Understanding of English Language Must be More Inclusive

I have always been curious about the usage of the term “Standard English,” which has recently been one of the most hotly debated issues in the academic world. Some scholars refer to it as White Mainstream English and ascribe “brokenness” to other variations of English. On the other side are people that advocate for inclusivity by deeming this designation of “standard vs. broken” as unfair, inappropriate, and even baseless. I happen to lean toward this group. I don’t see a good reason to distinguish between variations of English, especially with labels of “standard” and “broken.” Furthermore, I see a mirror in these labels that reflects the unfair social and historical framework of our society. 

Markings such as “standard” and “broken” have nothing to do with linguistic characteristics, according to Founding Director of the Transformative Speaking Program at Hampshire College Laura Greenfield. We’ve been told that other variations of English are broken because they don’t align with Standard English, but so-called Standard English got its status somewhat arbitrarily. So why call the others “broken” by comparing them to it?  

Why is White Mainstream English used as Standard English? Is being standard based on the number of speakers? It’s clear that at some point in history, the only English that existed was British English. But even in the 1980s, Black English was spoken by around 35 million people, and it’s pretty obvious that this number has increased since. Today, there are many variations of English, each with numerous speakers. If having a substantial number of speakers was the reason that deemed White Mainstream English to be Standard English, why aren’t we updating our label to include variations which have evolved to acquire a considerable number of speakers?

Other variations of English, just like Standard English, have their own grammatical rules and values. Black English, for example, has its own sets of rules that apply to grammatical syntax, as well as values that govern its speakers. Some interesting rules and values in Black English include the zero-copula rule, eliminating the auxiliary verb “do,” active over passive voice, precision, and clarity. 

So the question of why we only accept White Mainstream English as the “Standard English” still demands an answer. There are some people who claim that aligning with the rules of Standard English enhances communication. Rosina Lippi-Green, a notable author and linguist, disproves this claim with her contention that “grammaticality does not equal communicative effectiveness.” She uses the following sentences as an illustration: “My sister is taller than me,” versus “My sister is taller than I.” The latter sentence is grammatically correct in Standard English, but the former is not. However, no one denies the clarity of the former sentence. So if clarity is the focus, why does the former seem so much clearer?

Obviously, we need a language that facilitates effective communication. And this is exactly what standard language ideologists argue for: a unifying version of English that facilitates effective communication. According to newspaper editor and notorious segregationist James Kilpatrick, without such unifying language, we would be left with linguistic anarchy. However, to prove that having several variations of English will not lead to catastrophe, scholar of African-American English Vershawn Young argues that English variations are not all that different. Plus, according to a general view among linguists, variations within a language are capable of being mutually understood across the speakers of these variations. Therefore, inclusivity does not pose a significant threat to cross-dialect communication. 

But let’s give the standard language ideologists the benefit of the doubt and say we need a unifying language that facilitates effective communication. This still doesn’t answer the question of why so-called white Mainstream English is chosen as the standard. Again, if effective communication is the topic, don’t users of Black English communicate effectively? Don’t Chinglish, Spanglish and other forms of English have communicative power? The imposition of “Standard English” in academics has long been limiting people’s potential to communicate the richness of their ideas. If using several variations enhances communication and self-expression, why not welcome them with open arms? Why not be inclusive?

By now, I hope you have seen that there’s something wrong with the current usage of the term “Standard English” and its imposition. First, there is no satisfactory reason for the way “Standard English” is currently being used. Besides, its imposition as the only acceptable English limits people’s potential and reflects linguistic discrimination. So would I be wrong if I urged for an inclusive system? I don’t think so. Inclusion is important, and we should all strengthen our efforts to achieve it.