Society is not the way we would like it to be, but rather the way it is. We all agree that there is plenty of injustice going around, and our rights as human beings are trespassed constantly. Prejudice and discrimination abound: racial, economic, physical, educational, geographical, religious and… linguistic.
Historically, languages have been used as excuses to discriminate, and many tongues have been looked down upon, abused, proscribed, and even banned. To this day we all know that there are prestige languages and others that are not, whose speakers become the target of discrimination. Those in command, not necessarily the majority, call the shots, if you allow the expression.
Countries have tried to impose languages on the conquered, although seldom have they been able to eradicate the vanquisher’s totally. Puerto Rico is an example.
However, there is no need to compare languages. Discrimination within a language is not recognized, but very real. Sociolinguistics is the branch of language study that focuses on how language functions in society. Naturally, language and society are bonded and interact. Or do they?
Our attitude towards people changes as soon as we hear them speak. If we detect some sort of an accent, be it French, Southern, Spanish, Bostonian, British, Arabic, Italian… we immediately form an opinion of the speaker even if he has only uttered a few sounds. We will be inclined to like them or dislike them, even though we know little about their personalities. This I call language discrimination: to judge others and often condemn them because of the way they handle the language. This is evident even on the phone.
Also read: How our vocabulary gives away our age
Language discrimination is always active in society and appears in the labor market especially. We are judged by our grammar, our vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, slang and accent. I am always stressing the importance of language because I know how detrimental a poor command of it can be to our welfare. Social classes are pigeonholed according to the type of accent and grammar they use. It is a fast giveaway.
This is fine. There is no reason for us to hide our origins or social background. We are the way we are, not the way others want us to be. As long as we are honest, caring, helpful, hardworking, law-abiding, trustworthy, well-mannered (a tall order, I know)… who cares!
Unfortunately people care, especially those in power. If we are seeking a job as a receptionist and we say in regards to my résumé, we are sure not to land the job. If you admit that you don’t know nothing about computers, they might offer you a low-paying job. If you say ain’t, just once, you are doomed in the real world. I, for one, look down on all those who, having attended college, say like I was saying, which makes me cringe and wonder what type of college they attended. He don’t, anyways, them people, if I was you, anywheres… will not help you get out of the unemployment line. It is not fair, I know, and it is discriminatory. People are people, regardless (or is it irregardless?) of the way they speak the language. The economic and cultural elite are the ones who make language rules and dictate what is right and what is wrong, and we must accept this fact… ¿no?