What language is to me

“I’m done my homework, Dad.”

“I’m sorry, what?”

“I said I’m done my homework...”

“What? I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”

“....I’m finished with my homework.” I grumble as I realize he’s only pretending not to

hear me so that I’ll use correct grammar. Let this paint a picture of how I have been taught the English language growing up. My English is proper, which entails correct grammar, not much slang, and a rather advanced vocabulary for a guy my age. Yes, I talk sarcastically improper and use tons of slang when I’m being casual or weird with my friends, but that is on purpose and aside from my actual persona. Growing up, my parents helped me learn proper grammar and what difficult words meant by simply educating me on proper English on a consistent basis as I learned the language. They didn’t stop at having me know how to communicate with words and speak basic English, they felt that since proper English was a part of their identity, that they should raise me with the same characteristic. Aside from how they wanted to raise me, I do agree with them that proper English is a good thing to be educated on.
“Hola negro! What’s up?”
“Chillin doe, you?”
“Herpin’ to the derp.”
If someone heard me talking with my friends, they probably wouldn’t know what to think of it. It’s a weird system that us teenagers have developed, talking with such strange slang. However, that’s honestly what conversation among me and my friends like. I see it as the definition of casual, which is what my general language with friends has evolved into. If for example one of my parents of teachers saw just how casual I can make certain words or topics seem, they’d probably be shocked. For instance, the word ‘negro’. I use it quite casually; I call most of my friends that. Personally, I have adapted to not thinking much of it. However, if somebody finds it offensive, I won’t use it to address them, or use it around them. However, most of my friends see it and it doesn’t affect them at all. It’s become such a casual term, which can sometimes be a bad thing. This is because the word has ties and roots to hatred. When it comes to edgy terms like “negro”, there is honestly such a fine line between okay and not okay. It’s a common occurrence today that words that root from hatred are used casually, and the speaker becomes numb to what they are really saying.

What I have noticed with myself is that I am aware of the history of the words I use, and instead of finding myself numb to what I’m saying, I am aware of what I’m saying, but I treat the word very casually and with no undertone of hate, (which painfully, is still arguable that I have become numb to what I’m saying). However, I do refrain from using words that stem from hatred and are still commonly used to talk down on someone or something. I do not treat these words casually, because they are words that severely damage the identity and emotions of individuals. Through being exposed to all different forms of speaking and slang, I have developed my own boundaries in terms of what is casual speaking and what is offensive.

“Yo, how you been brah?”
“Pretty good bro, you?”
“Chillin man. You tryna go chill today?”
“Yeah bro definitely.”

I have some friends who have very douchey ways of talking, like this for example. In the essay, “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me What Is?” by James Baldwin, he states that “People evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances or in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate. (And if they cannot articulate it, they are submerged.)”. I’ve noticed that people sort of live in their own reality and they create or adapt the language that is appropriate with their world. For example, if there is a guy who really likes to party on the beach and loves longboarding and surfing, he might start using the words “dude”, “bro”, “brah”, “gnarly”, et cetera, because those are the word associated with his environment and activities. Thus, he incorporates those words into his language to help define and control his circumstances.

I have noticed with myself that whenever I am approached by a certain form of speaking, I quickly conform and talk like they talk. I do this because if the speaker hears me speaking how they speak, they will be more open about themselves because they will feel comfortable talking the way they do. I don’t really ever look down on people based on how they speak (unless they’re being extremely offensive.) However, because of all this, I’ve learned that a speaker’s language does not always affect their own identity, but can affect the identities of others. All in all, instead of making fun of someone’s language because I don’t know how to relate to it, I respect people for how they speak. I like when people know they like to talk, and I respect that because I can relate to it myself.

How I speak and my choice of vocabulary has basically always been accepted and not questioned mostly because I speak in Standard English and use proper grammar. Whenever I talk to people in strange yet casual slang, it’s a sign that I like them, because I know that they will embrace it and that I can be extremely casual and down to earth with them. My language means a lot to me and, if I think about it, although it doesn’t represent my views/opinions, the way I talk does represent who I am. My language intersects with my identity.