The other day, over brunch with friends, one very accomplished lawyer in the group mentioned that his boss had corrected his pronunciation of “succinct.” My friend had been saying “suss-sinked” and his boss had insisted on “suck-sinked”. My friend recalled that he immediately changed the way he said it.
As a descriptivist and a “suss” person myself, I was shocked to hear about his prescriptive, “suck” boss. And even more shocked that my intelligent, sensitive, and perceptive friend didn’t call his boss out for being such a rigid “suck” person.
I told the story to my 19-year-old son and, free and ironic thinker that he is, he said that, no doubt, my friend’s boss what just “messing with him.” My son, the ironic thinker, is also not a lawyer—so he may have over-estimated the subtlety of humor that goes on in law offices. Then again, I’m not a lawyer either, so the jury is out on that one!
I next turned to social media to get a feel for the pulse on this word. What are Citizen Sociolinguists saying about it? First, I checked with my twitter feed. A quick poll (suck- or suss-?) revealed that everyone who cared enough to respond was a “suck” person. Really?
I was disappointed by this firmly “suck”-sided video, but happy to see that many comments on this and other similar tutorials contested this rigid prescription. And one even commented that he loved the dislikes (though, admittedly, his “love” seems tinged with irony):
Some suggested the absurdity of worrying about this:
Another comment zeroed in more specifically on the “suck” problem:
This is a sublime demonstration of the pronunciation of “PronunciationManual”. Sadly, however, this pronunciation manual has no entry for “succinct.” So, to conclude succinctly, I have an appeal: Could someone, or perhaps even the creators of The Pronunciation Manual, PLEASE make a guide for pronouncing “succinct.” This is one silly entry the world needs ASAP.
If you are still reading, please comment below! Are you a “SUCK” person or a “SUSS” person? How do you feel about “SUSS” when you hear it? Would you be willing to volunteer to make an entry for The Pronunciation Manual? Do you know any other word conundrums that need to be recorded there?
No community is truly “monolingual”—even when they think they are!
Recently, language professionals have named a community’s illusion of language purity “perceived monolingualism” (Thank you @MCP718, mariacioe-pena.com, for this useful phrase!). Initially, this concept made me nervous about the role of citizen sociolinguistics. The concept of “perceived monolingualism” raises the specter of a dark kind of citizen sociolinguist–one who propagates misunderstanding, eliminates language variety, and possibly worse. Perhaps naïvely, I usually like to think of citizen sociolinguists as people happily championing the creative capacity of multilingualism and language variety, busily spreading the word about how it works. Once we recognize a type of citizen sociolinguist willfully lacking in awareness of the multilingualism all around, who can we call on to set them straight?
Other citizen sociolinguists, of course! In at least some cases, citizen sociolinguists are the best candidates to point out this misperception of monolingualism—and the most likely to make any impact.
A single example comes to mind that illustrates both an act of one citizen sociolinguist’s “perceived monolingualism” and the role other citizen sociolinguists have played in introducing an alternative perspective.
Since 2006, this sign on Geno’s, a cheesesteak restaurant and tourist destination in South Philadelphia, has become infamous:
This is a good (if distasteful) example of “perceived monolingualism” –the perception that Geno’s patrons speak only English and that once the non-English-speaking clientele leaves, there will be a monolingual environment at his cheesesteak emporium.
However, for over a decade, widely-circulating news stories (by citizen sociolinguistically inclined bloggers and journalists) have pointed out that the Geno’s sign, “This is America: When ordering ‘Speak English’”, falsely presumes that we speak just one type of English in “America,” and that everyone going to Geno’s knows what is meant by the word “English.” In other words—they were pointing out “perceived monolingualism”.
One author, for example, was quick to note the irony that even Geno’s English-speaking clientele didn’t exactly speak “The King’s English”:
“Of course, it’s not as if native Philadelphians speak the King’s English either. A Philadelphian might order a cheesesteak by saying something like, “Yo, gimme a cheesesteak wit, will youse?” (“Wit,” or “with,” means with fried onions.) To which the counterman might reply: “Youse want fries widdat?”
