Nineteen Minutes- Book Review

Nineteen Minutes can Last Forever

Nineteen minutes is a riveting drama written by the well known Jodi Piccoult. She is utmost known for the book My Sister’s Keeper which was turned into a movie in 2009. Jodi is acknowledged for writing books that are not only able to capture and take the readers into the lives of the characters, but also someone who writes about real world problems. She knows how to truly draw the reader in until the last page.

Jodi Lynn Piccoult is a 47 year old woman who was born May 19,1966 in Nesconset, Ny. She has written 21 books with many more to come, her first book was published in 1992 “ Songs of the Humpback Whale”. Her latest book is “ The storyteller” which was published in early 2013. She was recently named NYT bestselling author. Jodi has a very different way of writing which detaches her from the others. When she writes a book she writes in each character's point of view, you are able to understand each person's thinking. She has changed so many people's lives through her writing. She will continue to impact people with her books for many years to come.

Nineteen minutes is  a heart stopping novel about a school shooting ( that lasted nineteen minutes).“Everyone would remember Peter for 19 minutes of his life, but what about the other nine million?” asks Peter’s mother. In the first pages of the book you meet Alex the towns judge and Josie her daughter. You are introduced into the relationship that they have and how they communicate, you then learn about Peter ( the shooter). Jodi takes you in his world from his point of view. Jodi takes you into Peter’s past and lets you know why he is the way he is and what motivated him to do the shooting. From the beginning Jodi lets you know that there is more to the shooting then you think. It wasn’t just a random rampage that one boy decided to do it was a well thought out tragedy. From the beginning pages are able to see the dynamic of the relationships in this book.  

The way that Jodi decided to write this book was beautiful. Since it was a book written about a shooting if it was written from Josie point of view (Victim of shooting) it would become very bias. When you write from each character’s view you are able to understand how the shooting affected each person. Jodi also writes from the past to the present. One chapter of the book may be 5 years before the shooting and then another chapter may be 1 month before the shooting. This is how she gives you background of each character and you are able to learn where they come from and why they behave the way that they do. By her doing this you don’t form judgements of the character, even though Peter Houghton shot his fellow class members you learn that the situation was much larger than life. Not that killing people was justified but you are able to understand him as a person. When Jodi wrote about the shooting in the book it wasn’t too much. I was scared when reading this book that the shooting part would be so sad. But the way she wrote was capturing. It wasn’t too graphic she drew you in so that you wanted to know what happen step by step.

There are many questions that are brought up in Nineteen minutes. Such as can someone be pushed too far? Another question that was brought up was could something have been done differently. Could his parents had listened to him when he constantly told them he was bullied. Another question that was brought up was did the students deserve to die? Should they have been punished for their wrongdoings? In addition why was peter bullied? Why him? Why was being different a death sentence? Why couldn’t he have just been Peter? In the book Jodi brings up a lot of issues when it comes to peer pressure and how it can really push someone past their breaking point.  

This book for the most part exceeds my expectations. Overall it was a absolutely a well written book. But at times it moved very slowly, but that was because without the background you weren’t able to understand each character. I never lost interest in what I was reading. Every Time I picked up the book I was hooked. I wanted to read all the way through to that last page. This book really opened my eyes to how much bullying can affect someone. I thought that reading this book around the time where America is being affected by school shooting would be hard but , this book only opened my eyes to the real  world problems. It also opened my eyes to the reality that some of these people are being bullied so much that they don’t know what else to do.  Anyone who likes fiction books that deal with realistic problems should read this book. Also it is just a good read the way she develops the characters and the life portrayed in this book is amazing.

Nineteen Minutes

Jodi Picoult

Washington Square Press

Copyright 2007


455 pages

Culture and Profanity

Culture is the main system that defines what category an individual fits in. A culture can consist of education, media, music, art, morals/religion, and most importantly, language. One part of language that culture has a large impact on his profanity. Profanity/curse words are a subset of language that is considered strong, obscene, and overall dirty. However, these words can still be apart of ones common diction, and are “okay to use” under certain circumstances. Permission to use profanity comes from culture because culture defines what profanity is. Since every culture has diverse definitions of what is social norm and what isn’t, certain behaviors and language that are natural for one culture are deemed blasphemous and obscene for another.

The way in which profanity is depicted in the media depends on an innumerous amount of variables and complications. For essentially every circumstance, however, culture has the main influence on the laws that dictate what language is “too obscene,” or what is perfectly fine to say publicly. When such boundaries are crossed, censorship is used. Censorship in the United States has liberalized over the years, and censorship in the United Kingdom is also rather lax with its linguistic risks.  Take into account two different versions of the same television show that is common amongst the teenage population of both the United States and the United Kingdom; Skins. Both Skins UK and Skins US are known for their impulsive and radical usage of obscenity and foul language. In Skins UK, Effy uses terms like “shagging” and “surf and turf” (SE3E01: “Everyone”)  to describe sex, and when Freddie confesses to Effy that he’s in love with her, he blatantly says “I really fucking love you.” (SE4E05: “Freddie”)  In Skins US, when Tony was making phone calls to people about Stanley, he says that he “Has to get laid by the time he’s 17, or he can’t be my friend anymore.” (SE1E01: “Tony”)  Even with the slight lenience of censorship, it caused far more controversy and lead to the show going off air after the first season. Reasons why Skins US got far more negative attention was because it publicly presented things too obscene for American media. American culture contrasts from the United Kingdom’s culture because the UK is open to accepting what’s considered improprietous language as a social norm, as well as a natural human behavior. Because the UK’s definition of profanity is less stringent, it gives permission to freely use what’s defined as profane in the US.

