Kevin Gates on Slang and Dialect

Ari Appel

How can language be used to oppress? Indeed, a very big question with many different answers, all of which a single blog post can’t cover. But to start, it could be said that society and its institutions impose a certain way of speaking and writing as “correct usage,” alienating those who are not raised in a climate with corresponding linguistic norms. Louisiana rapper Kevin Gates makes an interesting commentary to this end, defending his choice to speak with a non-standard English dialect:

“I choose to speak this way. I can use vernacular, which is proper English, but I like to use slang terminology, cause that’s my culture, that’s where I come from. Somebody come over here from another country, you gonna say, get him an interpreter. I come in the building, could know what I’m talking about and be intelligent, and you gonna say, ‘Get him some handcuffs.’ You know what I’m saying? I choose to speak with colloquialisms, I choose to.”

The part of Gates’ commentary that particularly interests me is his allusion to the legal system. A legal defense formed in Gates’ dialect may be just as strong as one formed in legal jargon by an educated lawyer, but the lawyer’s argument will be listened to more thoroughly simply because it conforms to the linguistic norms of the legal system. This puts those who do not speak the legal system’s own normative dialect at a disadvantage.

You can watch Gates’ whole radio interview on “The Breakfast Club” here.