I’ve been thinking about “dialectal privilege” lately. It’s pretty common knowledge that there is prejudice against people based on the dialect of English (sticking to English here because I know it) they speak. It intersects heavily with all sorts of other prejudices, of course, like race, class, nationality, etc. but I’m convinced it’s a phenomenon in and of itself as well, since you can hear people making fun of any number of groups- black people, gay people, southerners, Canadians, and just people who say words you don’t say (pop instead of soda, etc.)- for sounding “stupid”. While it’s mostly found linked to another prejudice, this isn’t always the case- Chicagoans make fun of Minnesotans’ speech, for goodness’ sake. It’s definitely an education-level prejudice at root (based on the assumption that educated people all speak a certain way) but the fact that it’s the dialect that makes you assume the education level and not vice versa convinces me it’s its own phenomenon, as well as the idea that any one way of speaking even COULD be “right”, much less actually is. Any linguist will tell you all dialects are equally capable of expressing all ideas in a way understandable to other speakers. But if we can’t even convince people that correcting others’ “who”s to “whom”s and “Juan and me”s to “Juan and I”s REALLY DOES just make you an incorrigible snot, and not better at using English than others, what is the chance (at this point in time, anyways) of people being convinced to look past the embedded layers of prejudice against all the other traits that dialectal privilege intersects with?
I’ll probably post on this again, since I find it really interesting (obviously). Just now though, I was thinking about dialectal privilege as it intersects with white privilege. (Full disclosure: I’m a Linguistics major/part-black person/part-white person who speaks what’s known as a “prestige dialect” of American English).
I was thinking about non-black and/or dialectally-privileged people speaking African American Vernacular English as cultural appropriation. (Which I think you kind of have to agree it is.) But, I think, except in cases of being raised by people who do, for the most part, white people really DON’T speak AAVE (that is, they don’t even know how to), just choice bits of slang. AAVE tense markers are different, the phonology is different, etc. in consistent, grammatical ways that separate it from being “bad English”. So white people can act “cool” talking “like black people”, which I think most non-linguist Americans consider to be just bad/wrong/uneducated English, and then switch back to a prestige dialect as soon as it suits them. (This is pretty ironic, as learning to actually speak AAVE would take work- for examples of what I mean: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American_Vernacular_English#Distinctive_features)
Meanwhile, this diglossic usage by the privileged reinforces the notion (to non-black and black people alike) that AAVE is merely an “improper” way of speaking reserved for colloquial situations, entertainers, and other non-serious people/things… not for serious things like job interviews and court dates! And of course people who simply speak AAVE are screwed. It is obviously not a matter of “knowing better” or learning to speak “right”; people talk the way they talk, and there are no deficiencies in the expressive abilities of AAVE. So there’s almost no winning here- if others speak AAVE, it normalizes the sound of it but confines it to certain societal roles rather than to a race, which in turn disadvantages African Americans who speak it but don’t occupy those roles. If others don’t speak it, it remains “the way black people talk”, and in addition to the already-present racism, people continue to think of it as simply wrong, including the native speakers.