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[guest post] Let’s Not Call People “Illiterate”

Frequent guest poster CaitieCat is back with a short piece about classism and how we call people out.

One of the things we’ve been talking a lot about recently in feminist circles is the concept of ‘splash damage’ – the idea that sometimes taking aim at one thing in a particular way ends up causing harm to other groups. Things like describing ‘people with uteri’ as exclusively women, white feminism assuming the centrality of the white upper/middle-class experience, using ‘crazy’ as a synonym for ‘person with repugnant ideas’.

In that vein, I’d like to introduce the idea that when we jibe at people as ‘illiterate’, or assert/imply that someone’s inability to spell according to the rules of ‘standard English’ means that their ideas aren’t worth listening to, or that they are inherently less worthy ideas for being expressed in a way that isn’t standard for upper/middle-class people…we are being classist.

Particularly in a US context, where educational options are very strongly influenced by class (and race, in an intertwined manner), riding the xenophobes for misspelling ‘illegals’ as ‘illeagles’, or “Muslim” as “muslin”, what we’re saying is, “You should have been smart enough to get yourself born to the right kind of parents, who’d give you access to the best education, who were educated themselves enough to teach you ‘proper’ English, and who were rich enough to make sure you never had to work after school instead of studying!”

I’m speaking from experience here. Yeah, I talk just like a toff now, but I’m from a seriously poor, working-class background.  Like, ‘familially homeless’ poor.

I’m the first person in my extended family to ever attend university (I finished a baccalaureate in linguistics, and had to drop a master’s in order to transition in the still notoriously transphobic  early 90s). Only the second to finish secondary education. Neither parent got an O level (grade 11-ish, for the North Americans).I worked after school all the way through high school, and took two jobs to get through university.

So I grew up speaking a working-class dialect, and it was very much the product of hard work and dedication, and love of language itself, that allowed me to learn to talk so good.I can code-switch now, speaking in my natural working-class accents (English and Canadian), or my learned ‘standard English’, which is solely Canadian (well, mostly).

I don’t think I need to give you examples, do I? Or much further argument?

Let’s focus our opprobrium on their ideas, and leave the classist shit to the 1%. When we are classist, we’re only helping the oligarchs, by diminishing people who should be our allies. We wonder why they vote against their class interests, and then we act as though we despise their class every time we do this. We should be better than this.

CaitieCat is a 47-year-old trans bi dyke, outrageously feminist, and is a translator/editor for academics by vocation. She also writes poetry, does standup comedy, acts and directs in community theatre, paints, games, plays and referees soccer, uses a cane daily, writes other stuff, was raised proudly atheist, is both English by birth and Canadian by naturalization, a former foxhole atheist, a mother of four, and a grandmother of four more (so far). Sort of a Renaissance woman (and shaped like a Reubens!).

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    So, CaitieCat, I almost never use illiterate, mainly for the reasons you describe, but just today I used “scientifically illiterate”. Do you think that there’s a difference between these concepts like “scientific literacy” (and their negations) that use il/literacy as part of an idiomatic phrase?

    I’d just like to hear your thoughts.

  2. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I don’t know; I follow the arguments here but having been bludgeoned with so much anti-intellectualism (usually intertwined with gender essentialism and/or presumed-homo-phobia), and given the cultural heft of the ignorant-and-proud-of-it, this has kind of a “but what about the menz” feel for me. :/

    • says

      I believe the point is not that you should just accept homophobic or gender essentialist arguments from people who use non-standard English, but rather that you should actually address their homophobia and gender essentialism as the reasons they are wrong, and not suggest that their “poor” grasp of the language is inherent proof that they are wrong. (Which is a thing that happens, and is extremely classist, sort of akin to tone policing (“Your poor grammar is how I know you’re stupid/wrong and not worth listening to” is no better than “You seem angry and therefore everything you’re saying is just emotions and not worth listening to”). I suspect this is not precisely the way in which you use illiteracy; however, I really don’t think there is a way of using it that does anything other than derail the conversation and evade whatever the person was actually saying, by making it all about the *way* in which they were saying it.

  3. says

    Thanks Jackie, and of course Miriam for hosting.

    CD, that’s an excellent question, and I find it hard to argue that it’s much different. Being educated is very much a privilege of class, with those of us from a non-academic background having less time, respurces, and parental support frequently – and that’s all before we walk through the front door. With funding differences for schools in different class areas, this only becomes worse in several ways (old equipment and texts, teachers not able to get a posting to a ‘good school’, and other factors).

    Azky, I don’t understand your point at all, but it’s not looking very positive to me that you compare ‘not making working class people feel like shit’ with WATM. I rather hope I m misunderstanding there.

    Sorry for offerings to tpyos, its late and im on my phone withchubby tired fingers.

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      Azky, I don’t understand your point at all, but it’s not looking very positive to me that you compare ‘not making working class people feel like shit’ with WATM. I rather hope I m misunderstanding there.

      The thing is, in my experience straight-up abuse of language (as per your examples and as opposed to non-“standard” but coherent and internally grammatical variants like AAVE) isn neither peculiar to nor strongly associated with working-class people; in fact, my overwhelmingly primary association for it is (mostly white) children from suburban families who wear badly fitting Tommy Hilfiger jeans – whose parents could buy them Tommy Hilfiger jeans – and claim to be “gangsters,” who assume any word with more than two syllables is either an insult or used solely to show off and anyone seen reading a book or who lets on that they’ve ever in their lives opened one is a “faggot.” And while the way the latter get called out often has some cringibly classist assumptions built into it, I don’t see any meaningful distinction between them and the people ranting about “ILLEAGLES.” And I’ve already had enough “hey, you know those people who are ruining your life for no fucking reason? They’re the REAL victims here. Now can’t you have some COMPASSION?!” from do-nothing school administrators for several lifetimes.

      • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

        And keep in mind, sneering at “pointy-headed intellectuals” and the like is an overwhelmingly standard tactic of the asshole-American contingent.

      • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

        So, because your personal completely unwarranted assumption about people who use non-standard spelling is that they’re actually white and middle class or above, it’s totes coolio?

        Apart from which, nobody is saying “they’re the real victims here” we’re just saying there are many reasons for someone to be a bad speller and, short of being psychic, you don’t know what they are. So don’t be an ass about it. I mean isn’t the whole point of this social justice business to be better people than the bigots?

        • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

          No, what I said was that A) the central assumption of this post – that abuse of English necessarily or typically stems from a privilege-related lack of access to education – is contrary to my experience, and B) those experiences, being fairly traumatic and extended over years, have shaped my perspective such that I am fairly unsympathetic to the argument that people displaying traits my experience leads me to associate with willful ignorance and aggressive disregard for the well-being of others should be coddled, in a way that more recent experiences show would be considered entirely reasonable if literally any fucking one else were stating it.

          Remove head from sphincter, then read.

          • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

            Again, nobody is saying coddle them. Just address the substance of their argument and not their bad spelling since there are many and varied possible reasons for it, a number of which have been described in this very thread. Exactly like you presumably expect me to address the substance of your argument and not fixate on the insult at the end.

  4. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Azky, I don’t understand your point at all, but it’s not looking very positive to me that you compare ‘not making working class people feel like shit’ with WATM. I rather hope I m misunderstanding there.

    I, it turns out, am not Azky. However, what I took away from Azky’s post – using contextual knowledge from my participation in this community – is that:

    1) organized atheist communities require a certain amount of education. Each of us had an instinctual belief at age 6 about whether your particular community’s favorite god was or wasn’t as believable as a 17 year old kid that gets bitten by a radioactive spider and, instead of getting a bump for a couple days that, because of repeated scratching, lingers as a sore for 2 more weeks, or even instead of getting sick and fucking dying, gains the ability to lift 40 tons, anchor to vertical surfaces at a touch, and dodge between the bullets of a burst of machine gun fire.

    2) Regardless of that instinctual dis/belief, to be **out** atheists in our current society requires an ability to explain disbelief. [This is a social requirement, not an existential requirement, nor something logically entailed in coming out as an atheist.] There are many, many individual atheists who are not public about this because of the social costs combined with lack of access to the education useful in overcoming those social costs.

    So
    3) we have education-heavy public community. And, indeed, we find that however much our numerical strength is depleted by the silencing of our fellow atheists, our average education is a strength. Whether formal or atypical or autodidactic,

    4) our educations help us defend our communities, better our communities, and even grow our communities.

    So to have someone come onto our turf, the home we created for ourselves, attack us badly and then reply to the counterattack, “That’s not fair! It values education and stuff!” feels like a powerful group taking on the mantle of victimhood in order to blunt the power of an oppressed groups efforts at liberation.

    It takes place on the interpersonal level, but so do “What about the menz?” defenses.

    Anyway, I get the feeling that Azky is communicating (if the feeling that Azky is communicating is the one I get), but I’m marginally persuaded that I shouldn’t use that as a dismissive insult, even combined with a substantive critique. It may in fact be used in the defense of oppression, but I care less about the intent than the effect. I don’t ultimately feel my efforts for the liberation of all people will be blunted much, if at all, by refraining from using “illiterate”. So the effect on positive growth on the world will be minimal, regardless of any intent to stop that growth on the part of others.

    So I’ll shy away from it even a bit more, (I already almost never use it) but it’s possible that I’m less committed to that as a practice than you are.

  5. says

    I would quibble with your number one. You’re assuming that everyone comes to atheism from theism, but thsi is simply not the case, and increasingly so. I was raised atheist. I never had to choose whether or not any god was real, because no one ever poisoned my mind with that foolishness.

    So education had nothing to do with it, for me; belief in a god isn’t a natural state, it’s induced, and in those of us in whom it was not induced, no education was necessary. It is a sufficient condition, but not a necessary one.

    I’m not saying don’t make the effort to help people learn to use a more standard English in public interaction, in the same way we help people to use HTML better: offering help. I’m saying that calling people ‘illiterate’ and its synonyms, or ‘stupid’, because they don’t spell the notoriously difficult English orthography well is quite simply a classist act, in many cases.

    As to the idea that undereducated working-class people are somehow “the powerful” coming in and saying that education isn’t valuable…that’s just a weird, weird reality, and one that has no real connection to the one I’ve experienced living in, so I have no idea how to respond to it. Where is this magical land where being poor and uneducated makes one powerful? Can I get citizenship there?

  6. says

    I’m not saying everyone has to have, like, super-perfect spelling and grammar, and can’t have fun with words. The occasional mistake is fine — I screw up little things like whether a spelling is “ei” or “ie”, can’t figure out the difference between “its” and “it’s”, and still sit here staring at common words, wondering if I spelled it right, because it doesn’t look right, but spell-check says it is, and, and, and *obsessive-compulsive flailing*

    But here’s the thing. There is NOTHING preventing people from learning and improving their spelling and grammar on their own time. The easiest way to do this is to read. Read books, magazines, anything and everything you can. The local library should have all kinds of literacy resources available, as well. The best part about the library is, it’s FREE!

    The only reason so many people are “undereducated” is because they didn’t put in the effort to learn. We shouldn’t be defending and excusing this deliberate ignorance, we should be fighting it, and educating the “undereducated”.

  7. says

    So your response, WMDKitty, is ‘fuck you poors, just grab your bootstraps and pull!’

    Thanks for your input, Senator Ryan. We’ll fit it in around our two or three jobs, and try not to offend youse by talkin’ too rough for you to get it easily.

    /epic fucking eyeroll

  8. MadHatter says

    Agreeing with WMDKitty here. I came from one of those backgrounds you talk about and am the only one in my extended family to have completed college. The rest of my family is smart and all of us did most of our learning through the library. That said, I don’t mock people for being unable to read or failing to have the same knowledge. But when people choose to be uninformed I am not likely to be sympathetic. Selecting to be ignorant has been, in my experience, independent of educational attainment. Most people I end up arguing with over have a college education.

    At some level this argument feels to me rather patronizing.

  9. says

    Food for thought, then, you defenders of this practice: in what material way are you different from a tone troll?

    You’re proposing that ridiculing someone for the way they say something, rather than for what they’re saying,. is a neutral behaviour, and that asking you to stop ridiculing that because it’s hurting your allies who didn’t have your privileges (and don’t give me the “but I did it therefore anyone can!” argument; it’s bullshit when it’s used about Obama’s Presidency and HRC’s Secretary of State position eaning racism and sexism are over, and it’s bullshit here, too).

    Are you really wanting us to be in the position that we’re posting barriers to entry into atheism? “You must talk this goodly or moreso to join our movement in any other than a silent supportive way”? “Hey, you Black atheist who grew up without access to spoken standard English much, your ideas aren’t worth anything because you can’t express them in ‘my’ language?: :You immigrant ESL speaker, you should shut up until you speak it perfectly?:

    I’m kinda stunned that people are really pushing back on this, and people I expected better of too. Perhaps I am more of an unreasonable optimist than I thought.

