Threats to Identity & Call Outs

In an earlier American English class we defined Claude M. Steele’s concept of Identity Threat as a situation by which if you are part of a group with widely circulated pejorative stereotypes, the more likely you are to care about what it is you’re doing. For example when taking a school’s standardized test, the more you are aware of stereotypes regarding yourself while taking an exam, the more likely you are to attempt to push them out. When you belong to a group that doesn’t face many of these stereotypes, it’s referred to as “ease of entitlement” – meaning you’re not as concerned in high-stakes situation about those group stereotypes. These ease of entitlement is a tricking concept to address. Since such entitlements might be the results of systematic and institutionalized racism. While it’s not a difficult concept for myself or my peers to understand, there is a more challenging issue to consider – how do we call out these racist practices for what they are?

9-9Calling out racism – the response is often negative by those being called out. Most people have no desire to be called racists, and few would actually believe themselves to be so without a repeated indoctrination into the educational world of how ideas of internalized racism and microaggressions can exist without us even realizing. This brings up not only the concern of how then to call out such racists viewpoints, but how labels and ideologies should or can be addressed through a discourse, and whether or not we should attempt a dialogue in the first place. It is easy to call out a person for their discrimination, but most will resist unless they are educated on why their ideologies or actions are racists (assuming they are the kind of person who is even capable of changing their mind with educated facts in the first place). In a way, those of us with such knowledge suffer from our own ease of entitlement – the entitlement of such knowledge. Many people have set out into the world with the belief that they are accepting and open to people of all backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles. But often when we first encounter these things we find ourselves unable to cope or respond without offending those unlike ourselves. It can take a bit of time and repeated and sometimes varying resources to truly change our mind on such things.

No Quick Fixes

My previous entry discussed the potential effects we hope to obtain with regard to linguistics and language. But looking deeper into that, I started to think about and consider the approach and perspectives we need in order to achieve this ultimate linguistic goal. I briefly made mention of working with classrooms on this or individuals. In a classroom environment students can be directed towards specific nuances of language through not only textbooks but open and positive discussions with their peers. Dialect and linguistic conversations could occur in many classroom settings, from Shakespeare to literature, primary education courses, and business communications courses. There are many opportunities for students to gain a deeper understanding of culture and language. But it’s difficult, students and teachers have little time to work through material in a given semester. So perhaps it’s not a question of where students should learn about language discrimination, but a matter of when. Primary and secondary classrooms certainly afford students much more time to cover such topics. However, that requires instructors and administrations to have the proper training to engage with students in the first place. A tough sell when you consider the platitude of issues most teachers face in contemporary America.
Many classrooms are severely underfunded, understaffed, and over their ideal capacity for learning and engagement. And I would wager that even if teachers and school administrators were willing to invest the time and money into such efforts, many other overlooked areas (such as history, art, and music), might argue for the same consideration. This of course goes back to the fact that language discrimination and knowledge is just one color in the spectrum of issues teachers and students face in this country. America as a whole has a poor educational infrastructure, as do many areas of our society and economy. Restructuring how language is taught and presented to students will require new funding, academic planning, political interests, and the addressment of cultural and discriminatory biases against users of these linguistic features. People have to show that the interest is a worthwhile investment – and it is. It would make workplace communication and interpersonal communication more effective. People would face less discrimination when seeking housing, employment or assistance of other kinds. It is not an unreachable goal, but it is one that requires great time and effort by linguists throughout the country.

The Dream of Impactful Changes

Continuing from an in class discussion on language discrimination – do we feel as American English and linguistics students that the work we will go out and do will have the large impact that is hoped for by the community of linguists? While I do not believe that there will never be a day that this goal will be achieved, I do believe it will be a long time until we see such large scale changes in the world. In order to achieve such a high level of success, we must realize that such a feat will require an entire rewrite of American ideologies and perspectives on a culmination of many issues separate from language. More optimistically, however, I do think that drastic changes can occur within smaller communities or from working with specific individuals. After all, most major ideological changes occur slowly over time following a snowball of smaller changes.

