Post 1- “Should Writer’s Use They Own English?”: The Answer is a Resounding “Yes”
Before I dive into my take on Young’s article, let me bring you to my hometown, a little city in the San Gabriel Valley. Population? Very much an Asian majority.
It’s something I see happen so often in my own community. And until now it infuriates me to no end. You see, it has to do with Chinese restaurant menus. The menus themselves are easy to read, often having the traditional name written in Mandarin or Cantonese characters alongside a number and its English translation.
Yet there are sometimes moments lost in translation while ordering. I’ve witnessed it more than once in my years. Customers who mutter under their breath about the less than perfect English names written on the menu.
And as soon as the waiters and waitresses are out of earshot, a buzz of irritation lingers. I remember one time overhearing an older couple complaining about the “broken English” on the menu and how difficult it made for the waiters to understand their order. But it was one particular response that struck me speechless, whispered so loudly it was almost as if they wanted someone to hear: “If these people wanted to run a business in America then they should learn to speak English properly, shouldn’t they?”
What they wanted from “these people” was code switching.
Code switching, as Young describes in his thoroughly compelling article “Should Writer’s Use They Own English?” is something that has been reinforced by teachers for decades now. This encouragement of “unnecessary convoluted language” instills the belief that individualized spoken dialect (or other languages, for that matter) are somehow inferior to the standard English language.
They are not.
And this is the point Young makes throughout his article. It is the point he repeats over and over again, combatting the words of “cultural critic” Stanley Fish in his own spoken dialect. In fact it is Young’s voice, heard so clearly in the way he writes the article that sounds as if he is talking to the reader directly, that makes his words all the more powerful.
Fish claims that without the reinforcement of the Standard language ideology people make themselves “targets for racism” and “vulnerable to prejudice.” Fish insists that, with the reinforcement of the standard English language teachers can successfully trick students “infected with…soft multi-culturalism” into learning an additional language “and…get on with it.”
I cannot emphasize how insensitive and privileged these sentiments sound. So much in fact that they should be addressed separately. First off, nothing a person can say or do can ever make them “vulnerable to prejudice”. As Young correctly insists, it is in fact the attitude of those in power who “perceive other people’s language” that is the real problem. It is those who discriminate upon racial and cultural differences that are entirely at fault.
By instilling a requirement for Standard language ideology in our schools, some educators are inadvertently making students feel guilty for writing in their own dialect, their own style, taught by the teachers to be the “wrong” way of writing, when the truth is this: there is no wrong way of writing. Just different ways, none more so superior than any others.
(And while restaurant menus aren’t necessarily the same thing as academic papers, there still remains a certain standard for a specific type of English in the United States. Both written and spoken.)
Second, Forcing students to conform to one Eurocentric academic way of writing is entirely different from giving them the option to learn a new language to enhance their own learning. It is a sentiment consistent with those of white supremacists and colonizers that insist that a person’s life can be improved should they conform to their language and their culture.
This is why Young insists that code meshing (and not code switching) is so vital to our education system. With code meshing, we normalize picking up bits and pieces from each others’ dialects and languages and create a space of equal ground where everyone is validated and their voices can be heard.
But back to Chinese restaurant menus. Ever since that day and even before that, I have tried to incorporate as much of the original Mandarin or Cantonese pronunciation of the menu items as I can (even if my pronunciation is admittedly awful).
It’s a little bit like code meshing in daily life and as Young predicts, it isn’t as difficult as academics make it out to be. Because if I can do my part to make someone’s life a little bit easier by meeting in the figurative middle of our mutual language barrier, imagine how much more accessible all languages could be if we could all do our part, one word to the next.