    • MadHatter says

      I would say again that I don’t mock people for how they speak, or spell. I have a lot less respect for educational credentials (due to my own and my family history) than I see from a lot of other people in the world of active atheism (I’m not sure how to refer to this). I don’t mock people for their ignorance either, but choosing to be ignorant is a lot different from lacking access.

      I think I don’t disagree with this in substance, but I sometimes feel like the “classism” label is used patronizingly just as much. An attitude of “oh isn’t it nice that you have had that thought when you come from *there*”.

      Anti-intellectualism is the far bigger, more pervasive problem and I don’t see that being limited to any class.

  10. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    @ WMDKitty

    There is NOTHING preventing people from learning and improving their spelling and grammar on their own time.

    Nonsense. If you’re poor and unskilled and working multiple jobs just to make ends meet and have kids? “On your own time” is not even a thing. There are only so many hours in a day. And that doesn’t even consider whether someone in that position has access to a public library.

    I’ve been very against nit-picking at spelling and grammar for a long time now for a lot of reasons. For one thing, there are a million and one reasons why someone might not have a perfect grasp of English spelling and grammar and the vast majority of them have nothing to do with lack of intelligence or willingness to learn.

    Dyslexics tend to be awful spellers and, as a nation, we tend to be awful at diagnosing dyslexia and helping those who suffer from it learn. Their inability to spell correctly is not their fault and is not something they could fix by going to the library and burying themselves in books on spelling and grammar.

    Not everyone is a native English speaker and many languages are so different conceptually from English that grasping proper spelling and grammar is fantastically difficult.

    CaitieCat obviously discussed the classist/racist reasons why many people miss out on the education that others of us got. In my case, I took Latin in college and, if anything will force you to learn correct English grammar, Latin will. But I had to first have access to an education and a general situation that would allow me to even get accepted to college, let alone pay for it.

    Finally, if someone’s ideas are truly objectionable? Then there should be plenty to criticize them for without resorting to nagging at trivial things. If you’re nitpicking at grammar and spelling, you’re being petty for the sake of it, pure and simple and, in the process, you’re perpetuating a whole truckload of harmful stereotypes about multiple different marginalized groups. As CaitieCat says in #10, you’re not meaningfully different from a tone troll.

    • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

      Replying to myself because I forgot something…

      Nonsense. If you’re poor and unskilled and working multiple jobs just to make ends meet and have kids? “On your own time” is not even a thing. There are only so many hours in a day. And that doesn’t even consider whether someone in that position has access to a public library.

      It also buys into the notion that poor people don’t deserve to have any time for recreation. If you didn’t get the best education and now have to work multiple crap jobs to barely keep a roof over your head and food on the table (most of the time) and the lights on (most of the time), don’t you dare even think about using what little free time you have for doing something you enjoy. Nope! When you’re not at work or asleep, you’d damn well better be in the library making sure your grammar and spelling meet my standards just in case I ever have the misfortune of having to talk to you.

      It’s a shit attitude that needs to crawl in a hole and die.

  11. says

    *gentle pouncehug for Caitie*

    As a teacher I’m very opposed to shaming people for not having reached a certain stage of education. If my goal is that they become better, then it’s not only ineffective but damaging.
    Now, on the internet that’s generally not my problem, I’m not those people’s teacher. But I don’t want people who might have something valuable to say to be discouraged from saying it just because I can’t think of a better way to insult some troll than calling them illiterate for messing up some spelling.

    Still, I think there are 2 cases when it’s justified to point such things out:

    1. The person styles themself as the super-intellectual superior. If someone claims that I should listen to what they say and believe what they say because they are so damn intellectual but can’t get the difference between then and than, their and there right (and no spellcheck will help you there), I feel free to point that out.

    2. To a certain point, bad spelling doesn’t make a text hard to understand. Actual misunderstandings are rarely caused by bad spelling. But not using paragraphs, capital letters at the start of a sentence and punctuation make a text fucking hard to read. If somebody can’t be bothered to pay me that courtesy, I can’t be bothered to read it. It shows a certain disrespect for the person you want to interact with.
    This also applies in the other direction: If you intentionally make your text way more complicated than it has to be just to show you can, you’re an arrogant ass.

  12. Eristae says

    I would encourage everyone who disagrees with CaitieCat’s position to look up “dysgraphia.” This is kind of a touchy subject to me, so I’m not sure I’ll check back to this thread (I’m stressed out about other things, don’t have a lot of energy for such extra things), but I nevertheless feel I should say something here, given my own personal experience.

    I failed almost every single spelling test I ever took. It didn’t matter that I was a solid A-B student in all other subjects. It didn’t matter if I studied for hours on end. Nothing I did ever seemed to make any difference in my spelling ability at all. Whenever I was given a spelling test in school, I failed it. Period. One of the highlights of my school career was when they started giving spelling tests in random classes (instead of just English class) because it mean I could space my Fs out more. One F in math class, one F in English, one F in social studies, and one F in history? No big deal; I could overcome that. Four Fs in English? That was harder. It was so bad for so long that my teachers eventually started giving me multiple choice spelling tests that were usually reserved for students with learning disabilities so severe that they didn’t attend mainstream classes.

    Bizarrely, it wasn’t as if I had an aversion to the written language: I absolutely loved to read. I read more than I should. I read in inappropriate circumstances. I devoured books. I spent unseemly amounts of money on books. My spoken vocabulary was extensive as a result (I eventually scored in the 97% on vocabulary on the GRE). But I still couldn’t spell to save my life.

    My spelling is better than it used to be. As with all of my family, getting older has vastly improved my spelling ability. But writing something out by hand (and thus without an automatic spellchecker) is still something I dread. My spelling is still terrible, and it embarrasses me horribly. The thought of having to write something out in front of people makes me feel dizzy because I never know when I’m going to misspell an “easy” to spell word.

    So while I, too, roll my eyes at poorly spelled hate, I always experience an element of shame at my own eye rolling because I know damned well that those people could very well be me if/when I was separated from the crutch that I use to overcome my disability (the computerized spellchecker).

    I’ll try to poke my head into this thread later in case anyone would like to say anything to me, but if I don’t, I apologize in advance.

