Prominence of language

Topics: English language, Ethnic group, United Kingdom Pages: 7 (1638 words) Published: April 28, 2014
The Prominence of Language
I believe that of all possible human qualities, the one that wields the most power is the ability to use, understand and communicate effectively through language. Language is both powerful and useful but it is also what sets people apart from each other. After reading “Aria” and “Black English” and watching the Pidgin film, I have come to understand that language is also your identity. I conclude that your identity, both private and public, will affect your use of language. Language will define your identity no matter who you are, and it could include or separate you from a larger, common identity.

The power of language comes from community, or, for lack of a better word, dominance. If you speak fluent English and a little Spanish, you would have little power in a Spanish community, and a person who does not speak English well would have less power in a conversation with a fluent English speaker in America. And so, the dominant language spoken has more power, this is proof of power in language. In “Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood” by Richard Rodriguez, he shows his readers a part of life that many have never experienced. Rodriguez uses this essay to show how he fought through his childhood to understand English. He believed that speaking clear English would help him to fit in to society. He faced society head on while jeopardizing his happy home life, just to try and become an ordinary English-speaking student (public identity vs. private identity). He went to a Roman Catholic school that was intent on making English the only language they spoke. His parents spoke little to no English and this was a big obstacle for Rodriguez because one Saturday morning, the nuns from his school informed his parents that it would be best if they spoke English at home. Destroyed by this new policy, his home was sent spinning. His sacred family language, now banished from home. In an article “Language and Social Society: a Psychosocial approach” by Rusi Jaspel explains that “The ethnic group might be considered an important group identity in early life; the value and emotional significance attached to that group is likely to be high”. Jaspel urges that in the early stages of life, ethnic groups hold a great emotional value to children and teens. In the case of “Aria,” Rodriguez had great value for his ethnic group, and that’s why it was hard for him to let go of his Spanish language. Language wields great power, but this power may shift within a blink of an eye. A good example of this is Rodriguez and his family; he had no means of communicating with his Spanish-speaking parents. When he would catch them speaking Spanish, they would become silent. His parents wanted to encourage English in their home and so, in the end Rodriguez’s identity in public had affected what language he spoke at home and everywhere else. “Each time I’d hear myself addressed in Spanish, I couldn’t respond with any success. I would try to speak, but everything I said seemed horribly Anglicized. My mouth wouldn’t form the right sounds” (Rodriguez 458-459). So did proof of power and his public identity affect the languages he spoke? Yes! Because his identity in public affected what language he spoke at home and thus eliminating his private identity as well.

Can language define the individual who speaks it? According to James Baldwin, the answers to this question would be “yes”. In James Baldwin’s “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then tell me, What Is?” he reveals the way language shapes and forms a person’s identity. In reading “Black English,” I could feel the anger of Baldwin in his writing. Baldwin writes, “Language…is the most vivid and crucial key to identity, it reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity”. This tells us that culture affects how language is used, and it allows a person to identify with or separate from a different culture. Baldwin...

Cited: Fishman, Joshua A. “Handbook of Language & Ethnic Identity.” New York: Oxford UP,
1999
McWhorter, John. Is Texting Killing the English Language? Time Magazine 25 Apr.
2013: n
Pidgin: The Voice of Hawaii. Dir. Marlene Booth. New Day Films, 2009. Film
Rodriguez, Richard
Essays Ed. Joyce Carol Oates. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000, 447-466. Print.
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