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Which English Do You Speak?

You know how when you look up adefenestration word on Merriam-Webster’s website, a little video will start playing on mute in the corner and someone will silently tell you about some obscure word or irregular rule? The purple-haired woman who shows up in those videos is named Kory Stamper, and she’s written a super interesting essay about different dialects of American English and their varying levels of prestige.

One day I was telling my mother about the school day when she cut me off. “Can you queet talkin’ like deese, because we don’t talk like deese? Drives me crazy.”

I was flummoxed. “I’m just talking,” I said.

“You sound Mexican,” she said, “and you’re not. If you’re not careful, your friends are going to think that you’re making fun of them.” It was my first introduction to sociolinguistics and the politics of dialect.

It never fails to fascinate me that we speak so many different versions of English despite the homogenizing effect of mass media. I’ve long been intrigued with Pennsylvania’s “The car needs washed” construction, but I’d never even heard of the “I’m done my homework” construction Stamper mentions. And of course I’ll never stop missing “y’all” and “might could” since I moved away from Texas, though it’s nice to be back in “hella” country.


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