The Black Language Podcast

Defund the Grammar Police, The Revolution Will be Multilingual

July 09, 2020 Anansa
The Black Language Podcast
Defund the Grammar Police, The Revolution Will be Multilingual
Chapters
The Black Language Podcast
Defund the Grammar Police, The Revolution Will be Multilingual
Jul 09, 2020
Anansa

In this episode of The Black Language Podcast, your host, Anansa provides the vision for this podcast. 

Twitter: @blacklangpod
Instagram: @blacklangpod
Email: [email protected]

Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of The Black Language Podcast, your host, Anansa provides the vision for this podcast. 

Twitter: @blacklangpod
Instagram: @blacklangpod
Email: [email protected]

Speaker 1:

Welcome to first episode of The Black Language Podcast, where we talk about our people and our language and where talking black is anything said by a Black person, I'm your host Anansa. And just a little bit about myself. I use she, her pronouns. I'm from New York, shout out the 519 Cap City, shout out El Barrio, Spanish Harlem, Greeleyville, South Carolina, and the rest of the Williamsburg County. I'm in my Robinson Cano year plus two. So I'm 26 and I'm a proud Ravenclaw. I'm a Leo sun and moon and Virgo rising, get into it. And I didn't know a thing about linguistics until I was 18 in college and decided to major in it because so many of my intuitions about linguistics just seem to be there. After I graduated, I worked in education in Providence, Rhode Island for two years. And then from then I went to get my master's in applied linguistics. Full transparency The current name of the podcast may or may not be temporary until I think of something better. I had so many ideas, but they were already taken. If you have a better idea, let a sista know because I'm definitely checking for one, but I just knew that if I waited any longer for the right name to come along, I didn't know when I was going to start because I sat with this project for just over a year. And it came about as I was finishing up grad school. And I felt like much of what I was reading about Black people and language didn't show our diversity and just made it seem like we were all one thing like Black people in LA talk like Black people in Albany, New York. And I know that that's not the case. There are definitely similarities between us, but there's so much about what it means to be Black in a particular region. Like what does it mean to be Black in Providence, Rhode Island or Rochester, New York. And how is that similar and how is it different? And what's crazy is actually after grad school, I was in the process of becoming a linguist with a security firm and they wanted a Black linguist, but they didn't call it that obviously. And so I had to take multiple tests and the final test was transcribing a phone call, but that was odee hard because we talk differently in different places. The person on the phone, in the audio that was recording sounded like they were from like the Arkansas, Missouri kind of area. Ultimately I passed, but I played the sound file over and over again because although we have a shared history and a shared language, I could barely understand what they were saying. Because again, we are not a monolith. We are not just one thing. And that firm did not know that, but I didn't end up going through with the job. That security firm contracts out to the United States, basically to the FBI, DEA DHS including ICE and other government agencies. And there was no way in hell I was going to be surveilling other Black people and helping out ICE or those other agencies. But , I say that to say that there are definitely linguists, Black linguists who are doing the work to say that we are a diverse people and to stop using all of these catch all definitions of what it means to be Black or what it means to talk Black. And so that was a big motivation behind this podcast and another, and another motivation, maybe I should stop now and say that I do have a stutter. I've been stuttering apparently since elementary school, but I don't remember that. What I do remember was being in middle school and stuttering so bad. I used to be like the kid who would like be leaning my head forward and blinking my eyes, trying to get sounds out. But I don't think I'm gonna edit the stutter out. Like I feel like it would be contradictory for me to have a podcast about language and then like edit out naturally occurring parts of communication. But I mean, even that, I feel like it's still ironic because I am going to edit this. And this is also not really like a very natural occurrence of language. Me just sitting here by myself, recording something by myself as if I'm actually talking to other people who are in the room. Anyways, I say that to say that I stutter, you're probably gonna hear me stutter. But back to what I was saying , another motivation behind this podcast is the fact that so many of my friends and what I see on social media already shows me that we talk about language all the time and we may or may not even know it. We're already talking about different accents and what words are popular and what cities and how new slang emerges. U m, but ultimately I feel so