By utilizing the knowledge we’ve acquired we can start with small, but impactful changes. Working with a group of students in the classroom (maybe even with non-linguistic students), calling out small instances of language discrimination and following up with engaging and calm educational lessons after, and working to draw attention to these issues through the media, published papers, and occupational workplaces where we may find ourselves post-graduation. We have to be really to repeat ourselves at great length, to keep ourselves educated on new perspectives and information, and set an example for others by diligently self-examining our own biases and interpretations about language and the users of language as we leave the academic life behind for the wide-open world. Only then can linguists hope to create a better world for all users of verbal and non-verbal language, one where language discrimination is a rare-occurrence and dialects are just considered another variety by which people engage with the world.

Try As We May, Some People Are Just Shitty

William Labov wrote “Recognizing Black English in the Classroom,” and helped to create a curriculum for teachers following the Ann Arbor language trials. He gave many quantitative analyses for many examples, features, and patterns and his work specifically focused on the scientific evidence. Unfortunately, the introduction of scientific evidence did not resonate with the Ann Arbor teachers following their court-ordered curriculum. To them despite a national outcry, the judge’s verdict, and scientifically backed material – their ideologies still held true and the new information was of little use to them. This shows that education does not inherently solve the issue of language judgement, since language discrimination has nothing to do with the language itself. The objectivist view fails to address this. We assume that just because people learn the truth, that they will change their biased views. While it can happen, deeply ingrained racist tendencies are not so easily removed.
I want to expand on this in future journal entries, but for now it’s important to understand how the science of language (and science in general) is treated by most in contemporary America. Science is often taken as hearsay in many circles, and it is in part the fault of both the learners and the scientific community. We have a community of learners with access to snippets of media interpretations of various studies with little contextual or citation information accomponing it. There is also an issue with the way American scientific studies are published and accredited compared to other international science and research communities. Studies have been done which show medical and scientific research can be politically motivated to ensure more funding. Other journals have been accused of implicit bias when it comes to studies conducted by specific groups or individuals (women and minorities) or publishing results that either produced unfavorable results or prove another previous publication was false when reproduced. This has led to a society where facts and knowledge are exchanged at high rates, trimmed down, and sometimes full of bad data and conclusions. So when both science is flawed, and ideologies are flawed – how could we ever hope for teachers like those at Ann Arbor to change their mind?

What’s in a name?

“Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.” – Juliet

Names and words have longed had a great influence on our societies and culture. Take for example the famous quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Two families who’s turmoil seems to have boiled down to a fight of othering, them versus us, Capulet versus Montague. Names are indicative of gender, of race, of class, or origin. We judge as define people by their names, whether comically or harmfully. These characteristics can be applied to people even before they are seen by another. In class we discussed how the racialization names or the gendering of names can lead to harmful situations of discrimination or awkwardness. One student in the class, so tired of the gross mispronunciation of her name has traded her breathy Juan for a Southern white styled Teresa another shared how her “white” sounding name and voice style got an appointment for housing while her boyfriend’s ethnic name provided a “it’s been filled” response from the potential landlord. I myself have exchanged names a few times thanks to marriage and more recently my transgender identity. It’s something that leaves people confused. They see my name, they look at me, and wonder what they are missing. There is power in my name for me though in other places. On the telephone it provides me a reassurance to my identity seen rarely on campus or out and about in the rest of the world.

But the fact remains there is a large tendency to judge people by their name. Lists float around on social media: Top 20 Names Most Likely to Cheat etc, racial and gender profiling still occurs when calls come in for jobs and housing or when applications are read for the same. It is an often overlooked problem in the United States that such microaggressions still occur on a daily basis for millions of people. Ideally by being more aware of how these things occur and how people interpret names and other identifies, we can work as an informed group to change things.