  13. chrisj says

    I’m inclined to see illiteracy as being somewhat like ignorance – there’s nothing wrong with it in itself, but when someone becomes proud of it, that’s indicative of a deeper problem. (Everyone is ignorant about most things; that’s the human default state, because you simply can’t know everything.)

    Partly I wonder if this comes down to the difference between Descriptivist and Prescriptivist linguistic thinking? As a descriptivist myself, I’m inclined to think that if I can understand what someone meant, then their language is good enough. Conveying meaning to another person, after all, is the whole point of language; and their non-standard usage is like my non-standard walk – it may look a bit funny to someone who isn’t used to it, but it’s just an accident of circumstances and not something that makes me inferior. Whereas a prescriptivist – the sort of person who says “no split infinitives in English because reasons!”, or “singular they is an unacceptable neologism even though it’s been widely used since before Shakespear” – makes judgements that someone who doesn’t use language the way the prescriptivist thinks they should is wrong. Form, to them, outweighs content, and they’re so angry that you mismatched your verb and subject that they don’t notice what you said was perfectly clear.

    (If I think what you said was ambiguous, I’ll ask for clarification, sure, and if I misunderstood a non-standard usage I’ll point out that other people might misunderstand it the same way in the future. But standard usages can also be ambiguous or outright misleading, and I’ll try to suggest better alternatives there, too. That’s my training as a professional pedant coming to the fore, rather than anything judgemental.)

  14. says

    You know, I resent people taking “put a little effort into coherency” to mean “you must measure up to these perfect super-strict standards”.

    I’m not asking for perfect English.

    I’m asking for COHERENCY.

    I cannot address the substance of a comment if I can’t understand the comment in the first place, which is why coherency, spelling, BASIC grammar, and BASIC fluency in (in this case) English are so damn important.

    Once again, NOBODY HERE HAS SAID THAT EVERYONE MUST SPEAK PERFECT UPPER-CLASS ENGLISH, AND TO EVEN INSINUATE THAT ANYONE HAS DONE SO IS HIGHLY DISHONEST.

    Incidentally, higher skill levels in reading and writing lead to better communication skills, which leads to better job opportunities, and that leads to a way out of poverty. So instead of blaming society, how about encouraging people to improve their skills?

    Frankly, if I’m “classist” for demanding minimum coherency standards, so fucking what. I refuse to coddle the deliberately ignorant, when that ignorance is so easily remedied.

    • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

      Frankly, if I’m “classist” for demanding minimum coherency standards, so fucking what. I refuse to coddle the deliberately ignorant, when that ignorance is so easily remedied.

      Well it’s a good fucking thing that nobody has asked you to coddle the deliberately ignorant. What we’re asking of you is to not assume that everyone who struggles with spelling and grammar is deliberately ignorant. Like it or not, getting a decent education in a lot of the world, including a lot of the western world, is a fucking luxury. Having the time and the means to fix that once you’re an adult trying to provide for yourself is a luxury. Failing to understand that is what makes that attitude classist and, by extension, racist because it has the practical effect of preferencing the opinions of white, middle class people over those who have much less access to decent education.

  15. wwwwww says

    You are very right that it’s stupidly cruel to use illiterate as an insult instead of a description, and it’s offensively ignorant to say that people without that kind of formal education are ignorant because of their laziness and idiocy.

    “why don’t you stop buying beer and get some books! People in your class don’t deserve recreation!” haha such pragmatic, economical advice.

  16. says

    WMD Kitty
    Remember the first rule of holes?

    I’m not asking for perfect English.

    I’m asking for COHERENCY.

    Spelling =/= coherency.
    If I continully makes speling mistake yu can stil perfektlie good underaend me.

    I cannot address the substance of a comment if I can’t understand the comment in the first place, which is why coherency, spelling, BASIC grammar, and BASIC fluency in (in this case) English are so damn important.

    1. Coherency: See above. Coherency has something to do with content, not form.
    2. Spelling: See above
    3. Grammar: You should read up on the Lexical Approach by Lewis. Grammar is much less important for understanding than people would think.
    4. Native speaker arrogance: Seriously, you’re using the world’s dominant language. You have had the good fortune to be a native speaker. Guess what, most people on this planet who speak English don’t. FYI, English is my third language, one of four I have a certain proficiency in. Because it’s my godsdamn job. Other people have different jobs so English is an additional skill they have to learn. This is true for immigrants, this is true for about 2 billion people on this planet who belong to the Outer Circle.

    Incidentally, higher skill levels in reading and writing lead to better communication skills, which leads to better job opportunities, and that leads to a way out of poverty. So instead of blaming society, how about encouraging people to improve their skills?

    Fucking bootstraps, how do they work?
    Yeah, I mean there are communities in the USA where children have NO books at all, schools that only have 25% of the textbooks they need, that have no public libraries but surely those people only have themselves to blame if they can’t move up in life, because if they really wanted, they could have gotten a master’s degree in their nonexistent spare time by now.
    Yes, you’re being horribly classist.

    Frankly, if I’m “classist” for demanding minimum coherency standards, so fucking what. I refuse to coddle the deliberately ignorant, when that ignorance is so easily remedied.

    Yeah, totally easy.
    For you.
    Why isn’t the rest of the world as great as you?

    • Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

      I’m pretty sure the overlap between non-native English speakers and people complaining about “Illeagles” is negligible.

      • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

        When did this specifically become about xenophobia? That was just an example.

      • says

        Guess what, I didn’t talk about illegal immigrants.
        This is a thing known as “the internet”, a place where you can have conversations with people from 5 different continents at the same time. We’re also talking about a globalized system where English is the lingua franka in academia and where people regularly experience that their work is being dismissed because their English isn’t perfect.

  17. stever says

    I think spellcheckers are making a lot of people look stupid. A spellchecker doesn’t know that “there”, “their” and “they’re” are not synonyms, or that “it’s” means “it is”, so that “its” is one of the few possessives that doesn’t take an apostrophe. My keyboard’s “o” key is slightly flakey, so I sometimes catch myself typing “to” for “too”, and the spellchecker silently accepts it. But the belief that every plural noun needs an apostrophe, and constructions like “She must of …” or writing “posed” for “supposed” are just ignorant.

