Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Fresh Prince of Washington Heights

Stephany Batista

            In Cutler’s article, she discusses a certain young man, named Mike, who inhabits the hip-hop culture.  Although Mike grew up in an extremely wealthy neighborhood, he attempts to make himself part of the gang life that some of his other friends are part of.  But because of Mike’s upbringing, his use of African American Vernacular English is seen as inauthentic.  But later in the article Cutler mentions a young girl, who although she is also white like Mike, also speaks in African American Vernacular English. However, it is perceived that Carla’s use is more acceptable because she lives in a predominantly African American community, where this vernacular is very common, whereas it is not so common in Mike’s affluent neighborhood. While Cutler makes many good points, I tend to think that a person’s background and neighborhood influences their language more than race.
           In this clip from the popular show The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Carlton Banks is attempting to prove to his cousin Will Smith that he can survive a period of time in Compton. Carlton, for those of you that have not watched it (and I do not know why you would not have watched it!), grew up in an extremely wealthy family. They live in a large mansion in the Bel Air area of California. Will, on the other hand (as the theme song says), was born and raised in West Philadelphia. But because of fights in the neighborhood, Will’s mother sends him to live with his aunt and uncle in Bel Air. Will and Carlton are complete polar opposites. Carlton attends an expensive prep school and receives good grades, while Will gets into trouble on his first day.

            In this particular clip, Will bets Carlton that he cannot survive a day in Compton, a very violent neighborhood in California. If Carlton does win the bet, then Will must never again make fun of Carlton. In the beginning of the clip, Will is seen telling his best friend Jazz that he had to convince Carlton not to yell out “Dynomite!” The phrase comes from the television show Good Times that aired during the late 1970s. The character JJ Evans, who often shouted the word out, popularized the catchphrase. The family on Good Times lived in the projects, although they would not be thought to inhabit the hip-hop culture that Will Smith was raised in. However, it seems that this is the only exposure Carlton has had to life in the projects. So although Carlton Banks is African American, as well as his whole family, he does not speak in African American Vernacular English, but could instead be categorized as a nerd, who speaks in hyper standard English.  But because of the bet Carlton has with Will, the audience sees him start to talk in African American Vernacular English, using the phrase “Yo wassup?” But just a minute later, at 1:47, we see the nerdy Carlton revert back to his old self and correct one of the other men on how to pronounce Deutsche Mark.

(This is a before video of when Carlton first arrives is Compton.)

(This is an after video of when Carlton has had time to assimilate.)

         While Carlton Banks is one example of appropriation, we must remember that he is a character on a show. However, there are many other examples of real-life people who speak in a manner that we would not expect them to. One such example is a popular Youtuber, who goes by the name FunnyChloeMichelle. This young girl, Chloe, became very popular on the Internet after one of videos went viral. The particular video was one in which Chloe was taking on the role and speech pattern of a girl living in the neighborhood Washington Heights. As someone who has been to Washington Heights many times and even has friends and family who speak like this, I found her accent very authentic sounding. When looking at Chloe, it is immediately apparent that she is white and that this is her not her normal manner of speaking.
         In this particular video, which happens to be my favorite, Chloe takes on the speech pattern of three different characters, each with his or her own specific accent and vernacular. The first character that Chloe inhabits is one of a foreign exchange student from Britain who happens to be staying with Chloe’s infamous character Krismeyris, the young girl from Washington Heights. Chloe also goes on to adopt the masculine voice of Miguel, who is dating Krismeyris. Chloe is able to expertly code switch between all three “languages.” Code switching is defined as the simultaneous use of more than one language while in a conversation. Chloe is able to do this effectively without ever reverting back to her native speech. 

           I find these two particular examples particularly interesting because of the similarities between them. Carlton Banks is an African American, who is thought to be outside of the norm in that he often speaks in hyperstandard English. Chloe is a white female, who is able to take on different speech patterns. Both of these examples have had their language affected by their neighborhood and the people that surround them. Carlton, as I previously stated, grew up in a wealthy neighborhood that was predominantly white. Carlton, therefore, never had any people around him who spoke in African American Vernacular English until Will came to live with the family.  Chloe, on the other hand, has stated previously that she lives in a neighborhood that is predominantly Latino. Both are speaking in patterns that would be thought to not be the norm for someone of their race. Their speech patterns seem to take after whichever race is predominant in their own particular neighborhood. This could possibly be seen as something that is deliberate and an attempt to assimilate into the culture of the community.  This could simply be, though, that appropriation is something that subconsciously happens, with no deliberate thought put into adopting a different manner of speaking. How ever appropriation occurs, it is clear that it could involve more than one language and that it could happen regardless of a person’s race or ethnicity.

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