Language Myths & Assumptions

I decided to do a general Facebook survey on a few myths that exist or how certain language features might be perceived. This is what I asked:

For a homework assignment – please COMMENT with all that are TRUE. (Please don’t add anything else/other comments – just the letters you believe to be true!) Also please don’t google these, it will affect my data, just answer as best as you can. If you don’t feel comfortable answering publicly message me instead. This is for the English language specifically.
A. The word “you” should never pluralized
B. Not pronouncing the ‘th’ in words like “three” or “through” is bad Enlgish/grammar and rarely seen
C. Speech should mirror writing as much as possible – they are essentially the same thing
D. The work “ax” instead of “ask” is a common sign of poor education or laziness
E. “He was sat there” is an old form of syntax no longer used in modern times
F. People who drop the ‘g’ off words that end in ‘ing’ are from the country or deep southern parts of the U.S. only
G. Not putting the possessive -s/’s on a word is a sign of a common learning disability “Kate’s House vs. Kate House”

B. D. E.
A. B. E.
A, B, F

13 Respondents
A: 7
B: 7
C: 2
D: 1
E: 8
F: 5
G: 2
None: 3

Most Prevailing: E, A, B 53-61% of Responders selected
Least Prevailing: D, G, C 8-15% of Responders selected

It would seem that the biggest misconceptions around A, B, and E are more about grammatical and historical misconceptions than the way things are pronounced . This is at least somewhat hopeful because dialects might be more well received than expected. However, I also hope I could later get a bigger pool of data. Some issues with this poll is that everyone can mutually see the other answers, therefore influencing them. Another issue is the fact that by simply being given a multiple choice question, people will automatically believe there is an answer to select. But by knowing what most people are likely to make assumptions about is the first step to knowing where to start the educational discourse.


So about a week ago I saw the following graphic in a library lovers group on Facebook:

Now as a pre-linguistics me, I might have laughed and agreed with the sentiment. Now I’m more aware that it is really an ease of articulation way of saying library. So I felt the need to investigate further by utilizing Urban Dictionary’s entries on the word. The results were shocking to say the least: Ebonics, ghetto, black, moronic, stupid, hip, urban.

What I found most interesting was how many educators and librarians I talked online with seemed to judge the term so harshly. Even trying to say the word quickly myself, it’s difficult to pronounce the initial ‘r’. And yet, I, a senior at a major university, am anything but uneducated.

I may or may not have suggest the same librarians check out some of the linguistics book found within their own places of work, but if nothing else I feel further inspired to correct the wrong assumptions.

Perhaps I’ll start with a new entry on the Urban Dictionary page.

Slang Words of the Pacific Northwest

Slang is such a diverse and interesting thing. It not only changes generation to generation, but by location, even if it’s just a few dozen miles away, someone might find your slang unusual and strange. So today I thought I’d give a 101 on West Coast slang.
Yuppie: Informal for (Y)oung (U)rban (P)rofessional, or Yup.Turned into yuppie in the 1980’s. A term used to describe someone who is young, possibly just out of college, and who has a high-paying job and an affluent lifestyle. Can now be used to describe any rich person who is not modest about their financial status. Yuppiedom (yuppie-dum)is a term used to describe an involvement in being a yuppie.

Dink: Dual/Double Income, No Kids. A household status for a couple who both make money and don’t have to spend it on young children.

Spendy: Expensive or pricey

A Granola: Used to describe people who are environmentally aware, open minded, socially aware, leaning to the left. Refrains from buying animal products or non-fair trade products.

Hipster: Hipsters are a subculture of American consumer for whom the idea behind the marketing holds more value than the product being marketed. Hipsters are a subculture of men and women typically in their 20’s and 30’s that value independent thinking, counter-culture, progressive politics, an appreciation of art and indie-rock, creativity, intelligence, and witty banter.

Cool Beans: Used to describe something very favorable or pleasing. Great. Very nice.

Dude: An expression of emphasis, amazement, or awe. Also used as a gender neutral term or name filler.

Take it to the bank: Figurative expression. What was said is the absolute truth and can be verified by a third party source. Comes from an obscure reference to checks, in that such is a guarantee that you can take the document to the bank and redeem it for its face value.