    Eristae: thanks for bringing up dysgraphia. In my case, it wasn’t spelling that was the problem, but the physical act of grinding my words into the paper with a pointed stick. A test with essay questions was a guaranteed F. I could write legibly and flunk the test because I left most of it unanswered, or I could scribble and flunk because even I couldn’t read the result. This was before the Age of Scantron, so the multiple-choice tests that I sailed through were uncommon. In those days, there were only two generally recognized learning disabilities: laziness and stupidity. My IQ results showed that I wasn’t stupid, so my disability was “treated” with punishment. After several sessions of summer school (in New Orleans, when the only air condtioned space in a public school was the office), I escaped from high school. College was right out of the question. Machines like the one that I’m writing this on were still decades away, not even on the futurists’ radar yet.

  18. says

    Thank you for your post.

    I fit into that category of the under-educated.

    My father was enlisted in the US Navy and was killed in Vietnam when I was seven. My mother left me to the care of my grandparents.

    Upon completion of high school, I enlisted in the US Navy myself, and served for seventeen years, disablement ending my career. That disablement also ended my marriage and I was left homeless for eleven more years. Now I edit Romance novels on the side of my VA disability to add pocket money.

    College was never an option – there was no money for it when I graduated from high school, and the VA declared me unemployable when I was disabled and seized my college benefits.

    On the matter of the availability of public libraries, I used them to keep warm when I was homeless, which seemed more important – though I could read in them.

    The level of education a person has does not determine the worth of his or her ideas, and all persons make mistakes in vocabulary, grammar, and spelling (that is why editors have jobs).

    Not everyone is a confident public speaker or superlative writer either. Not everyone uses English as their first language.

    What should matter is the weight of the argument advanced with evidence to support it, not whether or not it is presented in Standard English.

    Calling a person on grammar or spelling should be reserved for those times where the intent of the writer is unclear, not to score a point on educational level. Even then, the question can be phrased as “I don’t understand your point, could you rephrase it” not “you dimwit, your spelling is so poor you must have graduated from Outhouse U.”

    Bashing grammar, spelling, and vocabulary is, in a sense, a “guilt by association” informal logical fallacy. The idea is that many people who do not have a high level of education are uninformed and thus unable to advance a logical argument, thus assuming that “all” people with such a lack are so.

    And misspelling might be nothing more than “fat fingering” a cellular keypad or computer keyboard.

  19. Vicki says

    It’s simply not true that “nothing is preventing” intelligent adults from mastering standard spelling. There are both disability issues and the class-related ones of who has the time to read for pleasure and with attention to spelling or standard grammar.

    I’m a very good speller. It’s a shape of pattern-recognition thing. As a writer, I doubt I could come close to the profoundly dyslexic Samuel Delany, Jr. In a memoir, he describes being yelled at to look up a word he had misspelled: that “just go check the dictionary” is not helpful to a student with dyslexia extreme enough that he doesn’t know which letter the word starts with. Not because it could be either c or s, but because he can’t sort out which of the letters that ought to be in the first paragraph comes first.

    Yes, I sometimes get annoyed at bad spelling. That’s my problem. Sometimes it means I go on and look at something else; more often I read the thing anyhow; for a few friends, I will offer help if they want it. (One of my partners, who is as smart as I am but thinks a bit differently, will ask me to spell things for him now and then.) Standardized spelling is useful, because it means reading doesn’t require me to know whether the other person is spelling phonetically with a Missouri, Brooklyn, or London accent. And that saves me-the-reader time and work. But it’s a tool, not a moral requirement.

    And if the ideas in a book are horrible, no spelling, grammar, or fancy printing will change that.

  20. says

    It’s funny, just the other day I mentioned to some friends how classist grammar-policing is. Thanks for the post Catie Cat.

    For a long time, I was this jerk– my rationale being “if I have dyselxia and have figured out [X rule], then you have no excuse to screw it up”. Yeah, not only is that terrible reasoning, but all it served to do was to make myself feel better while hurting a lot of other people. Not cool.

    Anyway, for those arguing that adults can/should/have some responsibility to improve their spelling or grammar: *big middle finger*. I’m sure there’s courses I could take to help with my learning disorder (I am lucky to live in a place that has a lot of colleges that offer “continuing education”), but unless you’re paying for it (and offering free babysitting!) I can’t take advantage of them.

    Because of that class thing. Because both Mr and I are unemployed and we have a toddler.

  21. says

    Tjanks for the comments, folks, much appreciated. Please note I’m not saying ‘don’t offer help'; I’m saying don’t offer ridicule, because you don’t know the reasons for the other person’s nonstandard English.

    As to cmprhnsn, i thnk an rgmnt cld b md tht are ablty to raed Egnlsih is rmrkbly rbst, and that pretending you can’t read all but the most mangled speech or text is, as noted above, more about making yourself feel superior than any reflection of actual difficulty on your part.

    Also , Giliell, gentle hugs back, thx. :)

    • Forbidden Snowflake says

      As to cmprhnsn, i thnk an rgmnt cld b md tht are ablty to raed Egnlsih is rmrkbly rbst, and that pretending you can’t read all but the most mangled speech or text is, as noted above, more about making yourself feel superior than any reflection of actual difficulty on your part.

      I suppose that’s true, assuming that the “you” in question is educated enough to be very good at reading and doesn’t have dyslexia or a similar disorder. An assumption we were asked to avoid making, as I recall.
      Comprehension isn’t an either/or thing. It’s possible for an idea to require more effort to parse, or to be comprehensible to a varying degree, depending on the way it is articulated. People with specific reading difficulties can find some deviations from standard English to be more of an impediment to understanding than others. If mocking an online stranger’s spelling and grammar is classist and/or ableist, then so is writing less comprehensibly than you can.

  22. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    in what material way are you different from a tone troll?

    This was the very first reason I stopped using “illiterate”.

    I make conscious choices to mock the substance of something rather than the form. If the substance isn’t worthy of mocking, the comment isn’t worthy of mocking.

  23. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @caitie cat:

    It’s not really the “most mangled” that gets me. It’s 3 things:

    1) confusion (or misspelling) of homonyms and pseudohomonyms in the midst of slightly mangled stuff that makes it impossible to divine with 80% certainty the intent of the author, where this occurs in a text such that either the main thrust of the whole text or the thrust of an important section are ambiguous. Particularly troubling for me is “tone” in the sense of style cues meant to intend humor vs. factual assertion vs painting a picture of one’s current best guess vs snark, etc. Not because I care about how a point is made, but because the same words as snark mean something different than the same words as factual assertion. And I want to understand.

