I likes to slip out of standard English like I slips out of stiff, starchy business suits, crisp with ambition and high-collared superiority. Likes to kick off proper-sounding enunciation like I kicks off corn-creating, socially acceptable high-heel shoes, that be rubbing my 6 1/2Bs every whichaway.
Likes to get rid of grammatical rules and regulations like I takes off a one-piece lycra prison, that be conforming my body to presentable, unshakable proportions, while squeezing me to death robbing me of all my hip expressions. When I slips into something comfortable, I ease myself into loose fittin' language, words that let me movearound a little.
In my house, the crispness leaves my tone, one word slurs lovingly into the next. I put a hand on my hip to improve my accent and my vocal rhythms match tunes played on black radio stations. Come relaxing time, I believes in double negatives for double emphasis, a helping be to push a verb along, cuss words that don't need to be said but once, cause they done been said right, idioms that request casual pronunciations.
It ain't that I don't know no better; I done made a conscious choice.
I learned to choose my words to fit the occasion, way back, when I was coming up. My mother, God bless her upwardly mobile soul, believed that speaking "incorrect English" would land a colored girl right on her ashy knees, scrub brush and bucket in hand, "Yes, Ma'am" coming out her mouth double time. The nonstandard speech that floated round my black neighborhood never got through my front door.
"Never say, 'I ain't hardly got none,'" my mother would warn. And I'd parrot, "I hardly have any" for as long as that heavy-handed mama stood there.
"Do yo want to live in this neighborhood forever? Don you want to get anywhere in life? You must learn to speak so that everyone will understand you."
I acquiesced to my mother's redundant corrections and began speaking her brand of English. From my preadolescent perspective, seemed like Mr. Bernstein, the pharmacist got my prescription faster when I said, "How are you today?" instead of "How you doin."
When I answered the butcher's perfunctory question about my mother's health with "She's fine. How are you?" instead of "She fine. How you?" he wanted to start a conversation about what I was doing in school.
"She's a smart girl," the sales lady would comment to my mother, after I'd made my grammatically correct request. My black and white teachers called on me as soon as I raised my hand; Mommy and her friends beamed whenever I opened my mouth. The A's I earned in school led to presents, trips to the movies, compliments from grown-ups. Didn't take me long to figure out that in some situations, it was to my benefit to speak properly.
During school hours, in front of Mom and her upward-bound friends, anytime I wore patent leather shoes, I'd follow the rules of English grammer to a tee. I didn't know if I was getting anywhere in life, but I was getting over.
Proper English met my outside world needs, but a few "Whatchoo talkin' bouts" from my neighborhood buddies let me know that kind of language wasn't all that socially acceptable, far as they was concerned. Wasn't that they didn't understand my good grammar; they just didn't want to hear it. Found out right quick that never speaking nothing but good English could get a chile misunderstood.
After I came from school or the store, after I changed from patent leather to canvas, all them good grammer words didn't do nothing but handicap my expression. Couldn't cap on nobody with them proper words and sentences. Cussing didn't sound right. Couldn't tell no good stories, or even describe anybody. My friends could understand me if I told them a boy was wild and crazy, but it wasn't until I added, "Fool ain't never had no sense" that they truly felt what I meant.
I didn't feel like speaking proper all the time. Wasn't trying to get no good grades or fast service from my friends. With them I wanted to follow rules of jacks and giant steps, not no rules of grammar. After-school playtime was short. Twilight be closing in on us and do.
Good grammar took too long. Didn't have no time for a long drawn-out warning, like "I'm going to tell on you." Wasn't nothing to do but wriggle outta all grammatical straitjackets. I'moh tell." I needed language that went with double dutch, jacks, handclapping offa some serious Miss Sally Walker, seeing Mary Wells at the Uptown, skating round the corner to mess with the Sydenham Street kids.
Learned fast that I'd best hold onto my alternative English, and the good unrestricted feelings that went with it. Paid to hold onto a language I could relax with when I wasn't studyin's no proper English.
I double-talked my way through childhood. Things haven't changed a bit since I've grown up. The world is still going around the same way, and there are plenty of people who roll their eyes heavenward when they come across language that doesn't sound educated enough for them. I don't have time to hold a demonstration for double negatives. It's easier to put on patent leather shoes when I go out.
Away from home, I speak with perfect pronunciation, precise enunciation, enough good grammar to fill an English manual. My tone is as crisp as a New England winter wind, my words stand at attention, my hands rest serenely next to me and I exchange FM rhythms for dentist waiting-room music.
My bosses have been extremely impressed. "You express yourself so well," one told me. "You're such a credit to your, uh, the company." "Let's talk about your raise," said another.
No question about it, in some environments it pays to know the King's lingo.
But it don't belong in all my environments. Cause when I gets behind my closed door, start frying up some chicken, putting on the frozen collards, turn up my kinda music, I gotsta have some language that mixes in with the smells, sounds and tastes of my emotional space.
Folks who come see me at my place know I done turned off proper English and they gone hafta accommodate theyselves to it. Woman came by one night, talkin bout, "I feel like eating a fish sandwich." So I drove over to Treachers, only to have the chile screw up her nose. "That's not what I had in mind."
I said, "Whatchoo talkin bout, girl?"
"I want a real fish sandwich, fried in corn meal, slightly greasy, two slices of white bread and lots of hot sauce."
Told her, "Shoulda said fiss samich right off, heifer." Now she greets me at my door with, "How you be's" and exits with, "Getting ready to left y'all."
But it ain't no problem finding conversationalists who be talkin' my language. Whole lotsa people got my same philosophy.
My kinda alternative English been causing some controversy recently. People be trying to understand it, categorize it, spread it around, eliminate it, even suing boards of education because of it. Some sociolinguists done researched the frequent use of double negatives, final th's that sound like f's, initial th's that sound like d's, be's that go'long with verbs, and decided to call it Black English.
They done studied black folkes' verbal intonations, style, rhythm, voice quality and do, and declared they's some African linguistic connections with a New World carry-over. They sayin' that black folks in America have they very own language and it ain't nothin' to be shamed of.
Other sociolinguists refute them, talkin' bout, "Nonstandard English is spoken by many poorly educated whites. Many of the idioms of this type of speech are old English in derivation, not African. Calling nonstandard English 'Black English' only reinforces the widely accepted stereotype that most blacks can't handle standard English."
I don't pay none of them no mind, cause everybody got they own way of playing the grammar game. There's always been folks who ain't never used no standard English and those who don't want any part of anything else.
My way works for me. My "outside world" tongue does a serviceable job of communicating with every kind of English speaker, while my loose-fittin' language be lettin' me spress myself when i come in from the world. Cause I intend to get somewheres, but I ain't gone forget how to get back home.