On top of the “native Philadelphian” accent required, the specialized terminology for ordering cheesesteaks might even be heard as a “foreign language” by English-speakers not from Philadelphia. Several websites offer guides to help outsiders through the stressful process of ordering cheesesteaks here. These guides suggest that another language (Cheesesteakese?), with its own specialized vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar, is required at Geno’s. Typical tips include advice like this:
The author of the above guide to ordering cheesesteaks also describes her own version of multilingualism, as she attempts a modified (yet successful!) version of Cheesesteakese:
“I stepped forward, spoke up, and ordered an “American. Without.” I couldn’t quite bring myself to go for the full “d.” Successfully ordered, I took my cheesesteak…”
In these examples, citizen sociolinguists have precisely pointed out the language needed in the Geno’s world. “Order in English,” the sign commands, but which English? A huge variety of Englishes are on display in service encounters there.
Reporters have also pointed out how Geno’s competitors have assessed the multilingualism in play at cheesesteak counters. A manager at Tony Luke’s, responded to the “Order in English” sign with an allusion to Cheesesteakese, saying all customers are welcome at his place…
“…whether or not they speak a `wit’ of English.””
Another competitor, Kathy Smith, manager of Pat’s, spoke in favor of multilingualism, but brought up a different type of language she would rather not hear at her counter. Speaking of the Geno’s sign, she said,
“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I’d rather listen to the Spanish than the foul language of the college students.”
As the controversy simmered on, it became clear that purity of English was not the real issue behind the Geno’s sign. Instead, Joey Vento (original owner of Geno’s) seemed to use the “perceived monolingualism” of the “Order in English” sign as a shield against anyone who seemed different from him. Monolingual language demands were a proxy for his own xenophobia. The anti-immigrant sentiment behind the sign became explicit when he posted another sign above it:
A movement began to remove the signs (now plural).
Eventually, this controversy, which took place largely via the popular press (and, through citizen sociolinguistic argumentation), had a tangible impact. In 2011, Joey Vento died (of natural causes) and in 2016, prior to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, the signs quietly came down. Joey Vento’s son and current owner of Geno’s (named “Geno” after the restaurant) asserted his opinion in a press release on the sign-removal: “It’s about what you do and what your mark in life is, and [I want] to change that mark in life.”
And, finally, shortly after the signs came down, a Philly.com reporter, Helen Ubiñas, ventured over to Geno’s and conducted her own citizen sociolinguistic experiment—ordering her cheesesteak in a gorgeously creative multilingual combination of Spanish and Cheesesteakese.
As she recalls, “in my best Nuyorican Spanglish, I let it rip:
“Dos, con Whiz, por favor.”
She posted the results on Twitter, concluding with, “Gracias Geno’s!”:
So, even in the face of perceived monolingualism propagated by a citizen sociolinguist like Joey Vento, other citizen sociolinguists may be the best situated to illuminate the presence of multilingualism. In the case of Geno’s, citizens pointed out the multiple varieties of English in existence at Geno’s all along–wid or widdout the sign–and they eventually introduced more obvious multilingualism (“Dos con Whiz, por favor!”). No community is truly monolingual—and it seems when a citizen sociolinguist claims it is, they may have ulterior motives. Fortunately, other citizen sociolinguists are out there describing this dynamic, bringing multilingualism to light, and explaining it to others.
Please comment below! Are you aware of multilingualism around you? Or “perceived monolingualism”? What form does that multilingualism (or perceived monolingualism) take? How do you respond?
Let’s be honest: Most hearing people could not be bothered with sign language.
As kids, we may have thought about how amazing it would be to know it: Maybe wehappened on the card with the alphabet and learned how to spell our name, or to sign a few top secret words to friends. But after a first enthusiastic burst, the card gets lost, the signing seems like too much effort.
Speaking for my own childhood self, it’s hard to stay motivated when you and all your friends are not deaf. Learning all the letters, then spelling every word out gets to seem incredibly laborious.
