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TEDSalon NY2014

Jamila Lyiscott: 3 ways to speak English

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Jamila Lyiscott is a “tri-tongued orator;” in her powerful spoken-word essay “Broken English,” she celebrates — and challenges — the three distinct flavors of English she speaks with her friends, in the classroom and with her parents. As she explores the complicated history and present-day identity that each language represents, she unpacks what it means to be “articulate.”

- Poet and educator
Jamila Lyiscott weaves words about language, education and the African Diaspora. Full bio

Today,
00:12
a baffled lady observed
00:14
the shell where my soul dwells
00:16
And announced that I'm
00:18
"articulate"
00:21
Which means that when it comes
00:23
to enunciation and diction
00:25
I don't even think of it
00:27
‘Cause I’m "articulate"
00:28
So when my professor asks a question
00:31
And my answer is tainted with a connotation
00:34
of urbanized suggestion
00:36
There’s no misdirected intention
00:37
Pay attention
00:40
‘Cause I’m “articulate”
00:41
So when my father asks, “Wha’ kinda ting is dis?”
00:43
My “articulate” answer never goes amiss
00:47
I say “father, this is the impending problem at hand”
00:50
And when I’m on the block
00:53
I switch it up just because I can
00:54
So when my boy says, “What’s good with you son?”
00:56
I just say, “I jus’ fall out wit dem people but I done!”
00:59
And sometimes in class
01:04
I might pause the intellectual sounding flow to ask
01:06
“Yo! Why dese books neva be about my peoples”
01:09
Yes, I have decided to treat
01:12
all three of my languages as equals
01:15
Because I’m “articulate”
01:17
But who controls articulation?
01:21
Because the English language
is a multifaceted oration
01:23
Subject to indefinite transformation
01:26
Now you may think that it is
ignorant to speak broken English
01:28
But I’m here to tell you that
even “articulate” Americans
01:32
sound foolish to the British
01:35
So when my Professor comes on
the block and says, “Hello”
01:37
I stop him and say “Noooo …
01:40
You’re being inarticulate …
01:43
the proper way is to say ‘what’s good’”
01:45
Now you may think that’s too hood, that’s not cool
01:47
But I’m here to tell you that
even our language has rules
01:51
So when Mommy mocks me and says
01:54
“ya’ll-be-madd-going-to-the-store”
01:56
I say “Mommy, no, that sentence is not following the law
01:58
Never does the word "madd" go
before a present participle
02:03
That’s simply the principle of this English”
02:07
If I had the vocal capacity I would
02:10
sing this from every mountaintop,
02:11
From every suburbia, and every hood
02:13
‘Cause the only God of language is
the one recorded in the Genesis
02:16
Of this world saying “it is good"
02:19
So I may not always come before you
02:21
with excellency of speech
02:23
But do not judge me by my language and assume
02:25
That I’m too ignorant to teach
02:27
‘Cause I speak three tongues
02:29
One for each:
02:30
Home, school and friends
02:32
I’m a tri-lingual orator
02:33
Sometimes I’m consistent with my language now
02:36
Then switch it up so I don’t bore later
02:38
Sometimes I fight back two tongues
02:40
While I use the other one in the classroom
02:41
And when I mistakenly mix them up
02:43
I feel crazy like … I’m cooking in the bathroom
02:45
I know that I had to borrow your language
02:49
because mines was stolen
02:53
But you can’t expect me to speak your history wholly
02:56
while mines is broken
03:00
These words are spoken
03:02
By someone who is simply fed up with
03:03
the Eurocentric ideals of this season
03:05
And the reason I speak a composite
version of your language
03:08
Is because mines was raped
away along with my history
03:12
I speak broken English so the
profusing gashes can remind us
03:15
That our current state is not a mystery
03:19
I’m so tired of the negative images
that are driving my people mad
03:22
So unless you’ve seen it rob
a bank stop calling my hair bad
03:27
I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity
03:31
So don’t call it good unless your hair is known
03:35
for donating to charity
03:37
As much as has been raped away from our people
03:39
How can you expect me to treat
their imprint on your language
03:44
As anything less than equal
03:48
Let there be no confusion
03:50
Let there be no hesitation
03:52
This is not a promotion of ignorance
03:54
This is a linguistic celebration
03:56
That’s why I put "tri-lingual" on my last job application
04:00
I can help to diversify your consumer market
04:05
is all I wanted them to know
04:07
And when they call me for the interview
04:09
I’ll be more than happy to show that
04:11
I can say:
04:12
“What’s good”
04:13
“Whatagwan”
04:14
And of course …“Hello”
04:15
Because I’m “articulate”
04:18
Thank you.
04:21
(Applause)
04:23

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About the speaker:

Jamila Lyiscott - Poet and educator
Jamila Lyiscott weaves words about language, education and the African Diaspora.

Why you should listen

Jamila Lyiscott is currently an advanced doctoral candidate and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College where her work focuses on the education of the African Diaspora. She is also an adjunct professor at Long Island University where she teaches on adult and adolescent literacy within the Urban Education system. A spoken word artist since the age of fifteen, Jamila works with youth, educators, and activists throughout the city to create spaces that reflect and engage the cultures and values of black and brown youth inside and outside of the classroom.

A Zankel Fellow, Lyiscott is also working as a Graduate Research Fellow at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education where she leads the Cyphers For Justice youth, research, and advocacy program. Jamila’s poetry and scholarly work has been published in Teachers and Writers Collaborative Magazine and English Journal. She has directed several conferences and projects both locally and internationally and has presented both spoken word and academic papers at many seminars. Through her community, scholastic, and artistic efforts, Jamila hopes to play a key role in forging better connections between the world of academia and communities of color outside.

Watch Lyiscott's Prezi, "How Broken English Made Me Whole."

More profile about the speaker
Jamila Lyiscott | Speaker | TED.com