Jamila Lyiscott

3 ways to speak English

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0:11

Today, a baffled lady observed the shell where my soul dwells

0:17

And announced that I'm "articulate"

0:22

Which means that when it comes to enunciation and diction

0:26

I don't even think of it

0:27

‘Cause I’m "articulate"

0:30

So when my professor asks a question

0:32

And my answer is tainted with a connotation of urbanized suggestion

0:36

There’s no misdirected intention

0:38

Pay attention

0:39

‘Cause I’m “articulate”

0:42

So when my father asks, “Wha’ kinda ting is dis?”

0:45

My “articulate” answer never goes amiss

0:48

I say “father, this is the impending problem at hand”

0:52

And when I’m on the block I switch it up just because I can

0:55

So when my boy says, “What’s good with you son?”

0:58

I just say, “I jus’ fall out wit dem people but I done!”

1:03

And sometimes in class

1:05

I might pause the intellectual sounding flow to ask

1:08

“Yo! Why dese books neva be about my peoples”

1:11

Yes, I have decided to treat all three of my languages as equals

1:15

Because I’m “articulate”

1:19

But who controls articulation?

1:22

Because the English language is a multifaceted oration

1:25

Subject to indefinite transformation

1:27

Now you may think that it is ignorant to speak broken English

1:30

But I’m here to tell you that even “articulate” Americans sound foolish to the British

1:36

So when my Professor comes on the block and says, “Hello”

1:39

I stop him and say “Noooo …

1:42

You’re being inarticulate … the proper way is to say ‘what’s good’”

1:46

Now you may think that’s too hood, that’s not cool

1:49

But I’m here to tell you that even our language has rules

1:52

So when Mommy mocks me and says “ya’ll-be-madd-going-to-the-store”

1:57

I say “Mommy, no, that sentence is not following the law

2:02

Never does the word "madd" go before a present participle

2:06

That’s simply the principle of this English”

2:08

If I had the vocal capacity I would sing this from every mountaintop,

2:12

From every suburbia, and every hood

2:14

‘Cause the only God of language is the one recorded in the Genesis

2:18

Of this world saying “it is good"

2:20

So I may not always come before you with excellency of speech

2:24

But do not judge me by my language and assume

2:26

That I’m too ignorant to teach

2:28

‘Cause I speak three tongues

2:29

One for each:

2:30

Home, school and friends

2:32

I’m a tri-lingual orator

2:34

Sometimes I’m consistent with my language now

2:36

Then switch it up so I don’t bore later

2:38

Sometimes I fight back two tongues

2:40

While I use the other one in the classroom

2:42

And when I mistakenly mix them up

2:44

I feel crazy like … I’m cooking in the bathroom

2:48

I know that I had to borrow your language because mines was stolen

2:55

But you can’t expect me to speak your history wholly while mines is broken

3:00

These words are spoken

3:02

By someone who is simply fed up with the Eurocentric ideals of this season

3:07

And the reason I speak a composite version of your language

3:10

Is because mines was raped away along with my history

3:14

I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us

3:18

That our current state is not a mystery

3:21

I’m so tired of the negative images that are driving my people mad

3:26

So unless you’ve seen it rob a bank stop calling my hair bad

3:30

I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity

3:34

So don’t call it good unless your hair is known for donating to charity

3:38

As much as has been raped away from our people

3:43

How can you expect me to treat their imprint on your language

3:47

As anything less than equal

3:49

Let there be no confusion

3:51

Let there be no hesitation

3:53

This is not a promotion of ignorance

3:55

This is a linguistic celebration

3:58

That’s why I put "tri-lingual" on my last job application

4:04

I can help to diversify your consumer market is all I wanted them to know

4:08

And when they call me for the interview I’ll be more than happy to show that

4:11

I can say:

4:12

“What’s good”

4:13

“Whatagwan”

4:14

And of course …“Hello”

4:17

Because I’m “articulate”

4:20

Thank you.

4:21

(Applause)

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.”

About the speaker
Jamila Lyiscott · Poet and educator

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

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