    Not assuming is very important for a number of reasons of justice. It also gibes with my “nature” (for lack of a better word). So it drives me a bit crazy when I’m so between-options that assuming is the only option available besides dismissing the comment in its entirety for being unable to determine among 2 or more options the central thrust of (a significant part) the text.

    2) important grammar rules like word order are not followed, which doesn’t lead to simply trying to parse a typo, it leads to a confident understanding that is simply wrong. I hate that.

    3) Autocorrect. It’s one thing to parse, as you suggest, a typo or a mangled word. But unless it’s really mangled, it typically doesn’t become a typo – it typically becomes another word entirely. In certain cases, this leads to real problems, though in other cases it does not.

    There was a thread awhile back where – it must have been an Eliot/Elliot? Rodger thread – someone was talking about what a problem it was that the rich guys control all women, and was insisting that control of the women be distributed more evenly among the men (:barf:). I was trying to point out that no man is entitled to some share of fuckable women, that women are actual autonomous human beings. And fuckable came out of autocorrect as faceable. I think most people still understood what I meant, and that faceable was a bizarre autocorrect thing. But you can’t deny it changes the meaning, and a whole host of readers, including many whose first language isn’t English, were probably very confused, even if some/most of them figured it out later.

    That kind of thing drives me nuts. It still drives me nuts that that one comment is sitting there, unchanged, and made much less understandable by autocorrect than it would have been by whatever simple typos I would have introduced without autocorrect.

    Argh.

    But still, it’s less a problem for me, because I’m a good touch typist and I almost always know that I’ve made a typo when I make one, so I can glance up to see if autocorrect has it right. Others are not in the same position.


    my frustration is, of course, my problem. I’m already on board with not using illiterate to demean (though I think discussing illiteracy in a factual sense is not only okay, but *avoiding it* would be an injustice). Nonetheless, I really appreciate the skill of most writers on FtB in avoiding these issues and the value placed on being able to express a point. Me, personally, the typos don’t get in the way of hearing a point. But these other three things do. They’re real problems in communication, whatever my level of frustration.

  24. says

    BTW, my favourite version of the “spelling hammer” is Americans who, after realizing that I’m not a native speaker, start to correct my British spelling, being in all their imagined superiority completely unaware that “colour” and “travelling” are among the most elite varieties of the English language.

    • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

      My favorite is when Americans correct British English speakers for “spelt.” “LOLOLOL YOU SPELLED “SPELLED” WRONG!!ELEVENTY!1″

    • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

      If at some point you feel like being specific about what people misinterpreted and clarifying, as opposed to making vague accusations of deliberate misreading, do let us know.

      • says

        Let me try an analogy, here.

        I don’t expect to sleep through a class and get an A — I expect to have to work for it. This means making the time to study, even if it means pulling all-nighters and skipping weekend parties. If I don’t study, I can expect consequences in the form of a lower (or even failing) grade.

        Likewise, an illiterate person, regardless of their circumstances, is going to have to work to improve their skills. Yes, this means making the time to study. It may also take some creativity, like reading while dinner is in the oven. The consequences of illiteracy are poor job prospects and poverty. This is 100% preventable with education, and if we don’t push education, or brush it off as “BOOTSTRAPS!”, we are part of the problem.

        I maintain that spelling and grammar are important to clear communication.

        • ceesays says

          if you don’t mind taking a suggestion, since I get the sense you’re really frustrated by this impasse

          If you really want to be understood, could you try actively understanding? May I suggest asking the question, “Which barriers to getting this education i’m so convinced is there for the taking am I overlooking?”

          You’re coming across as one of those people who believes that their experience is universal, and who won’t listen to anyone whose experience is different. more than one person has tried to tell you that getting an education isn’t that universal, or that simple. If you became curious about why they would say such things, rather than furiously attempt to re-explain your position, you might see more positive results.

          But it’s only a suggestion.

        • Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

          Yes, this means making the time to study. It may also take some creativity, like reading while dinner is in the oven.

          Reading what? Purchased with what spare money? Checked out of which non-existent public library accessible from this hypothetical person’s home? With what spare time between commuting from job to job and back home? By what means is this person going to squeeze several extra hours into a day to get to a library across town? Are you going to pay their utility bills so their lights don’t get shut off because they spent that money buying books instead this month? What if there are other, more pressing things to do while dinner is in the oven like taking care of your kids? Is this person allowed any time to sleep or just relax or do something fun?

          This is 100% preventable with education, and if we don’t push education, or brush it off as “BOOTSTRAPS!”

          Why is it the individual’s responsibility to compensate for the shit education they received on their own time? Why does someone with the “foresight” to be born in a wealthy suburb not have that obligation? That attitude is what’s being dismissed as “bootstraps”, not the idea that education is at least part of the solution to poverty. You don’t seem to get that, for many people, there is literally NO TIME and NO ACCESS.

          And you’re still completely ignoring disabilities like dyslexia which are completely impervious to someone just deciding to learn better.

          • says

            There is no such thing as “no time” or “no access” — it’s called PRIORITIZING. Just like I had to do in college. I had to decide, “study, or party?” And my choices had consequences. There were classes I chose to sleep through. I failed them because I made a bad choice, and have no-one to blame for those F’s but myself. Passing grades didn’t just drop in my lap, either — I had to work for them.

            I’m not blaming people for having lousy educations. It’s that our education system is broken in some very fundamental ways. (The broken system is a whole other rant, and a massive derail. I won’t get into it here without permission.) Now, I can’t fix the system, but many of the failures and inadequacies can, in fact, be remedied with self-study if, and only if, one puts in the effort.

            I’m pointing out that improving one’s education — whether as a child or an adult, formally or informally — takes effort. This applies to a lot of things in life, actually, but the point is, you get what you put in, and if you don’t put in the effort, you don’t get the rewards. There is no magick faerie to stop by and *poof* you into being smarter, faster, stronger, more athletic, skinnier, better able to read, etc., you have to work for those things. This is so basic that even a small child can figure it out.

            Which brings me to a couple of questions. Why are you so opposed to people putting in any effort to improve themselves? What is your problem with pointing out local FREE resources? Would you, oh… let’s say you come across someone who’s homeless and hungry, okay? Totally hypothetical. Would you help them out by directing them to free local resources (including meals), or is that “classist”, too? Because I’d rather err on the side of helping people out and risk being a well-intentioned asshole.

