I invented it myself. MikeSpeak. Truth is it’s probably local and something I have learned. Also, it turns out most of us don’t just speak a dialect, but switch between several depending on the situation, which frustrates language snobs everywhere who want to know why no one can speak english anymore. Ms. Stamper tells us that Standard English, while being a dialect in and of itself, is the language used by people with power and prestige. OK, I get that. When I want to appear educated, influential or powerful I will break out the Standard English lest the powerful Standard English Speakers judge me.
I am a practioner and also a victim of language snobbery. Turns out that makes me normal. Who would have guessed that? Me being normal, I mean. But it also makes me human. It is human nature for us to judge those different from us – whether it is how we speak or how we look. And it is human nature to try and fit in. So we keep being human. And if people are talkin’ funny it’s not the end of the world. They’re just being people.