Judging People Based on Grammar: Do You Do It?

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

There is this little picture going around Grammerly‘s Facebook page that I have a problem with.

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As an editor, and a formally trained linguist, I have a problem with this line of thinking on a few levels.

Judging people based on spelling, grammar, or sentence structure (I am purposely leaving out punctuation) is arguably just as divisive as judging someone based on race, creed, color, or gender.

Language is a product of culture. There are so many variations of spelling, grammar, and syntax from culture alone. Basing a judgment of someone off a variation of standard American English (or whichever language you choose) is just not right. While having a standardized version of any language is essential for formal written communication, allowing variations (to a point) allows the richness of language to show through. It is a celebration of the very people that read it. To judge someone on Ebonics (or AAVE as some people call it) or any variety of dialects implies that their variation of language is not valid, and even worse, inferior. There are some unconventional syntactic structures, but not all of them are wrong. This even applies to writing. Just like a standardized version of a language can alienate a group of people, so can the non-standardized version. Appropriately placed, non-standard usage brings writing and speech alive.

If I’m reading a novel written by a Caribbean author, I’m likely going to expect and welcome the patois that may be written. If I’m reading work by a Jewish author, I expect both cultural and linguistic references to make it feel more authentic. The list can go on and on. If you are writing fiction, and everyone speaks exactly the way the author formally writes, it will likely be uninteresting to read. When people read fiction, they expect a variety of people, and speech can reflect that. To extract the way people normally write and speak from writing removes the very thing that makes it relate-able, interesting, exciting and real. There is an honesty in writing people as they are, and that is a beautiful thing.

However, punctuation in every case, is essential. We all knows what happens when a panda eats shoots and leaves.

Have you judged someone based on their speech or writing? What was the scenario? How did it influence you view this person? Was it good or bad?

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