passionately about this because I am a linguist and I love what I do. I believe that linguistics allows us to see life in a new way. We can see the rawness, and the beauty, and complicatedness in what it means to be human. And so I'm excited to take this journey with y'all, because I want to make this something that all Black people can see themselves in at one point or another, because I know that Blackness is not a monolith. We are not one thing. And so my goal is to be intentional about holding space for all Black people. Because like I said, as far as I'm concerned, Black language or t alking Black is anything said by a Black person. So for today I felt like the first thing I should probably do is just talk a little bit about what linguistics is and what it focuses on. So that way there's a , little bit of a foundation for what this becomes. Um, so when people ask me what a linguist does, I say, I definitely say something different every time, because truthfully, I don't even always know how to explain it. So for me, what I normally do is ask what the person asking me like what their job is or what some of their hobbies are and explain how linguistics plays a role in their day to day. So like, for example, if you work in education, there are definitely linguists who study the interactions between teachers and parents and teachers and students. If you're in business and sales, there are linguists who study successful sales pitches. If you're in communications, publishing, journalism, advertising, marketing, there's research in linguistics that will back many of the decisions that you make in regards to slogans, product descriptions, headlines. Um, and definitely if you're in artificial intelligence, computer science, there are linguists behind your favorite. Um, artificial intelligence is like Alexa and Siri I'm . So I can go on with that, but also if you have hobbies such as gaming, there are linguists best study gaming language and chat rooms. If you're a skater, there are linguists that study skate culture. Um, and so typically when I talk to people about linguistics and how it relates to their day to day, I like to say that I think anyone can be a linguist because when I talk to people, it feels like something clicks for them. And I'm like, that's where you want to be. Like, as long as you can recognize the patterns and how you speak. That's all I really feel like I do as a linguist is just recognize patterns and speech and ask myself if these patterns mean anything. I'm sorry, not just speech also, because now all language is just spoken, but I really feel like I just recognize patterns and communication and ask myself if those patterns mean anything. But formerly you could probably say that linguistics is the scientific study of human language. And that ended up itself just sounds confusing, but that's broken down into different categories. And then those kinds , glories of course have even more categories, but mainly you have people who will study sounds, and that's not to be confused with the alphabet and the alphabet. Actually, it doesn't even have all the sounds that we make. Um, then there are people who will study structure and order similar to like the grammar of a language, but not in the same way that you were taught grammar rules in elementary school. Then there are people who study meaning, and then people who study how we learn language and how we process language. And there's, you know, of course all of those categories break down into even more categories. But a few questions that linguists might ask themselves are how do we make sounds and perceive sounds, and how do they change over time? In what ways our language is similar or different from one another, how are languages learned? Why do adults and children learn languages differently? Um , how is it that words carry, meaning? How do individual words come together to form a sentence? That means something , um, how do language has changed over time? That's one of my favorite questions. Like what did language sound like a hundred years ago or a thousand years ago? And why am I someone talk a certain way and one situation and talk a different way and another, and there are so many more potential questions. Actually, a big research question that I had when I was in college was about liturgical languages, which are languages that are used for religious purposes. I always felt connected to studying African influence religions that were formed throughout the Americas, during slavery, such as [inaudible] , who do and voodoo, and while growing up and visiting family members on my mother's side of the family, you know, I saw elements of African spirituality and African spiritual practices everywhere. There was cups of water near the door, brooms over doors and shrines dedicated to African saints with adornments and decorations. And then when I was in high school visiting some of my family down South, my cousin Leandre actually put me onto this book. I don't remember what the book was, but it was about , um , Yoruba and the history of black people in America practicing our African religions. And then we just got like, you know, we just launched into the conversation about how my family