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Language has the power to showcase people’s identities through the way they write and speak. Why should we hide this power when it can be exposed to other cultures and shared with everyone else? I have noticed that America is made up of people from all parts of the world. Walking down the streets, it’s impossible not to notice the diversity. I see people from Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America, among many other regions. The way they talk reveals their country of origin. Everywhere, people notice these differences in speech, and sometimes in dress, too. In this essay, I will convince you why colleges, universities, and workplaces should not insist on standard American English for written academic work. Language plays a large part of an individual’s identity by expressing where they come from. This is one reason why educational institutions should allow students to write in their own style, thus sharing their unique perspectives with others in America.
Language is a key component of our identity. As a form of communication, it provides a clear insight into someone’s identity when we converse. If you hear two people speaking English, their accent often reveals their origin. Baldwin states in his article ‘If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?’, “The argument has nothing to do with language itself but with the role of language. Language, incontestably, reveals the speaker. Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other.” Baldwin is emphasizing the dual nature of language: a basic means of communication and a power tool used by certain groups to assert dominance over others.
How it works
Since we use words so often, we often fail to appreciate their power and importance. By becoming more aware of the impact and power of language, we can make better choices in how we express ourselves and interpret others. Baldwin also states in his article, ‘If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?’, “It goes without saying, then, that language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power.” Baldwin suggests that language can either unify or divide people, depending on its use. People can discriminate based on how someone speaks, especially when their language reveals their origins. I believe that language has power, and this power can be used for greater goodness or abused leading to discrimination.
In the past, people who moved to the United States were discriminated against because they didn’t understand or speak English. When these people had children, they decided they wanted their children to focus on speaking English, to spare them from discrimination. Our culture also maintains the notion that if you don’t speak the native language, then you’re not Latino or Black enough. If you don’t know the slang of your own country, you can’t refer to yourself as Latino or Black. In my opinion, this creates confusion in our identity. Many, including myself, have experienced this struggle, where learning English implies that in order to ‘become American’, we have to abandon our native language and speak only English. Anzaldua writes in “How to Tame a Wild Tongue” in Spanglish, in a way we could understand, expressing her anger towards people’s inappropriate behavior regarding her home language.
Anzaldua was reprimanded for correcting a teacher on the pronunciation of her name, and the teacher furiously retorted: “‘If you want to be American, speak ‘American.’ If you don’t like it, go back to Mexico where you belong.’” (page 497). Anzaldua discussed not only her experiences as a child but also as an adult, being prevented from using her home language in the United States. In her search for identity, she deliberates on how her manner of speaking changes depending on her audience. The experiences of Chicanos often involve grappling with problems associated with borders and cultures. However, they are not willing to give up their language, even when faced with the pressure to conform to another culture’s rules. Even Anzaldua’s mother, a Spanish speaker, is upset that her daughter sounds Mexican and doesn’t speak ‘quality English’.
Communication is the means by which individuals express and transmit their thoughts and emotions to others. Without the ability to communicate, people would struggle to understand each other. Therefore, it’s beneficial to communicate with others as it helps us connect with those from different backgrounds. Language allows us to explore new worlds through someone else’s perspective.
Language involves communicating in such a way that others understand you. The power of language grows when it is understood by a larger group of people, not just those closest to you. In Stanley Fish’s article “What Should Colleges Teach? Part 3”, he discusses what he thinks should be prioritized in college classrooms. He observes that students often arrive at college unable to write clear, grammatically correct English sentences. He attributes this to the failure of the students’ middle and high school teachers in practicing that teaching English takes more than simply understanding its fundamental rules.
Fish says, “A failure of secondary education from the students’ previous teachers relieves college teachers of any responsibility to make up the deficit.” College professors are teaching students material that they should’ve learned from their teachers in middle and high school. Fish made an excellent point, but I believe that’s not the most important thing college classrooms should teach. I believe that, while it’s easy to teach students how to write good sentences, it shouldn’t be the main topic that professors should focus on. The way people were raised by their parents and the things that people learned in their childhood have come together to make a group of people different from other groups, such as Latinos, Americans, Black/Africans, and others. Students should write in the way that makes them different from everybody else.
Language impacts the daily lives of members of any race in the world. Language helps express our feelings and questions around us; words are used to express emotion. The unique methods people can use to communicate through written and spoken language is a large part of what allows people to form all types of relationships with one another. The importance of communication is often overlooked. It is ignorant to believe that one can travel the world and expect a person to understand his or her native tongue. However, learning and understanding each other’s language helps us understand each other’s history and why we are the way we are. Maintaining your first language is critical to your identity and contributes to a positive self-concept. Teaching your native language in schools or universities overseas could also be a rewarding and enriching experience. There are a lot of ways a person can learn from someone else’s language and culture, starting from letting universities/colleges write in Standard American English, or allowing people to speak in their native or home language. This would help people, or Americans, understand that we can learn from each other. And since discrimination is still ongoing in America, speaking our own language more often might also help mitigate this issue.
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