This morning during my first class, i sat through a rather lengthy diatribe/instructional session about the use of proper English when writing papers for college assignments. i have no problem with that requirement; it has tremendous practical merits. But it got me thinking about how language can be a tool for elitism.
i grew up developing a very low view of the Southern colloquialisms common to my corner of the world. Even today i tend to think of linguistic items like "y'all" and a thick texas/oklahoma draw as a sign of being uneducated or lacking intelligence. i've even labored in recent weeks to catch and correct myself when i say "whole nother" and "real bad" as though i'm doing something wrong or unintelligent.
But today i started to question that view quite a bit. There is a culture that developed for centuries around academic institutions. And it is replete with its own linguistic elements--rules of grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. That's all fine and well i think. But what i now question is why this culture should be seen as privileged or preferred. Or more importantly, why should the distinctive cultural elements (such as the language) of the academic world be regarded as "right" and others as "wrong"? Why should "proper English" (as defined by educational institutions) be taken as the hallmark of intelligence and the failure to use "proper English" be taken as the hallmark of lacking intelligence? Or to put it another way, who the hell died and made the MLA boss?
Granted-there are practical advantages to having widely agree linguistic rules. But adherence to such rules is not necessarily the dividing line for intelligence and respectability. People who speak "ebonics" or "hillbilly" are not necessarily less intelligent than those who speak "proper English." And they and their respective cultures are by no means less valuable or deserving of respect than the culture of academia.
The bottom line for me is to remember that God is no respector of persons. Christ in His personal mission and his mission through the apostles accomplished tremendous cultural unity. Christ worked hard at breaking down social barriers based on class prejudice. His church was built by people across a wide cultural spectrum. Some were highly educated and some had little if any institutional education. If i really believe in the kind of radical equality that Christ teaches, i'll seek to rid myself of the vestiges of cultural prejudices and elitism. And that may very well include admitting (and behaving accordingly) that in the grand scheme of things, it's perfectly fine for people i encounter not to use "proper English."