            Oh, and a side thought: If it’s so classist to insist on proper (or near-proper) spelling and grammar, well… there goes our entire educational system, from Pre-K right on up to the professors at the best universities, because every time I’ve had to turn in work product involving words — essays, short stories, long-form tests — it’s been graded on spelling and grammar in addition to whatever other skills were being graded.

            Another side note: I’m ignoring disabilities because, HELLO, obviously legit reasons for having issues if you have a diagnosis, so it doesn’t need to be addressed. Conditions like dyslexia can be worked around with speech-to-text. Poor motor control can be, not “fixed”, but helped with physical therapy. Disabled students and adults are 100% ENTITLED, under Federal law (ADA), to reasonable accommodations allowing them to participate in class or function in the workplace.

            Final Note: Fuck you, spell-check. “Well-intentioned” is so. totally. a word. Okay, compound word, but still…

  25. scenario says

    Calling someone illiterate because of poor spelling and poor grammar does have an element of classism to it. However, there is a point where people really are functionally illiterate. In many cases, it is because they are not familiar with English. I do not know Chinese. If I attempted to write in Chinese using Google translate, I could quite possibly write something that was incomprehensible to a native speaker of Chinese. I am not insulted to be called illiterate in Chinese. However, calling someone illiterate is seldom necessary or useful.

    I used to answer e-mails for a living. About once a month, I would get an e-mail where every third word was not a recognizable word. They would go on for two or three single spaced pages without any punctuation. The words seemed to be randomly placed. I got the impression that the person was really angry about something but I could not figure out what they were saying. We passed e-mails like this around to see if someone could figure out what the person was asking so we could help them. Most of the time we ended up e-mailing back and saying as politely as possible, “We don’t understand what you want.”

    When someones writing is so bad that a group of people who make their living answering questions have absolutely no clue what the person is saying, this person is illiterate in English.

    I translated the previous paragraph using bad translator and I got this:

    This is the worse of all i/o writes a fresh guy to do when you have people answer questions about people I do not know how to speak to people. A man illiterate in English.

    Sentences like the one listed above were quite common. What should you do when you get something like the paragraph above? Calling the person illiterate would be condescending and a waste of time but is using the word with fellow co-workers inappropriate?

    • Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

      I think using the word to demean or dismiss was being criticized, not the use of the word to accurately describe problems in a respectful attempt to overcome them.

      • scenario says

        I agree wholeheartedly against using it to demean or dismiss. I’ve just seen how over time sometimes words that are considered bad in some usages, change to a word you should never use under any instance use.

        Misusing a word to insult someone you disagree with just because they do not have as good a command of the
        English language as others do is wrong. If you disagree, attack the argument, not the person.

  26. Seven of Mine, formerly piegasm says

    WMDKItty

    This applies to a lot of things in life, actually, but the point is, you get what you put in, and if you don’t put in the effort, you don’t get the rewards.

    Your continued insinuation that the effort put in by an under-educated poor person working multiple low wage jobs just to barely make ends meet is less than the effort put in by someone who had a proper education handed to them on a silver platter by virtue of where they were born is frankly insulting.

    Which brings me to a couple of questions. Why are you so opposed to people putting in any effort to improve themselves?

    Said nobody anywhere in this thread. What do you not understand about there being only 24 hours in a day? If someone is working, for example, two full time jobs….there’s 16 hours gone right there not including time spent waiting for buses. Not including time spent dealing with kids. If you happen to have a day or two a week where you only have to work one of your jobs, what makes you think any of that time can be spared on a trip to the library, which may be across town and need several hours just to get there and back depending on when and where the buses run? And then they have to find time and energy to actually, not just read the books, but also read them critically enough to pay attention to spelling and grammar. While the kids are running around needing your attention and other household chores are needing to be dealt with and groceries bought, etc. Oh and sleep, but who needs that right? If poor people wanted to sleep they should have thought of that before they became poor, amirite?

    What is your problem with pointing out local FREE resources?

    What do you not understand about not every square mile of this country having easy access to a public library? If the nearest library is across town and you have to take the bus, that’s several hours of your day gone just getting there and back home again, not counting time to actually read the books you checked out.

    Would you, oh… let’s say you come across someone who’s homeless and hungry, okay? Totally hypothetical. Would you help them out by directing them to free local resources (including meals), or is that “classist”, too? Because I’d rather err on the side of helping people out and risk being a well-intentioned asshole.

    If they were actually local and accessible, of course. Here’s a hypothetical for you. What if said homeless person you pointed in the direction of a local shelter is a trans woman who would be forced to bunk with the men and risk harassment and rape? Would you tell them they’re just not trying hard enough if they were maybe not so eager to take advantage of that particular free resource?

    Oh, and a side thought: If it’s so classist to insist on proper (or near-proper) spelling and grammar, well… there goes our entire educational system, from Pre-K right on up to the professors at the best universities, because every time I’ve had to turn in work product involving words — essays, short stories, long-form tests — it’s been graded on spelling and grammar in addition to whatever other skills were being graded.

    Nobody said education itself is classist, you dishonest shit. Your insistence that it’s trivially easy to make up for the education you didn’t get because your country doesn’t give a shit about anyone who isn’t white and middle class is what people are saying is classist.

  27. says

    WMD Kitty
    You really like your shovel, don’t you? And then you complain that peole misread you…

    Likewise, an illiterate person, regardless of their circumstances, is going to have to work to improve their skills. Yes, this means making the time to study. It may also take some creativity, like reading while dinner is in the oven.

    What makes you think people have dinner in the oven? I’m not poor, I’m very educated, but I usually don’t have any godsdamn dinner in tthe oven and then I just sit down and watch daytime TV. If you leave home at 7:30, and you come home at 6:30, you don’t “put dinner in the oven”. If you have the possibility to cook, you cook something where you are busy preparing the things while they cook. And even if there’s something like pizza in the oven, there are other things to do, like doing the laundry, helping the kid with homework… I guess the next argument will be that people should have thought about this before having kids…

    The consequences of illiteracy are poor job prospects and poverty. This is 100% preventable with education, and if we don’t push education, or brush it off as “BOOTSTRAPS!”, we are part of the problem.

    This is 100% nonsense. Because I, and you, know quite an amount of poor, jobless people who are very literate. People aren’t poor because they’re uneducated, people are poor because there aren’t enough jobs. If you could magically bestow a BA in English on every unemployed person, where do you think they would find jobs? The personal qualification gambit beyond the actual requirements of the job just mean that you win against somebody else.

