Linguistic Rebellion

We all have our own versions of rebellion. Some of us rebelled against our parents; some of us will rebel against society’s norms until the end of our days. In each of these rebellions, there is a conscious choice to push against the grain. Something doesn’t feel quite right about following the rules the way they have been laid out.

Rebellion occurs because something deep inside requires us to look at the situation from a different perspective. This feeling demands that we find our own way, and maybe even try to convince others that we’re on to something.

So what about rebellions against language? Have you been subversive about syntax or pronunciation? Have you ever questioned your grammar to the point you realized that using a certain pronoun was a complete contradiction of your values? I’m searching for stories of linguistic rebellion. This could be with the languages you grew up with, or the languages you adopted later in life. To give you an idea, I’ll share two of my rebel stories.

Linguistic rebellion

Like many other bloggers posting in the last few weeks, I responded to the “11 things about you” challenge. One part of the challenge asks that you share 11 random facts about yourself. This is one of the facts I chose:

In 5th grade, I had my first run-in with linguistic rebellion. For French class we had to write a diary and hand it in to our teacher. In French, diary (journal) carries the masculine form and so you should address it, “Dear diary” with its rightful masculine greeting, “Cher journal.” This made no sense to me. There was no way I would share my deep thoughts with a male journal, and so I addressed it as, “Chère journal.” When my teacher approached me about the grammatical error, I had my theory to back it up. He didn’t buy it.

I shared this because I was writing to an audience of language learners and teachers, and I thought it might be interesting to them. I also shared it because it’s one of my favourite pre-teen rebellion stories. I know. I was a wild child.

As the week went on, this little fact kept popping up in my thoughts, particularly the first sentence:

In the 5th grade, I had my first run-in with linguistic rebellion.

I wrote this so confidently, but reading it again, I was forced to ask myself:

Weren’t there other run-ins? And was this really my first story?

The resounding answer was that yes there were other moments, and no this wasn’t my first. I have a strong memory of my mother trying to correct the way I said the number one in french — un — when I counted: un, deux, trois…. I think I was between 5 – 7 years old. In our Acadian dialect, un sounds like yeon. My mother wanted me to learn the standard way to pronounce one, but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. It felt too unfamiliar. Yeon felt right, so I refused to use the standard pronunciation. Looking back, maybe I was actually trying to conform here. Everyone else in the neighbourhood used yeon, why should I stand out? This was clearly a case of early parental linguistic-rebellion.

I have other stories, but I’d like to hear more about yours. What’s your story of linguistic rebellion?

*Here are a few fantastic blog posts in response to my question:


12 thoughts on “Linguistic Rebellion

  1. Hi Josette, I’ve been thinking about your post a lot recently. More specifically I’ve been thinking about how we construct identity through our use of language but that equally we are positioned by language use in society. What you call linguistic rebellion (I like that) I’ve thought about in the past as ‘contesting identities’, fighting against the way other people position us through language and other modes of communication. I’ll give you an example of how i felt the need to contest my identity as a teacher of English. For the past ten years or so I’ve been working in ESOL in the UK but a couple of years ago I went to Spain to work as a language assistant – a kind of career break I suppose. Anyway I thought of myself as a creative teacher and a very learner-centred one. But when I went to Spain all my identities were reduced to one in the eyes of the school and the students – ‘NATIVE SPEAKER’. Accordingly the only use they could see for me was conversation with Advanced students. I’m really uncomfortable with this label, all my other qualities went straight out the window. The outcome of this label, this positioning, was that I became the walking dictionary. Hated that, it’s not my language, language belongs to everybody and it’s used in different ways by different people. I don’t go with ‘correct language models’. I remember one moment when a student questioned my pronunciation of a word, as ‘not being correct’. I was just saying it the way I always had with a degree of local accent. I was offended, because where I come from is very much part of me, and so is the language I use. And so you see what I mean by the fact we construct ourselves,, our identities, through language and other means. Language is so important in how we come to understand ourselves and relationship with the world. I think your story is so meaningful and says so much. All the best. Richard.