are, you know , descendants of Africans. Who'd had these African spiritual practices. And so for me, when I found out that there was such thing as liturgical languages, languages used for religious purposes, I was curious to know if the liturgical languages in our African influence religions here in the Americas, if they shared similarities to the languages of our West African ancestors, like key Congo and phone. And the short answer to that question is yes. But another way that I can think to explain a little bit about what linguistics is, is by explaining what it ain't. Oftentimes, when I tell people that I study linguistics, they will make two assumptions. The first is that I know multiple languages. And the second is that I'm a correct the way they speak. So first that is a myth that linguists speak many languages. Um, what's funny is when I met my current partner, we were texting one night early in the relationship. And I told them that I studied applied linguistics and he asked me how many languages I speak. And I almost lost all my patients. And it's probably a good thing I didn't, but that's when I told myself, this is the last time I'm answering this question, because what I ended up doing was taking a Twitter to subtweet him. And he wasn't even following me at the time. But because like, what I really wanted to ask was like, how would that be possible? Like college is only a few years. Like how many languages do you think I'm gonna learn in four years, in two years of grad school. Um, but being a linguist does not mean that you speak multiple languages. If you meet a linguist who does speak multiple languages, it's probably because they come from a family that is multi-lingual or they come from a place that is multi-lingual . There are definitely linguists who will study one language and one language family. So they might be familiar with the language, but they may not feel comfortable speaking. It's still , um, and then you might meet linguists who speak multiple languages because aside from their studies and linguistics, they just might like to travel or be a worldly person, or they see the value in speaking more than one language. Um , but just to wrap that up, being a linguist does not mean that you learn languages. The second myth that I want to address is that as a linguist, I'm going to correct the way you speak. I have another story with this one. I was on a flight coming back from Memphis, and I was sitting next to this older, wealthy white woman. And we spent a lot of the flight talking and that's how I kind of got to know that she was wealthy. Um, but she asked me what I do. And so I told her that I was a grad student studying applied linguistics, and her immediate response was, Oh my goodness, you must think, I sound terrible with this Twain. And, and, and she did have a really strong, you know, Memphis accent. But what I thought was so interesting is that here I am a young black woman sitting next to this person with way more privileged than me. And yet she thinks that there's something inferior about the way that she speaks. I of course reassured her that I would never criticize how she speaks. Um, and that's what linguists , um , don't do. We will not criticize how people speak. We are descriptive, not prescriptive. This means that we describe what people do with language. Prescriptive would be something like your first grade teacher who tells you grammar rules, like eight , isn't a word, and how you can't end a sentence with a preposition. A linguist would tell you that you can absolutely end a sentence with a preposition because people do all the time. And the link would say that eight is definitely a word because people use it all the time. And so actually many of the grammar rules that we learned growing up really are arbitrary. Um, and so much actually about languages , arbitrary, it's all just made up. And then it changes. Um, at one point in time, people did not criticize eight and it was recognized as a, just like any other word. It was a contraction for M not. And so what I'd like to tell people is that, look, if what you said can be understood, then you probably set it correctly. Um, I'm also going to take this time to say that if you are a self proclaimed member of the grammar police force, I'm going to ask that you retire something about that feels too close to white supremacy, but also the rules that we follow in language change and will change. And we know this because linguists document this change and when it happens and why it happens and the impacts of those changes. And so I hope that this will be your last day as part of the gamer police force. And that tomorrow you can begin to see how we can use language to liberate ourselves from these oppressive structures. Um, and actually like now that I think about it, the reason why being the grammar police probably feels like white supremacy to me is because, well, one people are enforcing rules for speaking English, at least in my experiences with the grammar police, it's always about English, which is a colonial language, forced upon our ancestors and so many people of color throughout the world. And so it feels like you're doing the work of the colonizer