Even if one musters will to know more sign language, typing in “How to use sign language” on google doesn’t help much. The tutorials that pop up generally feature a very silent video with minimal effects. Like this one:
But even this no-nonsense video has over two million views. The comments underneath give some sense of what motivates people to come to this site, and it is not to learn a secret language. Most comments mention encounters with deaf people—real or fictional—and the desire to make a visible effort to communicate like them: They have fallen in love with a deaf person, or they have a regular customer who is deaf. They’ve tried a little sign, and witnessed how gratifying it is to connect through this medium.
And others say that Switched at Birth, a TV show about twins, one of whom is deaf, brought them to this instructional site.
And here arrives our Citizen Sociolinguist star: Nyle DiMarco, who plays the deaf heart-throb “Garrett” on that show.
Poking around on the web more, Nyle DiMarco emerges as a gorgeous, young, creative, confident, brilliant, and deaf man. He also appeared on America’s Next Top Model—and won. He competed in Dancing with the Stars—and won.
He’s obviously an extraordinarily gifted human. But what makes him a Citizen Sociolinguist? In addition to modeling, dancing, and acting, he is continuously explaining, largely through YouTube videos, Twitter, and other social media, how sign language works for him and why. He shows the world the role signing plays in his life—the same way other Citizen Sociolinguists I’ve discussed in this blog site talk about and act out the everyday role of Singlish, Konglish, Emoji, or other language varieties
Nyle talks about and shows us explicitly how signing works for him—with his family, with his friends, while flirting, at the movies.
He embodies what communication can look like in the hands of a socially gifted, smart and confident young man. Who, oh yeah, is also deaf.
One of his YouTube videos posts answers to questions people have asked him through Twitter, and his response to one question in particular, “Were you ever bullied?” caught my attention. He replies, “No. Maybe I was made fun of, but I never listened. Because I have always loved being deaf.” He importantly points out that being deaf has never been an issue for him—his entire family was deaf, he says, and “they knew what to do.”
Educators often talk a lot about how damaging a “deficit perspective” can be for learners. In the case of deafness and signing, if you consider it a deficit, you may never focus on a deaf individual’s strengths. Nyle DiMarco embodies the opposite perspective—as he describes himself, he has never seen his deafness as a deficit. He LOVES being deaf. And, in the best way, he loves being HIM. He exudes self-respect—and respect for others.
In this way, Nyle DiMarco’s Citizen Sociolinguistics is illuminating not only for the Deaf Community, but for all of us—because he is talking about communication and modeling what it looks like in ordinary situations.
Nyle’s experiences surrounding the movie Black Panther illustrate this attitude in action. When he went to the movie theater, full of excited anticipation for the show, the captioning machine the theater provided for him was a disaster, running behind the dialogue and awkwardly blocking sub-titles for the fictional Wakandan language spoken by characters in the movie. He tweeted about his experience, vividly illustrating his position:
And he wrote about his experience in Teen Vogue, describing in candid detail how awful his trip to the movie theater was (he left after ten minutes). He also made a larger point about the importance of sub-titling movies, and the biased views against it:
“I’ve heard the standard counterargument. Onscreen captions degrade the viewing experience. They’re annoying and distracting. I call BS. People don’t mind subtitles when they don’t understand the language being spoken.”
Nyle goes on to point out that many popular mainstream shows (Narcos on Netflix, for example) include subtitles for those viewers who don’t know languages other than English. And, even Black Panther included sub-titles in English for Wakandan. His clarity and his humble description of his own viewing experiences on Twitter rallied thousands of Twitter followers in support of his point: Subtitles of all types often improve the movie experience for everyone—why exclude those that are for deaf people?
But if you look up “Nyle DiMarco’s Black Panther Controversy” on line, you will probably find another Citizen Sociolinguistic controversy—this one with Nyle on the receiving end of the criticism. Nyle attracted ire from members of the black/deaf community when he posted a video announcing the new American Sign Language (ASL) sign for “Black Panther”.
