When the Way You Speak is Put on Trial

I’ve been wanting to say something about this subject for a while now, so here I go.  Rachel Jeantel is a young woman who speaks African American English.  This is the dialect in which she was socialized and there is nothing wrong with that.  I am not talking about the cursing, the eye-rolling, and any other words or gestures that people may try to point out to hide the fact that they have linguistic prejudice.  I am talking, for example, about the way she pronounces “mailing” or the sentence stated, “I had told…”  I learned in my Language and Identity class last semester, that often times people feel a little bit more “comfortable”, empowered, or maybe even righteous to criticize the way a person speaks rather than actually criticizing (what they really mean) a more taboo subject, like their race or their culture.

Listen to a linguistics expert’s take on Rachel’s speech and language starting at 3:47.

I wish we could really get away from using phrases as “perfect English” or “poor grammar” when what we really are talking about is a language difference.  Online stories even report she speaks three languages! And the thing is, I have worked with children who truly HAVE difficulties understanding and using grammar correctly (no matter which language or dialect they speak) and  if you have some experience in this area, then you will know when there is someone who has grammatical difficulties versus someone who just may not speak like you.

Speaking a non-mainstream variety of English is not “bad English”, it does not mean you are uneducated, it does not mean you are unintelligent, and Rachel’s dialect should’ve never been put on trial.

Finally got that one off my chest:) Thank you!