JULIA SERRA, OPINION WRITER
Since childhood, we’ve been taught that the way we speak is linked to the way we are perceived. “Don’t say ain’t” and “you sound smarter when you speak properly,” are mantras that have been drilled into our heads by parents and teachers.
In this society, our success in both the social and professional sphere is linked to the “correctness” of our speech habits. This idea has existed for so long that it has become an unarguable truth. Many people learn to conform, and when a group of people violates the standards, they are stigmatized, ridiculed and ultimately stifled. Speech, contrary to the demand for diversity and acceptance, has strict standards, the following of which tend to take precedence over the ideas of the speakers. It is clear that an obsession with speech habits is merely another method of discriminating against the voices and ideas society does not want to hear.
It’s easy to dismiss the discussions of one who doesn’t conform to these ideals as “uneducated” and “not clearly communicated” without paying much attention to the message. However, it is the uneducated that need their voices to be heard. Because of the hierarchical nature of our society, it is the educated upper-middle class that is usually given the platform to speak. Those below them in the hierarchy are continuously ignored and devalued. The criticism of speech habits is simply another method to reinstate this hierarchy.
In certain environments, when a speaker says, “ain’t” the validity of his or her argument is dismissed. This oppressive practice isn’t helping anyone. We live in a country whose success is derived from being run by the people. When we silence the people based on something so trivial as grammatical correctness, we are jeopardizing the prosperity of our society.
Speech-based oppression does not stop at grammatical correctness; it’s about the quality of our voices, as well. In the past few years, “vocal fry” has become a popular point of discussion. Most commonly associated with young women, vocal fry is when the voice is lowered to create a creaking sound. Many people complain about this “unnatural” sound, refusing to listen to the young women who employ it. However, vocal fry, although becoming more popular now, has existed since Mae West became popular in the early 1900s. It’s nothing new, and if it suddenly seems unnatural, it may be time to examine the motives behind the listener’s complaints. Does it genuinely debilitate the listener so much that he or she cannot understand what the speaker is saying? Or are you attempting to silence a woman based on their ideas or what they represent?
I’m not suggesting that we abandon correct grammar and speech patterns in their entirety. It is important that grammatical standards exist and are taught in order to promote clear communication. However, when the conception of what is “correct” interferes with the ability to listen to what the speaker is saying, a problem arises. Society’s perceptions of speech are heedlessly oppressing the voices of people who need to speak out the most.
The reality is language is not a static, uniform thing. Whether it is out of lack of education or conscious backlash to strict societal standards, those who venture to change language are somewhat revolutionary. It is imperative that we question who is determining what parts of linguistic revolution are “incorrect” and therefore unacceptable and whether they are deeming it incorrect because of a desire to oppress rather than to promote clear communication. The prosperity of language should never take precedence to the prosperity of the oppressed peoples. As a society, we need to stop obsessing over the way people speak and start listening to what they have to say.