He was criticized for, as a white celebrity, overstepping his role as a spokesman for the deaf community, and soon other signs were proposed for “Black Panther”:
The Moth News story excerpted above, for example, elicited this comment praising the slamming of Nyle (and two thumbs up):
How did Nyle respond? This seems like an important test of not only Deaf communication, but communication in general. According to a sign language interpreter friend of mine: “Nyle did apologize, saying he did not mean to take over and use his fame to overstep boundaries, and I don’t think this tainted his overall reception in any way.”
I looked around on line a bit then and found that, not only did he apologize, he also fully embraced alternatives. Immediately after his Twitter post, a black deaf man posted a different version of an ASL Black Panther sign. Nyle responded with “Thanks @jaceyhill” and unmitigated enthusiasm:
The Twitter feed continued to take up @jaceyhill’s SUPERHEROIC version of the sign. While a few haters remained, most responses piled on to say thank you to Nyle for his contributions, and, even, as this post illustrates, to promote greater unity:
So, I don’t see “sign language” as just a potential secret code any more—thanks, in part, to my new favorite Citizen Sociolinguist, Nyle DiMarco. Every day, he puts his voice out there, talks about being deaf, about using sign and other modalities (like subtitles), and respecting whatever comes back. His points about his own communication are not meant to stand as immutable truths, but to begin a dialogue about communication and human dignity. Along the way, more citizen sociolinguists—like @jaceyhill, above, who coined the ASL Black Panther sign that stuck—join in to contribute the expertise that can only come from their unique perspective.
A couple weeks ago, I saw the item “gabagool” on the menu of a local Philly restaurant. Having lived in Philadelphia for a while, I had the vague feeling this was just an ironic nod to the way people here pronounce the delicious, ham-like meat, “Capicola.” But, since it was printed out on a real, official menu of a nice center city restaurant, I thought I might be mistaken. Maybe “gabagool” was just one more variation on Italian meats and cheeses that I didn’t know.
So, in Citizen Sociolinguist form, I turned to (Gaba)Google. What did I learn?
As I suspected, Gabagool is “just” another way of saying “Capicola.” The top definition on Urban Dictionary (the first google hit), also supplies a couple useful analogs in the “Napolitan” dialect: Manigot (for Manicotti )and Rigot (Ricotta).
One Urban Dictionary author also knew a little linguisticky detail about voiced and unvoiced consonants, and came up with a pattern for these special words.
In addition to Urban Dictionary entries, (gaba)google brought up quite a few videos associated with “Gabagool”– Citizen Sociolinguists have a special knack for recognizing and displaying all the non-linguistic elements of a scene. These non-linguistic aspects of context provide crucial meaning to unique ways of speaking. “Gabagool” is not simply a “Napolitan”, voiced-consonant way of saying capicola. It is something you say in a certain special context while looking a certain way.
By consulting the citizen sociolinguists posting on Youtube, we begin to see all the other features of a scene that go into using the word “gabagool.” The most popular video example, by far, is this clip from the Sopranos, in which Silvio Dante, outrageously played by Stephen van Zandt, demands, “Gabagool! Over here!”
Everything in this scene that surrounds Silvio Dante’s “gabagool” illustrates the context of New Jersey Italian American family. And, as Meadow Soprano (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) illustrates in her iconic line, “Don’t eat gabagool, Grandma, it’s nothing but fat and nitrates,” even speakers of the word gabagool who don’t know much Italian (or feel any reverence for the cuisine) can fluently speak this variation. According to Atlas Obscura, you will not even hear “gabagool” (or proshoot or manigot for that matter) if you go to Southern Italy, their ostensible original homeland.
Gabagool, instead, serves as an emblem for identity—say “Gabagool, ovah here!” and you are not simply demanding some capicola, you are being a specific type of Italian American, probably born-and-raised in the tri-state area. Even the comments from the Sopranos’ YouTube clip (and another compilation of all the gabagool scenes in the series) zero in on love for just this word:
Of course, it is possible to seriously misuse the word “Gabagool.” In another popular video that came to the top in my google search, Michael, from the show The Office, tries to use a Sopranos style “gabagool” in a standard business lunch restaurant and makes no sense at all.
