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No such thing as correct English | Kellam Barta | TEDxFargo

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Most English speakers who notice differences in pronunciation, grammatical structure, or word choice believe that some of these variants are "correct" and others are not. Differences in spoken English (and other languages) often encode local or social identity, and ideas about correctness create groups of people who are "othered" because they "say it wrong." This phenomenon is highlighted in Fargo, ND, by local speakers' unique pronunciation of North Dakota State University's athletic moniker, the Bison, with a [z] sound in the middle. They insist that people outside the region don't "say it right." While this is a fairly innocuous example of linguistic subordination - using attitudes about language to marginalize entire demographics - Barta explains how African Americans, women, and young people can be marginalized based on their speech, though the pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary used are intricate, systematic, and communicative. There is nothing "incorrect" about them.

Kellam has an MA in Sociolinguistics from North Carolina State University, where he led the Diversity Ambassadors, an outreach program aimed at spreading awareness of language variation and promoting celebration, instead of subordination, of different ways of speaking English. Kellam is currently a Lecturer in the NDSU English Department and the founder of the NDSU Language Diversity Ambassadors, a fledgling group cast in the mold of NC State's program. Kellam's goal is to carry the message of the Ambassadors well beyond the boundaries of college campuses, so that those in positions of relative power may recognize the privilege that comes with speaking prestige varieties of English and so that we all may take care to respect mere differences - and not deficits - in English pronunciations, grammar, and word choice.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at