    There is no such thing as “no time” or “no access” — it’s called PRIORITIZING. Just like I had to do in college. I had to decide, “study, or party?”

    You’re sounding like Anne Romney when she talked about how poor she and Mitt were in college. Your choice was between “study and party”. OMG, i can only imagine how hard that life must have been. Good that people don’t have to make the choice between “study or work so you can finance college”. So, what do you think is the thing those poor, uneducated people should not have so they can study? A warm meal? Clean laundry? A job? 15 minutes with their children? 8 hours of sleep?

    Now, I can’t fix the system, but many of the failures and inadequacies can, in fact, be remedied with self-study if, and only if, one puts in the effort.

    You’re still presupposing that people actually have enough resources to make choices.

    There is no magick faerie to stop by and *poof* you into being smarter, faster, stronger, more athletic, skinnier, better able to read, etc.

    Yep, and poor people are obese because they don’t put in the effort. Therefore it’s totally OK to fatshame them. I mean, they can read while they’re exercising, right?

    Why are you so opposed to people putting in any effort to improve themselves?

    That’s a lot of straw in one small sentence.

    What is your problem with pointing out local FREE resources?

    Only that you aren’t doing that. So far, all you have done is to claim that everybody could do this if they only wanted to because somehow in your world all those resources exist and are accessible.

    Another side note: I’m ignoring disabilities because, HELLO, obviously legit reasons for having issues if you have a diagnosis, so it doesn’t need to be addressed.

    Yeah, because you can magically know that when you’re on the internet or reading a resumee. You could, of course, listen to all the people here who have learning disabilities who have told you that this is a shitty position.

    Disabled students and adults are 100% ENTITLED, under Federal law (ADA), to reasonable accommodations allowing them to participate in class or function in the workplace.

    Yeah, that’s going to help them very much when the education system has already failed them.

  28. says

    This has just gotten weird.
    No one is saying that adults shouldn’t have access to literacy resources or that it isn’t an admirable goal to better oneself. What everyone is saying is 1) don’t blame people who don’t have the time/energy/inclination to help themselves and 2) using “illiterate” as an insult/grammar-policing is shitty behavior that hurts more than the intended target. I also don’t see anyone saying that illiteracy should be ignored or isn’t a problem, it’s just that nit-picking over someone’s spelling doesn’t help your own argument and it really doesn’t inspire anyone to better themselves.

    I mean, it’s not as though if someone is unclear you can’t ask them to explain again.

    Another thing to consider along the “just read a book!” line of thinking*: depending on your situation (dyselxia, weak vision, difficulty reading) it can actually be physically tiring to read a book (I know this because of both the dyslexia and my crappy crappy vision). How much good does it do to tell someone to read a book if they’re only going to fall asleep a few pages in?

    *Also a problem for people who did most of their reading for public school; they may have no idea what they even like.

  29. Eristae says

    Given that we’ve somehow gotten to the point of talking about the fact that being illiterate harms one’s job prospects (and this relates to the original post because it’s somehow fine to shame people for having qualities that lower their job prospects or something? I don’t know.), I feel the need to point out that being able to read well and being able to write well are two very separate skills. One involves recognizing words, and the other involves being able to reproduce them. I can read very well and have been able to do so for years. I cannot spell well and never have been able to. Reading additional books has never improved my spelling. Perhaps most people will see an improvement in spelling as they improve in their reading skill, but to be absolutely honest, my initial gut response is one of disbelief because of the fact that reading had basically no impact on my own spelling at all. What improved my spelling was gaining access to technological resources that allow me to spell check and an exceedingly large amount of time to spend practicing it; basically, the only thing that improved my spelling was computer and internet access. If I were poor, I would not have access to these things. The quality of my spelling is in direct proportion to my monetary access. Let me stress that: the quality of my spelling increases or decreases not in relation to how much time I spend on it, but in relationship to how much money I have and can use to access technology. This is an absolutely prime example of why using “illiteracy” as an insult is classist. No one is sneering at me because of my poor spelling not because I put in a lot of effort and this effort enabled me to spell but because I have enough money to compensate for my abysmal spelling ability. Case and point: while writing this very post, I misspelled words such as “separate,” “misspelled,” and “abysmal,” among other words. But you would never know this unless I told you because I have the money to access resources to hide this fact.

  30. ceesays says

    Seriously, what is even going on here? This should be absolutely basic. Again: Not every single person has the same access to exactly the same resources as the next. Come on, now. This shouldn’t be difficult to comprehend. Why is it?

    if everyone had the same access to exactly the same resources as the next person, I’d have a much higher education than I do. But I did not, and do not, have the same access to exactly the same resources as the next person. That’s so simple that I can’t believe that anything save a concerted effort to deny a basic fact of a society with interlocking systems of oppression is at work here, and I’m pretty disappointed.

  31. queequack says

    I suppose there’s also the fact that being stupid or illiterate does not actually invalidate whatever point your opponent is trying to make. It’s bad logic, a form of the associational fallacy, and that if nothing else should probably keep you away from it, unless of course you’re an kind of an idiot yourself.

  32. rilian says

    I love this post. I agree that we should not go after people’s spelling or misused vocabulary or punctuation, or any such thing. you should just figure out what they mean and respond to that.

  33. Esteban Rogers says

    Will this entry be recorded for listening or put on a radio at some point? This whole discussion exists on a literate plane, making it slightly artificial.

    Not that it impedes me, since I am both reading and writing here. There are many different kinds of intelligence and ways of being smart. You do not have to be literate to be smart, but it makes life much more difficult. I have learned useful things from people who can’t read, and such people are much smarter about some things than I.

    Of greater concern might be those who are functionally illiterate; who were taught how to read but don’t read, or refuse to read anything besides street signs and newspapers. This leaves someone culturally underfed. There’s too much to miss. Written language gives ideas permanence they will never have in a purely oral culture.

    Written words do not exist in isolation, of course — the best writing also sounds wonderful read aloud, especially poetry. A big problem in English language poetry of the past hundred years or so is the rise of poetry that exists solely on the page. Poetry is preserved but dead on the page. Recitation and reading aloud give it life. Likewise, plays are also nowadays written more to be read than performed, with endless layers upon layers of stage direction to help the reader see what they will never hear. Text and speech are inseparable as forms of linguistic expression in the long run.

    • says

      Sorry, but this is off-topic. There are other places you can discuss that. But since you brought it up, no, it is absolutely legitimate to call people cis, unless they do not identify as the gender they were assigned at birth.

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