Proper Grammar is ‘Racist,’ Says University of Washington

A paper with corrections written in red pen.

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According to a statement released by the writing center at the University of Washington, Tacoma, there is no “standard” version of the English language. Therefore, the institution argues that proper grammar leads to social hierarchies that perpetuate racism.

“Linguistic and writing research has shown clearly for many decades that there is no inherent ‘standard’ of English. Language is constantly changing. These two facts make it very difficult to justify placing people in hierarchies or restricting opportunities and privileges because of the way people communicate in particular versions of English,” the statement reads.

In a sense, the statement is correct. There are in fact several different spellings, punctuation styles, and grammar rules depending on the region that a person is from. In the U.K., for example, “accessorize” is spelled “accessorise.” Additionally, these rules change over time (e.g. “anchor” used to be spelled “anker” in Middle English).

Dr. Asao Inoue, Director of the Writing Center at the University of Washington, Tacoma, spearheaded the idea. He is the author of Race and Writing Assessment and Antiracist Writing Assessment Ecologies, both of which won Outstanding Book Awards.

“The anti-racism statement is a document that took over a year to collaboratively create with writing center professional staff and student writing consultants. It was officially put up and incorporated in our work in the fall of 2016, so we are just beginning.”

So far, the University of Washington has stood by the statement. Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Affairs Dr. Jill Purdy remarked that the statement is a “great example of how we are striving to act against racism. Language is the bridge between ideas and action, so how we use words has a lot of influence on what we think and do.”

As can be imagined, the University of Washington’s stance on proper grammar usage has sparked quite a bit of controversy in the department of higher education. Some people love the idea of a more inclusive language, and others hate the idea of improper grammar becoming the norm.

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