This summer, I read The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopkinson. I didn’t end up enjoying the story, but I did enjoy reading a book that took me back to the country of my birth. Not simply because it was set in Caribbean islands, but because it was written in a dialect I grew up with. For me, the language was warm and welcoming, and I loved the intricate differences in the patois from the different islands. But I imagine it would make the reading difficult for others who are unfamiliar with the tongues, spoken or written. While a book like this might help, reading in an unfamiliar dialect can be taxing on the brain and can ruin the experience. It’s why authors are warned to avoid it, though some will take the risk, for better or for worse.
Speaking of dialect, let’s all appreciate this Mental_Floss article on the grammar rules that underly dialects that are often met with disdain. Specifically, Appalachian, AAEV, and Southern American English. Here’s the thing about dialects: they have rules.
Linguists are always taken aback by the overwhelmingly negative and sometimes virulently expressed reaction they get when stating something that every linguist believes (and linguists do not agree on everything!) in a rather uncomplicated way: Every dialect has a grammar.
“Every dialect has a grammar” does not mean “everything is relative, and let’s throw away all the dictionaries, and no one should go to school anymore, and I should be able to wear a bath towel to a job interview if I damn well please.” What it means is that all dialects, from the very fanciest to the ones held in lowest esteem, are rule-governed systems. Here are three examples from three different commonly disparaged dialects that illustrate how dialects have grammar.
- Short little piece interviewing Fred Van Lente where he explains some of the basic terms of comic books.
- Gaming vs. Reading in teens: is your grandma right?
- Here’s a Storify from August documenting how we talk about women on the red carpet and how to change it.