Michael is trying to impress their Italian American client at lunch, but instead shows a (typical-for-his-character) dramatic misreading of context, using “Gabagool” in a setting that is far more like Applebees than a gathering in the Sopranos’ living room. The waitress has no idea what he is talking about, (and who knows what the Italian American client thinks!).
Let’s bring this all together then—the (gaba) good, the bad, and the ugly: Gabagool epitomizes something wonderful about learning language: You only need know a few words to join in and start speaking. However, to use those words effectively, you also need to know much more about who uses them, in what settings, and how. In the case of capicola, you must saaaaavor the gabagool—despite the fat and nitrates. The tenuous connection of gabagool to Italy also illustrates that words aren’t locked into being part of “A Language.” Inevitably, communities of speakers develop their own uniquely local communicative flair. However, that local flair requires not simply knowledge of a word, or its voiced consonants, but a sense of context. As Michael-from-The-Office illustrates, if you don’t understand when, where, and how to use one of these emblematic words, you might be better off just not using it.
Do you have certain emblematic words you say, that mark you as part of an inside group? What are they? In what settings do you say them? What effects do they have? Have you ever made an error or faux pas when attempting to speak an emblematic word like gabagool? Please share your stories and comment below!
Most literally, crossposting is the practice of posting the same message on two or more of your social media accounts.
For a while, this was happening to me by accident when, unbeknownst to me, my Twitter account was linked to my Facebook account. It was dumb—and delightful at the same time.
Dumb—because suddenly all my nerdy language tweets, focused on an audience of students and colleagues were now posted to my family and friends from across the myriad phases of my life.
But also delightful! Suddenly unlikely friends from high school started tagging me on language related posts on Facebook, or sending me breaking news about the Word of the Year, or drawing on my expertise (“What is dabbin’?”).
Eventually, I figured out how to unlink the two, and I unlinked them, probably saving the majority of my Facebook friends from a lot of spam.
Through this accidental experiment, the value of crossposting came through to me. Not only did I discover Facebook friends who cared about language like I did—I also became more careful about the kinds of language posts I was making on Twitter. Would my mother be offended by this post? As long I was crossposting to Facebook and Twitter, that question always had to be in the back of my mind.
But this got me thinking about communication and social boundaries more generally. Crossposting—and its ramifications—as a metaphor for communication seems worth considering. What happens when you “crosspost” across the various social groups you are part of? Being completely oblivious of the participants and audience in each of these groups seems socially naïve—at best. And, this seems to be what happened at Yale last month, when professor Erika Christakis notoriously posted, to a college house e-mail listserve, the idea that Halloween is a chance to be “a little bit obnoxious,” countering the campus-wide e-mail suggesting students be sensitive about Halloween costumes (and, for example, avoid blackface). Bringing up the value of obnoxious Halloween costumes might be a nice debate on one of prof. Christakis’ “social media platforms”—say dinner with like-minded colleagues—but, as it turns out, it may be a dumb thing to crosspost to hundreds of Yale freshmen.
These days, social media may be making us more aware of the ramifications of crossposting in real life. People who use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc., tend to mindfully tailor their messages to whomever they imagine is listening/reading/over-hearing on one of those apps.
Highschool students I work with, for example, know a lot about mindfully crossposting. As a way of exploring language in their lives, we have had them represent the various sectors of their lives as pie charts (see previous post on language diversity pies) and talk about the language they use differently in each of those sections. Many students list a dozen or more sections in their pie, making fine-grained distinctions, for example, between language used with one’s own parents, other adults, and one’s girlfriend’s parents. They include “slang” in some sections and not in others. Sometimes they include named languages in certain sections, including separate spots for “Chinese,” “Chinglish” and “English.” They seem intuitively aware that certain ways of speaking work well in some slices of their daily language pie, but that it would be very dumb to speak that way in others.
