Monday, May 9, 2011

Accents, Pride, and Good English

by: Leslie Tapia
week 3

An emphasis we have always put in class is that about standardization of English. Here in the United States, if people learn English then it will lead you into a path of social mobility. This is what the article by Urciuoli comments on, English being the language of success. He states, “when people talk about good or correct English, they refer to language forms in ways that highlight their nature as cultural capital” (page 107). Many immigrants who come to this country find it important to learn English but in many states, the immigrant population is so large that at times, people just never learn the language. States such as New York or Illinois, even Pennsylvania have populations of immigrants who have been in this country for at least 10 years without knowing anything but “Hello” and “Good-bye”. Is it crazy to think that people can live comfortably in the United States without learning the language?

Many people still continue to try and learn the language, however. The correctness and the clarity may not always be there but they try any means to communicate with others. In my lifetime experiences, I have seen my own father struggle with the language barrier.  His social mobility depended not only on his language but also on his work skills. Standardizing his language would be of no difference to him with his business partners or his co-workers. In the end of the day, he knew he said what he wanted to say. So is the case for many other immigrants coming into the United States. Without the guidance of a proper English linguistics teacher, the people that come try to learn the foreign language on their own. In doing so, they begin to develop accents. People are aware of their accents, too. It is not as though people think they are speaking in a perfect monolinguistic society. We can take this clip from Russell Peters as a perfect example of this perspective. 

People find their own tone of voice when learning the language. People like Russel Peters will make jokes and help others realize the comical side of accents but in reality people do notice the manners in which others speak. Sometimes when others notice, the reaction may be a negative one. 

What many people fail to understand is that our country is not made up of one distinct “proper English”. Unlike other countries in which we can identify the accent comes from only that respectable nation, the United States is fully diverse with multiple countries massed into one. The clash of languages creates different interpretations of a language that was original thought to be of one kind. Assimilation is impossible to achieve with more incoming immigrants every year. The perspective of “good English” is only an idea produced by those in a higher social class. As a nation, we cannot strive for a monoglot society if there is no definition as to what spoken English is American English. This argument has been carried out for centuries now and the debate won’t die. 

One thing I found interesting the other day as I was browsing was this simple comic that was displayed in another blogspot…

The people argue that the language of the land is the language that must be spoken. Well then why are these people not learning the indigenous languages such as the Cherokee or the Apache or other Indian languages found in the United States’ Indian reserves? Such an argument on language cannot be made if history shows other evidence. Yes, we have been influence by the British to speak their language. The language was then brought here to U.S. soil by means of others influencing the language originally planted. There were many cases in which this occurred such as that of the Spanish spoken in distinct parts of Latin America. In different countries and in different regions within that country, Spanish is spoken at a different speed and in a different dialect.

Race and class at times clash along with the language and when trying to dominate the language spoken, it is dominated on different levels. The higher classes can learn it faster than those who are in the middle or lower classes. Take a look at this political cartoon on assimilation…

I bet you can see the frustration of the “professor” but what about the frustration of the Mexicans trying to learn. The ability to dominate a language may vary if not properly guided. Many teachers get frustrated with the “accents” developed by immigrants’ children. These children can only learn their parents’ language once they come to this country since it is the only language they have always known. To come here and learn a new language with no knowledge as to how it even sounds like is even more frustrating on the children. They are unfortunately found in schools of limited education. The good English they could learn limits their social mobility. That cultural capital is then lost as well and the knowledge that could have been enhanced is not.

Because people have this limited knowledge and create these accents, the notions and ideas of how language is connected to race and class can’t ever be taken away. So many accents and dialects are formed that now each region in the US has a typical manner of speaking. Your voice and your tone imply that personality and the person and language you come from. Can these identifications then be a good or a bad thing? It is hard to say since a good share of people are still proud of their accents and that pride is hard to take away. You cannot take away culture form a language when it has already been implemented for many years. The example I rely on is that of New York. The 90% of immigrant population found in this state alone is reason enough for the government not to force English as the official language. Unless you want a riot in the middle of Times Square, maybe it is best that the natives recognize the huge cultural influence that is found on their land.

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