What is Urban Grammar?
:: the pervasive non-standard use of the English language, often popularized and satirized in the media, versus the knowledge and good practice of standard English grammar rules. ::
Some years ago, I stood in line at a Wendy’s counter preparing to order my favorite meal: a plain baked potato, a small chili and a junior bacon cheeseburger. (Yes, my stomach and arteries were much younger then.) Instead of readily taking my order after the last customer, the cashier turned to the shift manager in back of her and said, “When is you gone send somebody up herre foe-I-kin take my break?”
I was absolutely stunned. As an English instructor, I was amazed and appalled, because I had never heard the English language twisted in quite this manner. My English teacher sensibilities took a few seconds to fully process what the young lady had just said. When I replayed the brief exchange in my mind, she had indeed said, “When is you gone send somebody up herre foe-I-kin take my break?”
What she should have said was, “When will you send somebody up here so that I can take my break?” For me, this moment marked the birth of urban grammar: the pervasive non-standard use of the English language, often popularized and satirized in the media, versus the knowledge and good practice of standard English grammar rules.
After recounting this story several times over the years as an example of the challenges and failures of public school education regarding Black and minority students, I decided to note the amusingly bad English people, regardless of race or ethnicity, are actually speaking (and blogging) to provide much needed corrections instead of resorting to elitist ‘grammar shaming’.
For two years, I kept a running list of ‘creative’ words and phrases I heard people speaking that sometimes purposefully, but mostly unwittingly, defied standard English vocabulary and conventions. So, Urban Grammar is full of admonishments, such as “Spunt is not a word!” “Never say have did!” “Stop saying mines!”
“Instead of isammo say ‘Am I going to?’!” Unfortunately, the list has grown past the publication of Urban Grammar, and probably will ad infinitum as long as my ears are trained to hear the misused, misinterpreted, mispronounced and generally corrupted English words and phrases that permeate popular culture.
As many new graduates and employers are discovering, good grammar still matters in the workplace, school and even social media, but many people truly do not know the correct way to express themselves properly in speech or in writing for various reasons. In our politically correct society, few people are bold enough to correct non-standard English for fear of being perceived as racist or pretentious. So, I wrote Urban Grammar and Adult Learner Grammar Essentials to allow for painless self-correction without shame or criticism.
The earnest, bottom line message of Urban Grammar is that good communication skills are integral to success in the workplace, the classroom and everyday life. Despite all the catchy song lyrics that destroy the ‘King’s English’ or the prevalence of million dollar athletes, rappers and singers who cannot string two clear sentences together in media interviews, 21st century students, professionals and teachers need to be reminded and taught that good grammar still matters in the ‘real’world where competition for jobs is high and tolerance for uneducated workers is low.
Ashan R. Hampton is a long-time English instructor turned entrepreneur. Through her company, Onyx Online Education & Training, she offers digital courses and print books on grammar, proofreading, business writing and communication for personal and professional development to individuals and corporations. To find out more about Ashan's work, visit www.arhampton.com.
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