By: MFC Feeley

March 15, 2023

The day after I first read about “other Englishes” in my pedagogy class, an old friend remarked that I never speak anything but “the Queen’s English.” I was sad to admit he was right. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m an English teacher—I love English! That’s why I love “other Englishes.” Other Englishes arise and flourish when cultures and languages mix (think Hinglish, Spanglish, or Swenglish) and represent language at its liveliest. One has to wonder if Latin “died” because its grammar ceased to change with the times. By encouraging students to focus on Standard English, are we asking them to look backwards rather than forwards?

Despite finding the term “Other Englishes” othering, I wish I’d grown up speaking Gaelic (sometimes called “Irish”) or an “other English” of my own. The story of why I don’t illustrates the oppression and violence inherent in dominant languages. Years ago, a small Irish boy ran up to an English soldier because he wanted to see his horse. The boy greeted the soldier in Gaelic, his native language. Because Gaelic (or Irish) was outlawed, the soldier killed him on the spot. The next day the boy’s family—my family—moved to America (for a fictionalized account, watch James Price read my story

The murderous soldier won. Today, no one in my family speaks a word of Gaelic (or Irish) — we’re not even sure what to call it! 

Many tout proper English as a gateway to institutions of power, but the term dominant language is telling. English did not come to dominate the former British Empire because the conquered hoped to attend elite universities and find high paying jobs. English was forced upon them. That’s why the demand to “speak English!” sounds brutal in street confrontations and not much better in the classroom. In Moving Students Toward Acceptance of “Other” Englishes, Brandie Bohney argues that “‘Other Englishes’ are “Not Wrong, Just Different.” (66) I would go further. “Other Englishes” are a sign that our language is alive and flourishing. They represent the wave of the future and are potentially the most powerful tool in any writer’s skillset. 

Vernacular writing changes the course of history.

When Dante broke with tradition and wrote his Divine Comedy in the vernacular, he reached an audience exponentially larger than any readership his contemporaries could claim. Eschewing classical Latin, Dante drove the first nail into the coffin of history’s most famous dead language. When Cervantes wrote Don Quixote in his Castilian vernacular, he reconfigured the literary landscape and ensured that his marginalized language would be forever revered. When Martin Luther delivered the Catholic Mass in the vernacular, he not only let the masses understand their church services, he created Protestantism and ultimately toppled the Holy Roman Empire. These authors succeed by writing in “other Languages” than the standard ones taught in their day. 

I always advise my students to write for a specific audience, and frequently ask them to think about whom they’d like to address once they leave college and write beyond the ivory tower. While Standard English suits many audiences, vernacular writing reaches—and empowers—populations that Standard English excludes. This is why more than one pundit attributed President Barack Obama’s political success to his facility with multiple vernaculars. Similarly, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez galvanized voters when she “spoke their language.” On a different note, and although I am no fan of the last president, I can’t help noticing that when people lampooned his grammar, many of the criticisms leveled at his speech echoed derisions classically aimed at “other Englishes.” He can’t even speak! He’s butchering the language! One might argue that, while Trump sought to disenfranchise Americans who speak languages outside his own, he came to power by wielding the vernacular of his disaffected admirers.

Throughout history, employing the language of previously ignored audiences has upset the status quo, altered the political landscape, incited revolution, and spurred literary progress. Students who can write in a vibrant vernacular should be ecstatic. Far from needing defense, we must teach our students that non-traditional dialects rank among the most powerful tools writers have.

Students who write blog posts, reviews, or actively engage with websites in their English connect the lessons of the classroom to the world at large.

Works Cited

Bohney, Brandie. Moving Students Toward Acceptance of “Other” Englishes.The English Journal. July, 2016

Feeley, MFC. The Last Real Thing. read by James Price. YouTube. (2018, April 18). McWhorter, J. (2019, April 9). AOC isn’t using ’verbal blackface’—she’s code-switching. Atlantic Monthly (Boston, Mass.: 1993).

Moyer, J. W. (2021, October 25). Trump’s grammar in speeches ‘just below 6th grade level,’ study finds. The Washington Post.

Trump: We speak English here, not Spanish – youtube. (n.d.). Retrieved December 15, 2022, from

Vargas, Y. (2016, November 4). Talk D.C. to me: Presidential code-switching. USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Retrieved December 14, 2022, from

About the Author

MFC Feeley wrote a series of ten stories inspired by the Bill of Rights for Ghost Parachute and has published in Best Micro-Fictions, SmokeLong, Jellyfish Review, Pulp Literature, and others.Her one-minute memoir was featured on Brevity Blog. Feeley was a Fellow at the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart Prize, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Quarterfinalist, and has judged for Scholastic. She is currently pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. More at MFC Feeley/Facebook.