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My neighbors and I share a similar language. However, the dialect is completely different. Our neighbors used to adjust the way they spoke when talking to us. Even then, I often struggled to understand what they were saying. When they would talk to each other, I was completely lost. A year’s time has changed that. I now understand the majority of a conversation between my neighbors. My own vernacular has changed as well. I use words like “stay” instead of “live” and “finna” in addition to “gonna.”

Another interesting difference is the frequent use of fourth person voice when speaking about troublemakers. While English doesn’t have a strict fourth person like Baltic-Finnic languages, the “never-mentioned, ‘common person'” is utilized when speaking about a vague, unnamed “they” who is up to no good. For example, one might say, “They was shootin’ down on Cottage last night.” Who “they” might be is never discussed, explored or investigated. In fact, express caution is taken to avoid doing so. “They” intentionally remain anonymous.

The usage of certain terms are also accompanied by a degree of earned ownership. Therefore usage can be a litmus test of acceptance or comfortableness. For example, white people who are significantly engaged in black culture will refer to such people of color as “black.” Whereas someone who has limited engagement will almost invariably use “African American.” Similarly, people who call it “the ghetto” are cultural outsiders in neighborhoods like these in Chicago. People who live in such neighborhoods call it “da ‘hood.” I suspect (although haven’t confirmed) that it is taboo to use “da ‘hood” without earning the right.

The usage of some words must be earned. Others remain taboo regardless of one’s acceptance in the community. My neighbors call me the N-word. Despite the fact that I am well-known by everyone in the community and accepted by most, I don’t use the N-word. Regardless of how long I live here, I seriously doubt that I will ever choose to use that word. It’s not acceptable for me to use that word.