Column: Language differences highlight problems with hegemony

The marginalization of ethnic minorities is just one of the many social challenges our society faces, and one manner in which it manifests itself is the societal push towards conformity to the Standard English.

This hegemonic enforcement of Standard English makes communication easier in many settings for obvious reasons, but what is currently overlooked by our society is its detriment to the social, economic, academic and psychological welfare of innumerable people of minority ethnic groups.

It is the duty of a good society, however, to ensure the holistic welfare of all people. So to what extent should we as a society, with proper account both for its value and its malignity, enforce this dialectical standard?

Before one can answer that question, it is first necessary to understand how detrimental the hegemonic establishment of Standard English is. In daily conversation between peers, coworkers, administration and academic and professional superiors, conformity in speech and communication in general is pushed heavily. Those who do not conform risk not only social prejudices, but also marginalization within the classroom and office settings.

Often people with slightly differing dialects are assumed to be of an inferior intellect. This can cause something as micro-aggressive as being condescendingly corrected as to what Standard English is, or as macro-aggressive as being turned away from a job opportunity purely on the grounds of an ethnically influenced name. Studies have shown that such micro-aggressions amongst peers can have horrible psychological ramifications as far as depression and even suicide.

Meanwhile, employers and recruiters looking for new hires are proven to be significantly more likely to hire people with “white” sounding names, or names that accompany a Standard English dialect.

The problem with this is that dialect isn’t necessarily a choice. For instance, those brought up in a black culture setting are heavily predisposed to speak Ebonics; those brought up in Florence, South Carolina, like myself, are heavily predisposed to speak with Southern slang, specifically Biblical references and southern inflections; those brought up in Ghana are heavily predisposed to speak with conjugations, tenses and pronunciations that are considered improper in accordance to the hegemonic standard of “white” English.

Though there are measures these minority ethnicities can take to assimilate their dialect, traces of their origins will always remain, and in the process of assimilating, they are still prone to social, academic and professional marginalization.

This is obviously not equality, but how can we combat it? If we simply enforce all established dialects in English classes, it becomes entirely too difficult for teachers. If employers and recruiters adopt an impartial mentality when looking for new hires, they sacrifice their ability to choose statistically "better-speaking" candidates. As it stands, employers are likely to avoid foreign, black or even southern candidates.

My proposition is that of a middle ground between the usefulness and harmfulness of hegemony. It is pertinent for institutions to have formally ubiquitous communication, and thus, schools must support this by teaching the mainstream dialect. To standardize the dialect, I believe it is necessary to enforce Standard English more stringently, particularly in primary schools, so as to habituate the dialect.

It is also important to normalize our education system without regard to the culture of the instructors and/or students. This means heavily bolstering the academic funding of traditionally poorer communities and requiring the same linguistic standards for all students of all backgrounds.

Lastly, the problem of micro-aggressions can be ameliorated with a better education for young children that teaches cultural awareness and utilitarian ethics, so as to create for better social situations and more well-rounded citizens.

This model of hegemony can and should be applied in many other social situations, and though conformity can be healthy for a society, it is just as important to consider its effects on all peoples.


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