    1. Dear Richard,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to share this story. It is a great example of the identities we create through language, and also the perception that is created when we use the said language. The term “linguistic rebellion” is something I’m playing with as a strategy used for asserting our decision to use a certain pattern. It seems that in your case, you had to assert your choice of pronunciation (even if you didn’t outwardly tell the person so.) Rebellion comes because we are tired of our identities being questioned. It seems as though you came to this point. You just wanted to be seen for who you are and not through the perceptions of others.

      Thank you for reminding me of the larger sociological scale of this concept. :)

      Now the next questions I would like to tackle is, how can we assert our linguistic identities in a peaceful way?


  2. During the 80s in Pakistan, president General Zia Ul Haq had a lot of ties to Saudi Arabia, and this agitated the religious extremism over here . Pakistan used to be a lot more liberal in the 70s: women would openly wear short sleeved shirts, and there were public bars over here. The Saudi influence even infiltrated the language. Pakistanis used to say “Khuda Hafiz” when saying goodbye, which means “May God be Your Guardian”, and “Khuda” could mean any god. With the proselytizing of the Saudi influence, this slowly changed to “Allah Hafiz” which means “May Allah be Your Guardian”, which specifically means “Allah” and not a god from any other religion. Thus, I respect it when people use the word “Khuda Hafiz” for political reasons :)


    1. Thank you so much for sharing this Amy! True political rebellion via language. What a perfect example. I’m curious, Have there ever been cases of anyone getting in trouble for using this expression instead?


  3. When I was reading your 11 post I paid special attention to this very random fact!! I can easily envision this happening and the stubbornness and determination to prove your right is impressive to me. I started to think how I addressed my journal…and I actually never did)) I think I was always writing to myself. Talk about ego or what.
    Josette, at first after reading this I was at my wit’s end, I really could not think of any similar kind of linguistic rebellion incident. My memory is very poor when confronted with the pressure of having to think of details. I almost felt like writing I’ve always seen myself as a conformist…but then I just took thinking a step further. So I’ve dug out a couple of very big rebellions of my life. And I’m afraid these are probably quite unfavorable as to how I come across. So now look who’s got the jitters.
    I’m not really sure what to do with these stories of myself I’ve remembered.

    Thanks a lot for sharing this, for doing what you think is right. Because I think it’s just right!:)
    Glad there will be more stories from you! Looking forward))


    1. Dear Ann,

      Thank you so much for putting your wonderful ideas and thoughts into this challenge. I know you haven’t blogged about it…. yet :) … but I can just imagine the story brewing beautifully in your creative mind. I’m not sure where you stand now with what you came up with, but if you would like to run it by me first, just as we did with Anne’s, I would be happy to do so. If the moment has passed, I am also ok with that. You might be worried that people will see you in a negative light. THis is the challenge with rebellion isn’t it? But in the end, the question might be what did you learn from that and how are you different today?

      Thoughts? :)



      1. Oddly enough… I am not even sure what is holding me back from blogging about it more, the fact that I’ll be seen for what my negative part of me is, or the fact that it is very likely to a linguistic rebellion. At the moment it’s merely a stuck-in-the-woods factor)
        Thanks for your support. Always. With all things.
        I’ll be thinking about this again and resume the brewing once back in town. You’ll know the result))



  4. Intéressant. Je me demande combien de tes amis ont eu la même expérience. On peut aussi parler d’intimidation linguistique lorsqu’on tente de nous faire parler selon une “norme” qui n’est pas la nôtre, surtout si on se moque ou qu’on ridiculise notre façon de parler parce qu’on considère qu’elle est moindre que le “bon” parler. Ça été le cas pour plusieurs et ce qui est regrettable, c’est que ça eu l’effet juste opposé que celui qui était recherché. Une langue est premièrement parler et il ne faudra pas passer de jugement sur la façon de parler la langue, même si elle est différente de ce qu’on appelle la norme.


    1. *réafficher de sur Facebook
      Une bonne question noncle Gilles . Aussi un bon sujet sociolinguistique. Est-ce que tante Betty connait un peu ce sujet de recherche? Et oui. La moquerie est tellement regrettable. Et ça va les deux façons. Je me souviens quand je travaillais a l’Atelier, une des travaillante riait un peu parce que je parlais “le bon français”. Je me demande si ceci c’est ce que tu parlais de. Haha… je ne m’identifierais jamais comme une personne qui parle le bon français. Mais ceci c’est peut-être parti de ma rébellion.


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