Language gives you power, now shut up, you're saying it wrong.

Over the years, I’ve been told, and I’ve experienced myself, how language gives you power. What you say and how you present yourself while saying it can make an immediate impression on the people your talking to. But what not many people realize is, that while language can give you power, it can also take it away.

I never really thought about the way I spoke. I always just assumed that I sounded normal, nothing out of the ordinary, and definitely not too far off from everybody else. My friends in grade school never mentioned anything about my way of speaking, and neither did my family. Everything went on as usual, until I began going to Summer Camp. People that went there were from all over the place. Everyone talked a bit differently. As we were all introducing ourselves one boy asked where I was from

“Oh, I’m from Philadelphia.” I said, assuming he was just wondering which region I was from.

“Really? I didn’t think people from there had any accents.”

“…What?” I thought it was odd, I didn’t have an accent. “I don’t have an accent.” I defended myself, but he wasn’t trying to insult me, so he just laughed,

“Yeah, you do. It’s cute.” Of course, I just thanked him, but it lead me to think about other things. I began noticing the way other’s talked more, and the way I talked. I now heard and recognized which words I may be pronouncing differently, I don’t know why I did it; it was just how I’d always talked. Throughout my time there, people had kept on mentioning it, I’d gotten used to it and just responded with a simple ‘I don’t actually know why I have an accent. I guess I just do.’

            As time went on, I began to notice it more, I noticed when I did it and what it sounded like. I realized I had an accent when I got angry or upset, and I realized when I tried to hide it. Accents, and just language in general can have a big affect on a person and those surrounding them. The way I speak and present myself entirely depends on who I’m with and where I am. When I’m with my family, I’m loud and less cautious of how I sound, but more cautious of what I say, and what terms I use. Around my friends, I’m more cautious of keeping my accent reigned in and less about what I say.  I think the cause of this is, while I can still be myself around my friends, I know I don’t have to impress my family, or try to gain their approval with anything. This lead me to realize the fact that my persona when I’m alone and my persona in public are so different. When I’m alone, or with close friends, I tend to be louder and less reserved. I tend to share my opinions more because I know that they will more or less not judge me on it. When I’m in public, or in a place where my opinions and what I say may be disregarded or I may be judged on what I say, I definitely take more time to think about what I have to say and make sure I sound smart when I say it.

 Now, sounding ‘smart’ to me meant enunciating my words, regardless of the accent, and making sure I know exactly what I’m saying before I say it. In society, a generally accepted idea is that having a voice gives you power. Speaking out and making yourself heard and having your opinions recognized are all things that gives you power. But I think something that isn’t often recognized is that a voice can also take away a lot of the power that you have. If someone deems the way that you speak to be ‘wrong’ it makes you insecure about the way you speak. I have been told that the way I pronounce some words are wrong, which ultimately leads to me trying to change the way I speak, or just not speak at all. I don’t want to be told that something I’ve been doing all my life is all of a sudden wrong and that I should change it, it knocks down my confidence and takes away any power that I had before.

There are many key roles in the way that we speak, one of them being the company we keep, and one of the others being our history. We don’t necessarily have to be from a certain place to pick up an accent, or a saying, or other ways of speaking from that region. My grandparents are Italian, and although even my grandmother doesn’t fully speak Italian, there are some words and phrases that she uses. From being around them so much, I’ve picked up some ways of speaking from her, such as the way I use an accent when pronouncing Italian foods. When we were kids, my grandma would pinch me and my sister’s faces and say

“Look at the faccia” ‘faccia’ being the Italian word for face. Throughout time, I began picking it up and found myself saying the same thing with my little cousins, that along with ‘bambino’ the word for ‘baby.’

            Although I’ve picked these things up and using them has become sort of involuntary, I’ve had to stop saying them in the company of people who don’t exactly know my background. People have asked me if I spoke Italian, which I don’t, and when I tell them that, they accuse me of faking it. This reminds me of a the writing “ If Black English, Isn’t a language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” In this story, they're arguing whether something is or isn't a language. They say that some people take speaking "black english" as just being wrong. But I don't think there is one right or wrong way to speak, and nobody has the right to take anybody else's speech away.

            I have seen this problem with many people, not just myself. The way that they speak is criticized to the point that they have to change everything about it. Something that once gave them power, is now a burden.             

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