when you enforce the language of rules of the colonizer. But also the thing that I love about language is that it changes. That's probably my favorite thing, actually, because it feels like a metaphor for life. I think that there's so many parts of society here in the United States that need to change like capitalism is trash point blank period. At one point in my ancestors were capital and white people took out insurance plans on my ancestors and counted them as assets like that's trash sexism, trash transphobia, trash ableism is trash. And every day myself and my peers and people in the movement are fighting against people who don't think these systems can change. Like there are people who don't think we can have a country without capitalism. There are people who don't think we can have a country without racism. And so for me, the way I'm thinking is like, look, we use language every day. Our survival is predicated on our ability to communicate whether that's through a sign language or an oral language. And so if our survival depends on our ability to share knowledge and communicate our needs, like that's a pretty big deal. And so if language is what we use , I used to do that and have language changes. And we're the ones who changed right along with it. And where are the same ones who make the change even happen in the first place, then why can't we change all these oppressive systems in society? Like if the way we talk now, won't be the way that we talk in 50 years. Then why can't we imagine a society in 50 years where people are not against because of their race, gender, class, sexual orientation, and more like, what I love about linguistics is that it helps me have an imagination because I know about the structures of other languages besides English. And I know about the thousands of ways that humans have chosen to express themselves through the thousands of languages that exist. And that have existed that for me to sit here and think that things have to be a certain way in society, like that's just bullshit to me. Like I know it doesn't have to be this way in society. Why? Because there are people out there doing different things, Like period, like that almost feels like me saying, Oh, everything has to be done in English. When I know that that's not the case, because when I look across the world, there are people who are doing things they're living life with other languages. And like, there are definitely similarities in how a language might choose to structure itself. Um, but there are definitely differences between languages. Um, and so for me, it's like, if something as constant in our life as language changes, and if it's done differently across the world, then can then can the certain systems that we think are constant in our lives, like , can they change? Can they be done differently to make things more fair for everyone? And so I hope that one of the ways I tried to explain a little bit about what linguistics is stuck with you, because I'm excited for what this podcast brings. So we can have discussions about everything I see on social media and experience in person from talking about what it means to have manners to how our slang just dies. As soon as the mainstream begins to use it to the way we tell stories and jokes and how our grammar has changed and continues to change. But what I hope to discuss and really encourage is the multilingual ness of black people everywhere. Growing up in the U S it's easy to be, okay, not knowing how to speak multiple languages. I feel like at least , um, foreign languages are not common in elementary education, at least public elementary education. And by the time we start to learn foreign languages in middle school or high school were either too embarrassed to make language mistakes maybe, or maybe we think it's corny, or maybe we've got to trust teacher, or maybe, you know, we think that it's easy for us to find information in English. So why do we need to speak another language? And Lastly, like if the language that you're learning at school is not a language that you're using regularly in your daily life and your community, then it's going to take some more effort to actually retain that language. However, as a black person who was stolen from Africa and are living in the United States, I feel like we have been lied to, we are absolutely multilingual. We've always been multilingual in and outside of the U S and in fact, it's not common around the world to only speak one language. And that includes us and our ancestors. And I'm not just talking about our ancestors who speak Gullah and are from the Gullah Geechee corridor down in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. And I'm not just talking about our ancestors from Louisiana, East, Texas, and that region who speak French or Creole. I'm talking about all our ancestors who were taken from Africa and brought here speaking their African languages, speaking multiple African languages, our ancestors who were the first to learn English and French and Dutch and Spanish and other languages of the colonizers. I'm thinking about our ancestors, where to translate on plantations and have to translate between the colonizer and each other