But, this does not mean students don’t engage in some forms of delightful “crossposting.” These same high school students have also mentioned that, sometimes, the most fun people are the ones who don’t keep their language rigidly aligned with a certain slice of their language pie–instead, mixing slang with formality, French with English, or purposely mispronouncing certain words.
Still, students also admit, part of the joy of this kind of language crossposting is the inherent risk involved. The danger of overstepping remains—crossposting might be dumb or delightful. It might be offensive and even incite mass protest (as in the unfortunate case at Yale). It might be hilarious and spark new ways of thinking (think Key and Peele style humor). In either case, “crossposting” reveals the borders we cross repeatedly in our everyday lives. When we start crossing those borders, we are taking risks. But they may be worth it.
Apparently, the Christakis professors are now encouraging Yale students to join them in further discussion. And, already, the general public has been made more aware of a variety of student voices on Yale’s campus. Let’s hope this leads to more crossposting across social groups there and even some new discoveries about each other. I would hate for it to lead to “delinking” our social circles permanently.
What social media do you crosspost too? How selective are you about what you post to which platform? In which sections of your life have you done more radical crossposting? What have been the effects? Please comment below!
“Hacking,” as a liberating activity (see previous post on Google Translate Hacks) coordinates well with “Citizen Sociolinguistics.” Both take the tools of a highly standardized and hierarchically controlled world, and try to put them to work in new, even quirky, ways.
Combining the two yields endless possibilities for quick ‘n’ easy Sociolinguistic Persona Hacks. As a Sociolinguistic Persona Hacker, one can draw on easily accessible Internet based sociolinguistic portraits of speakers and combine those with one’s own specific language needs.
This week, I attempted such hacking with my 8-year-old daughter. She came home from Performing Arts day camp gushing: “I am going to be a Frenchman and all my lines are in French!”
“Cherchez la femme” being the only French phrase I know, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be a helpful mom with practicing these lines.
Fortunately, if you want to learn a few words in French to be in a play, you don’t need to absorb the three-year curriculum of French I, II, and III.
Using tools of the Internet, specifically YouTube and other helpful video sources, my daughter and I took a few shortcuts in language learning. We didn’t care about everything French speakers do with language. We just wanted to get the gist of how “The Frenchman” in the play Slick Macarons would say this:
“Ce n’est pas grave, mon cherri” ((while lying down))
We started by taking a look at YouTube-based French speakers and what they have to tell us about using language.
First, the basics: What does it mean and how do you say it? Drawing on my dormant French repertoire, I remembered “mon cherri” as “my darling” (maybe from cartoons? Sacre Bleu!). Here’s our first video hit for the rest of that line: “Ce n’est pas grave”:
This was enough to get started rehearsing. But, I wondered, what other sorts of performances are out there that could enrich this role? As my daughter went off to practice, out of curiosity, I couldn’t help going through a few more helpful French videos.
“Allons-y” (Let’s go!) by the same performer caught my eye:
This seemed like a useful phrase. I thought I might suggest it to my daughter as something The Frenchman could throw in during an improvisational moment in Slick Macarons. Or maybe even use it myself with my French speaking friends!
Apparently others thought the same. It turns out “Allons-y” is all over the Internet. A very socially productive phrase. One viral pathway follows Doctor Who, using it in very silly ways, “Allons-y, Alonso!” being one of his favorite things to say, according to Urban Dictionary.
And here is a nearly 3 minute compilation of “Allons-y” tokens in Dr. Who:
On viewing her lovingly hilarious portrait of the Parisian Woman, I thought tip #2, “Look at your phone when it rings but don’t pick it up,” might give my daughter some sense of the physical performance she could enact as The Frenchman in Slick Macarons.
In all, these few minutes of Sociolinguistic Persona Hacking gave us a lot to work with.
