“3 Ways to Speak English”

by Jamila Lyiscott

TEDSalon NY2013 TALK: https://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_lyiscott_3_ways_to_speak_english 


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

And announced that I’m “articulate” 

Which means that when it comes to enunciation and diction 

I don’t even think of it 

‘Cause I’m “articulate” 

So when my professor asks a question 

And my answer is tainted with a connotation of urbanized suggestion 

There’s no misdirected intention 

Pay attention 

‘Cause I’m “articulate” 

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

My “articulate” answer never goes amiss 

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

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

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

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

And sometimes in class 

I might pause the intellectual sounding flow to ask 

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

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

Because I’m “articulate” 

But who controls articulation? 

Because the English language is a multifaceted oration 

Subject to indefinite transformation 

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

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

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

I stop him and say “Noooo … 

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

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

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

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

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

Never does the word “madd” go before a present participle 

That’s simply the principle of this English” 

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

From every suburbia, and every hood 

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

Of this world saying “it is good” 

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

But do not judge me by my language and assume 

That I’m too ignorant to teach 

‘Cause I speak three tongues 

One for each: 

Home, school and friends 

I’m a tri-lingual orator 

Sometimes I’m consistent with my language now 

Then switch it up so I don’t bore later 

Sometimes I fight back two tongues 

While I use the other one in the classroom 

And when I mistakenly mix them up 

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

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

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

These words are spoken 

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

And the reason I speak a composite version of your language 

Is because mines was raped away along with my history 

I speak broken English so the profusing gashes can remind us 

That our current state is not a mystery 

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

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

I’m so sick of this nonsensical racial disparity 

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

As much as has been raped away from our people 

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

As anything less than equal 

Let there be no confusion 

Let there be no hesitation 

This is not a promotion of ignorance 

This is a linguistic celebration 

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

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

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

I can say: 

“What’s good” 


And of course …“Hello” 

Because I’m “articulate” 

Thank you.