The most important thing I learned, though, was that there is no such thing as “standard English” with a capital E. Instead there are many “englishes” with a lower case E. There is the english of the Caribbean and the english of the southern United States and the english of Oxbridge and the english rappers use in their music. Traditionally we’re taught that one of these is better than the rest, but in this class I learned that that’s an arbitrary distinction and not necessarily the case.
Why? Well, there are two schools of thought when it comes to how we should use language. One is “prescriptive” and it’s backed by grammar snobs and the kind of people who froth at the mouth over the decline of “the King’s English”. The other is “descriptive” and it’s more about accepting that how people use language is how language works. A prescriptivist believes in the idea of standard English and sees mistakes everywhere. A descriptivist sees many englishes, and none of them are standard.
[…] We’re all fluent in more than one english, for example the language of our peer group and the language of our parents’ generation. And then there are the two factors that have possibly the biggest impact on how we use language: education and socioeconomic status. When you judge people for what you consider to be poor grammar, you’re judging them for not being as good as you at something that might be a challenge because they didn’t have the advantages or experience you did. Maybe they haven’t had the luxury of worrying about their grammar. Maybe their use of language is right in line with their community. Maybe you’re just being a pedantic, prescriptivist jerk.