Sociolinguistic Persona Hacks may also suggest a broader lesson about language. Creating a Sociolinguistic Persona ultimately has less to do with “accuracy” or “mastery” of a named language (like French) and more to do with combining languages, attitudes and one’s own personal flair. Learning a language (or to act out a language) is necessarily about learning aboutlanguages and their many ways of acting.
Ce n’est pas grave, mon Cheri!
Have you ever tried your own Sociolinguistic Persona Hacks using languages you are not familiar with? Or, if you are a language teacher, with the languages you teach? Share your secrets—er, stories—below!
What if we analyzed everyday speech of White Americans as a legitimate, internally consistent system?
Try googling “White American Vernacular English” and guess what you get:
The Wikipedia entry for “African American Vernacular English.”
Does this mean WAVE does not exist as a legitimate systematic variant of the English language?
WAVE might easily be characterized by a quick internet search for “Grammar Pet Peeves.” Using this definition, my search reveals many possible tokens of WAVE, probably recognizable to most readers. This is a typical Internet circulated list:
This list (and the countless other similar lists on the Internet) probably contains some words or usages that most white people use frequently.
Sometimes, we have less conscious awareness of WAVE tokens. For example, a few months ago, news surfaced about an individual who had, over several years, changed thousands of instances of a certain “grammar error” on Wikipedia. When I asked people to guess what it might be, many came up with common pet peeves like those on the list above. But the culprit was the phrase “comprised of,” used where the Wikipedia editing maven considered “composed of” the correct choice. “Comprised of” he asserted, simply has no place in the English language.
Many white people, however, use “comprised of” all the time. Even I, a college professor, but a native speaker of WAVE, grew up using “comprised of” in place of “composed of”! Many of my peers don’t think of it as “wrong.” Swiftly, people began to speculate that this Wikipedia correction maven had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Many other people who point out “errors” white people make also, frequently, are taken to task. The errors they are pointing out inevitably are recognized as common (even systematic!) but easy to overlook. The people who have these Pet Peeves sometimes even apologize for being so picky.
And white people generally don’t officially get penalized for saying “literally” in a figurative way, or using “comprised of” instead of “composed of.” In classrooms, teachers say things on these Pet Peeve lists all the time and, unless that teacher has an arch enemy in the class, nobody corrects them.
And nobody collects these words together and calls them WAVE and then says they are appropriate in some situations, but not in others: “Okay, you can say “literally” for emphasis when you are drinking with friends, but never in a job interview.”
Let’s face it: WAVE is not a thing people talk about. AAVE is. And because AAVE is named, sometimes people say it is appropriate here and there, but not over there. Originally, the christening of a variety of speech with the name AAVE was meant to provide legitimacy. But over time, this good intention has stumbled all over itself by suggesting on the one hand that it is “legitimate” but on the other hand, only in certain (non-white) situations. WAVE on the other hand, does not need to be labeled because white people speak it. And even though some people have a few mild “pet peeves” about it, WAVE is legitimate in white public spaces (like schools).
Nelson Flores and Jonathan Rosa, in their brilliant article in Harvard Educational Reviewthis month, call this a raciolinguisticideology. They carefully illustrate how the language of white people is not subject to the same “appropriate” or “not appropriate” critique that the language of Black or Brown students is subjected to in classrooms. Flores and Rosa do not talk about WAVE—because it does not exist as a named entity. And this illustrates their point. White people, by virtue of being white, get to count as using language appropriately.
As long as I am a white person, I can speak the way I grew up speaking. Aside from the occasional article about linguistic Pet Peeves or the (OCD?) programmer who corrected thousands of instances of “Comprised of” on Wikipedia, nobody will correct me. They will understand that I’m just speaking after all, I’m not writing the f***ing Declaration of Independence!
And literally nobody will sympathetically identify me as a native speaker of WAVE, but kindly advise that my speech is not appropriate in school.
Are you a speaker of WAVE? Do people sometimes tell you it is not appropriate for certain situations? Do you repeatedly get critiqued for speaking the way you grew up speaking in your home? Do you see other evidence of raciolinguistic ideologies around you?