and vice versa. And what's crazy is while I was in grad school, the applied linguistics department was connected to the TESOL department. TESOL is teaching English to speakers of other languages. And if you went to school here in the U S and you might've heard about an ESL teacher or an ELL teacher, they probably have a TESOL degree. So while I'm in these classes in grad school, we're talking about the best methods to teach language. And I'm thinking about my ancestors and the trauma that it must have been to learn the language while enduring so much pain. I'm thinking about if any of my ancestors were language teachers and what those classrooms look like. And so I'm absolutely doing this podcast and thinking about our ancestors who fought to remember our native languages and taught them to us through songs and games. One example that comes to mind is the song Shay Coolay, which is a children's song that has its roots in Ghana though, his song and different places in Africa. But many of us learned this song while watching Gullah Gullah Island, which was a children's TV show on Nick jr. That celebrated Gullah culture in South Carolina. Um, or depending on your age, your parents might know this song from Eugene wild . And what I think is so beautiful because it shows the African diaspora is that Willie came along and Hector Lavoe too , of some of the most prominent Salazar singers from Puerto Rico and New York city also have a version of shisha Coolay with this podcast. I'm also thinking about our ancestors who kept the names of foods and dances alive, and our ancestors who still took the colonizers language and made their own thing. That's exactly what we have done here with our black English R a Bionics. We are absolutely the legacy of our ancestors who were about what language. So I'm excited to talk about the language, sorry, the languages that are family speak throughout the Americas and throughout generations. I'm excited to talk about the similarities and the differences. The similarities are beautiful because it shows our connection and the differences are beautiful because we are not a monolith. I really believe that our freedom is tied to people who look like us in and outside of the U S and who speak many languages. And I strongly believe that the revolution will be multilingual. That being said, I'm going to wrap this episode up by shout . I know, mad people. Um , I want to start with two people who have advised me , um, on this past , on this project over the past year, and have also just advise me my personal and professional things going on. And as dr. Sasha Evans and dr. Sharif King , um, it's wild because they both know me since I was like 17. And here we are almost 10 years later. Um, I also want to shout out the host of the enthusiasm podcast, crusher, McCulloch, and Laura, and gone, who awarded me with a grant, which definitely helped to get me started. And lastly, I want to shout out everyone who helped contribute to the intro to the podcast. Um, it's funny. So I was saying that I kind of come up with a name for the podcast. So that's actually how the intro came about. I was really sad because I wanted to name my podcast . Talk to me. Nice. I had the idea to name of the podcast talks to me, nice, like probably in the shower when I was sleeping, but when it came to me, I was like, this is what I'm gonna call my podcast, because I liked that it has the word talk in the title. Cause you know, we're doing language, but I also like how talk to me nice is like a greeting. And so it's like, perfect. Cause it's like, Hey, like, you know, like listening to like talk to me nice da . But like, but I was mad because that was already taken. And then the other ideas I have for the podcast that was similar to talk to me nice where they were also greetings, those were taken or there were other podcasts with a variation of what I was thinking. And so I was like, maybe I can still include these somehow. And I thought to have my village just send me recordings of them saying whatever greetings they use in their day to day life. So I put up a call and my village definitely answered. Um, just to mention a few of the places where we had people coming from, we have Chicago, New York, the state and the city, gotta specify , Panama Philly, Memphis, Haiti, Mali , Jamaica, Guyana, Jersey, Connecticut, Nigeria, Atlanta, Dominican Republic, Botswana and Alabama. And to shout everyone out in the order that they appeared. We have Charlie Gabby, Jordan C, Winston, Muhammad , Stephanie, Jordan L, Edwin, Yas, Orin Caryl, Aleem, Shaq, Akan, Caroline Karshunna, Zakiyah, Sade, Devin, Funmi, Edwin, Drine, Rob, Stephaun, Christine, Deontae, Ty, Lajas, Asad, Yashika, Tati, Amber, and Akeem, and the glue that brings the intro together for the music production is Jordan, who you can find on Twitter and Instagram as @AgentBlackGuy for your music production needs. He's also a real estate agent, but I really wanna thank y'all from the bottom of my heart for sharing a piece of your culture, of your company, of your family, with me and with everyone listening to this podcast. That being said, I want to thank y'all for rocking out with me today. I'll talk to y'all soon, one.