It’s, like, so bitchin’

Ok, so like OMG, misogyny is totally hidden in a lot of places. Even in linguistic bias.

Girls spread linguistic trends faster. They are practicing mimicry. It’s a societal skill that helps them fit in and reinforce social bonds. But when you associate these trends with insecurity, you miss the fact that women communicate verbally way more than men. They are language innovators because they use language more. And when men use these same things we find so annoying in young girls, nobody get angry or annoyed.

But still we have the vernacular police. Why?

Language is mutable. It’s always in flux. Accents are always in flux. Not even the British spoke like the British do now back when they colonized the eastern U.S. That toffy noses accent didn’t exist back in 1776.

When you are overly conservative and clutch onto how people “used” to speak, ask yourself how vested you were in that old paradigm and whether you’re just sore that time had steamrolled over you.

Yesterday, I read the Arizona Attorney newsletter. It talked about WOC as minority women leaving the field of law at higher rates that everyone else. I wrote back and said, “Maybe it has something to do with us being referred to as minorities.”

Language itself creates a sense of community but also a sense of the “other.” In my writing class last year back in Tucson, a woman wrote a piece that basically boiled to, “You don’t sound like you’re from around here.” The white people in the class thought it was funny. Not a single goddamned one of them had roots in Tucson or Arizona. But they thought her piece on what “Arizonans” should sound like was really great.

There were two of us in that class who actually had roots in Arizona and both of us are Mexican and we both immediately saw the problem. When I pointed out how that sort of thinking isn’t only colonialistic but creates a dangerous sense of the “other” that can then be dehumanized, I got looks from the white people in the class like I had two heads.

My own journey with language has been difficult. I grew up at the convergence of several cultures and both my English and Spanish were greatly influenced by where I lived. In English, my prepositional phrases are often confused because I was taught to speak by native Spanish speakers who translated their Spanish mentally into English.

I say “I’ll go get my backpack down from the car.” Because in Spanish you say use the verb “bajar” or “lower” to describe the same action that in English is “remove.” In American standard English, I would say, “I’ll go get my backpack out of the car.”

My English and Spanish are also dotted with a lot of words indigenous peoples from that area created. “Buki” is child in Yaqui. “Bichi” is naked. So a “buki bichi” is a naked kid. It’s one of those phrases a mother would use when her kid is in the bathtub. It feels completely engendered in me to use this phrase. But I have been called out on it by standard bearers of Spanish.

The New York Times has an interesting linguistic quiz that uses an algorithm to figure out where you’re from. I took the test three times over the course of as many years. The test came back positive for Tucson every single time.

Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 12.16.30 PM
Look at that red glow down in Santa Cruz County!

As an autistic person, I’ve always been keenly aware of language. It’s always been harder for me to integrate slang into my vocabulary. My written English was always incredibly formal. And English lends itself to formality for law and business. Transitioning from a legal writer to an essayist and creating a more natural voice was 100% intentionally done. It took years to develop the writing style I currently use. You read the words and you internalize how I speak without giving it much thought. Learning to write how I speak required a huge amount of self-awareness and focused attention. It doesn’t make me a great writer. It makes me a better communicator. It feels more “real” than how I used to write. I don’t really care if it’s not perfect. The point isn’t to be perfect. The point is to be inimitably the me-ist me I can be. What I lose to the grammar police, I gain in authenticity.

NYC, the great melting pot of the U.S. if we can believe one exists anywhere in this country, is a mishmash of so many cultural linguistic influences that make me curious. Watch Colin Quinn’s comedy special, “The New York Story” and you see how all these different cultures left their mark on the city.

What will I lose of my native tongue by living in this city, I don’t yet know. But it won’t make me any less authentic because it’s coming organically from my experience. Madonna’s accent changes with every blue moon and she gets so much shit for it. But I don’t see that as a lack of central identity. I see it as an ability to mutate with the times and influences. She might be singing fado and batuque right now but that is because she moved to Portugal.

Why is it less authentic to use new accents and slang as you go through new experiences than to stick to who you were 40 years ago? That sort of thinking is decidedly British and decidedly classist and regionalist. It’s a tool of the oppressor so one doesn’t rise above one’s station in life.

Fuck errybody. My station in life is hovering somewhere above the earth at 20,000 ft. When someone corrects my English not for its misuse but for perceived corrections derived from elitism, I don’t take it personally. And if people underestimate me because I speak like I’m from Arizona, then it’s to my advantage and their disadvantage. I’ve always tested off the charts in vocabulary despite growing up in a small town where the average education level is one high school diploma per home. I can pick up on linguistic patterns in languages the first time I hear them. I’ve taught myself languages by watching BRAVO. My ability to understand the written word has eclipsed my stealth dyslexia. My vernacular is a misguided indication of my intellect.

So I guess what I want to say is give teenage girls a chance. If you don’t like how they’re talking, you’re probably not listening to what they’re saying. And they have so much to say.


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