Language. The beautiful tool that allows humans to communicate words, thoughts, emotions, truth. The tool that is the foundation of culture, that creates unity between peoples, can also cause great divisions between others.
In American schools, writing and grammar in standard academic English is seen as a mark of education, as a sign that you’ve had the opportunity to expand your boundaries of knowledge and have furthered yourself as an intellectual being. However, this assumes a level of language superiority that disparages other minority languages spoken by students in schools. This phenomenon of language superiority is not new to literature and scholarship, but it has been subverted by many notable authors and scholars.
One of the most notable in the history of English literature is Geoffrey Chaucer, renowned as one of the greatest poets of all time, who seemed to have no regard for language superiority. The great Chaucer took passages from authors like Boethius, Virgil, and Cicero, all famous authors and philosophers who wrote in Latin, the language of the elite, and translated it into the middle English vernacular. He even took Dante’s Comedia, (another work that rubs itself in the face of language superiority, being written in the Italian vernacular) and translated it into the middle English dialect, making the wonderful work of art accessible to a wider audience.
Chaucer didn’t acknowledge the perceived language superiority that was so present in the scholarship both of his day and now. Instead he rebelled and because of his rebellion, so many people have benefited from his stories.
So why do we limit our students who speak other languages besides English, or who even speak a different dialect of English? There are so many beneficial outlets for letting students who speak in an AVE or a regional dialect or even the language of pop culture incorporate their unique culture into their writing.
Why is this seen as perverting language, perverting the literature? Isn’t that exactly what the greats did themselves? And it made it more accessible to the people to read and absorb that same literature. When we censor language dialects, we censor someone’s voice – someone’s culture. And if the history of literature has shown us anything, it is that censorship never turns out well.
It is important for students to know how to speak and write according to the standards that the school system lays down for them. Chaucer himself knew how to speak Latin, Italian, and French as well as English, but he also knew when to break the rules. The problem is that schools don’t let students break the rules of literature. But the greatest advancements in any field of study occurred when someone broke the widely accepted standards for that field. You have to know the rules, and then know how to break them.
Schools encourage a sense of uniformity, everyone following a set standard and not deviating from the path. But this uniformity denies and discourages students’ unique voices, turning a beautiful diverse world into a bland land of conformity.
English is changing. Language is constantly changing. Why not let literature and writing change along with it?