Muddin’: When someone takes their truck off-road and tries to get their car as dirty as possible. The idea is to get your car so dirty that the air-conditioning spits up dirt molecules when you turn it on.

Bruh: Can either be used as a greeting between male friends, or to describe something unbelievable (BRUH!).

Yeah but or But no: But anyway, as I was saying, continuation of what you were talking about

No yeah – Means yes

Yeah no – Means No

Yeah no for sure – Definitely/Positive

Umbrella: Slang for a tourist or a wimp, real Oregonians don’t use umbrellas

Tillamook: A popular brand of cheese that is used in place of the word cheese a lot. Kind of like asking for a coke in the south. “Did you get the Tillamook?” (could be any brand)

Ducks or Beavers: Local sports teams (Ducks are inherently better)
Barbeque: Alas this does not real smoky-styled BBQ, instead it is used to mean cooking on a grill or outdoor fire
Kitty-corner: To describe something diagonal across, we use the term “kitty-corner,” not “catty-corner” or “cater-corner.”
Jojos: potato wedges, not to be confused with French fries
Filbert: Another word for hazelnut (Oregon is the largest grower of Hazelnuts in the U.S. upon my last inquiry)

So You Want To Be A Linguist

When I told my mother I wanted to study linguistics, it was pretty obvious she couldn’t understand why. “I thought you wanted to study English and literature?” Of course, she couldn’t realize the two pair nicely together with linguistics. What do I think the most fascinating part of learning linguistics is? Unlearning all my bad behaviors and assumptions about language. I was raised with the intent that I should be judgmental, racists, anti-intellectual, or uncaring in general. But we are always a product of our environments and its hard not to internalize certain viewpoints regardless of good intentions. How’s the saying go? The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

But all misinformation in the world has one surefire solution – it can always be unlearned through education. That is not to say it can be removed completely. With the way our world is structured it’s impossible not to let intrusive assumptions bounce around the interior of our minds now and again. However, by understanding the motivation behind these assumptions and thoughts, we can at least root them out and face them head on. When I was younger I would have been quick to say I judged others for the quality of their grammar, their speech, their language mannerisms. I might have made observations and determined tehri were racial in origin, because of class or education, or some other immutable characteristic (something that is natural and unchangeable such as race or sexual orientation).

Thanks to linguistics, to understanding and being educated on the history of English, and in great part thanks to specific historical courses on different social and cultural groups, I’ve been able to grow as a student and citizen in this world in ways that make me less likely to judge another for their language features. And this information in turn makes it possible for me to educated others who are open to it and willing to listen. I’m excited to learn even more specifics about the variety of dialects in this country and their unique features as we continue the course.

Language Gate-keeping

Language gate-keeping occurs without most people even realizing it. Whether its restricting access to educational opportunities, work opportunities and advancement, or social interactions, how people perceive language and the use of language by others affects a person a lot. Some have historically used language as a gatekeeper for education. This might come about from requiring the use of a specific language in order to receive an education (Native American children forced to use English and not their native tongue at schools). It might also be enforced on students who want to take advanced learning classes, such as student speakers of African American English. These same students might even be denied a “normal” education by being forced into special education classes because of their dialect.

Speakers of specific dialects or languages might also be barred from serving in governmental positions because of how others perceive them. They might be denied the chance to serve in office, to address their representatives, or be employed by the government in some fashion. Restrictions to employment is of course an issue experienced in the general working public real as well.

A fatal shortcoming in looking for these barriers is assuming that these discriminatory and gate-keeping activities are consciously being done – rather they occurs at the individual and governmental levels without realizing it most the time. That is not to say that certain linguistic features and dialects haven’t been actively made targets of immoral propaganda but the everyday layperson is not liking to be thinking of such things when creating such unintended gates. By actively educating people on both sides this can be prevented or stopped. What I mean by both sides is to educated those who speak specific dialects to know what their rights are and the fact that there is nothing wrong with the way they speak. It’s also important to inform potential gatekeepers about these issues. Often awareness or realization is the first step to fixing a problem.