With a majority of religions, there is a wide range of mandatory edicts strictly against vulgar language.  In Catholicism, there are a specific amount of rules that must be followed by every Roman Catholic entitled The Ten Commandments. In the Ten Commandments according to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, there are two particular commandments that specify  the wrongdoings of using foul language and other swear words. Two of them would be the second commandment, “Thou shalt not use misuse the name of the Lord your God in vain,” (New American Bible, Exodus 20:7) and the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” (New American Bible, Exodus 20:14)  Using God’s name in vain is considered a form of swearing as well as blasphemy. With the sixth commandment, committing adultery can be defined/interpreted as any sort of act that is sexual or impure towards your body. Cursing/swearing fits into this criteria, because it is thought of to be degrading and harmful towards one’s self. What is fascinating about these two commandments especially, though, are that they state two natural human behaviors as being vulgar and degrading, and a majority of curse words are essentially just language that describes these natural human behaviors. Though because the culture of Catholicism does not give permission to use such words, they have become profane, because culture defines the line between vulgarity and normality.

In just about any and every educational environment, the concept of obscenity is either completely avoided, or deemed as subject too inappropriate to approach with any depth. This is because of ethics that are established in the culture of learning. Though recently, the comfort level with profanity has been increasing especially in educational environments. In a New York Times article about educated people using foul language in America, it states that “In our society, the main taboo is no longer sex, but race.” (“Room for Debate”) And also talks about how our offense evolves throughout the time. It also states that, after a certain amount of time, “people clutching at their pearls at things like that will look as quaint as people considering it a big deal that Clark Gable said ‘damn’ in ‘Gone With the Wind.’” (“Room for Debate”) Because of the fact that Americans are no longer offended by impropriety, they have now moved on to hyperbolizing the insult of using a racial slurs. The definition of profanity is constantly revising and evolving based on what a culture is offended by, and because of the recent epidemic of sexual exploitation, there is no more controversy or shock towards it, and it has become so natural that such words can be comfortably used by educated people. Now, ethnophaulisms are the new definition of profanity, and any permission to use that profanity will come from the culture that has defined it.

Permission to use profanity comes from culture because culture defines what profanity is.  Since every culture has diverse definitions of what is social norm and what isn’t, certain behaviors and language that are natural for one culture are deemed blasphemous and obscene for another. Culture is what dictates ethical and unethical behavior, regardless of its normality or naturality elsewhere. The boundary between ethical and obscene accentuates the line between right and wrong, and carries out the importance of doing and saying the right things.

Works Cited:

"Everyone." Skins UK. E4: 22 Jan 2009. Television.

“Freddie.” Skins UK. E4: 24 Feb 2010. Television.

“Tony” Skins US. MTV 17 Jan 2010. Television.

The New American Bible.

"Why Do Educated People Use Bad Words?" Room for Debate Why Do Educated People Use Bad Words Comments. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

Black English

All across America there are African-American people who speak an english that is similar to our but not exactly the same. It started in the darkest times of this country. The times of slavery. When White Americans enslaved thousands of African-Americans and forcefully brought them to America. With no knowledge of english African-Americans adapted and tried their best to communicate. White Americans forced African-Americans to create their own version of english during the times of slavery.

In James Baldwin’s essay, “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me. What Is?”, in the sixth paragraph he begins to explain the origins of Black English and how it may have came to be, “..the slaves began the formation of the black church, and it is within this unprecedented tabernacle that is Black English began to be formed...the adaption of a foreign tongue.” I personally believe that Baldwin’s correct. As an American I have pride in the country and the people in it, but we did something horrid. We brought Africans to the states as slaves. Then when they began to try and communicate with their own version of our language we discriminated against them harshly, and told them they had to speak our English. It’s a hard topic to fathom but it’s all true.

Also in Baldwin’s paper in the second paragraph where he starts to compare and contrast other systems that are involved through languages he argues, “A frenchman living in Paris speaks a subtly and crucially different language from that of the man living in Marseilles, neither sounds much like the man living in Quebec, Guadeloupe, Martinique, or Senegal although the “common” language of all these areas is French.” Now Baldwin raises a great point here. He’s comparing the French language system to the English one. He says a man in Paris sounds different than a person in Marseilles. That would be like saying a man from Brooklyn sounds different than a person in Mississippi. Which is undoubtedly true. He then also goes on about other French speaking countries in which most french natives couldn’t even understand the language they’re speaking there. It all winds back to colonization. When the french took over these countries they had forced the people living there to learn french. So the natives made it their own. Just like how African-Americans made english their own, and frankly I don’t blame them one bit.

Since the times of slavery are over and white people and black people are integrated we have learned to live alongside each other in peace. The only difference between us now besides our skin color is the variation of english that we speak. African American Vernacular English is the proper name for it, but it actually is a separate language from english created by african-americans. A great example is pulled from a Kanye West song called “Otis”, “They ain't see me cause I pull up in my other Benz. Last week I was in my other other Benz, throw your diamonds up cause we in this bitch another 'gain.” The reason I’m using a Kanye West lyric is to show how this “dialect” spreads around to the younger generation. If the younger generation speaks in this dialect then it will only become more popular. In fact even white people have begun to take on a form of this speech from being around African Americans so much. Nothing wrong with that, it’s just that we as a country need to recognize that we actually are creating a new English.  In all honesty I don’t like this type of music at all, but if slavery is the reason that most African Americans speak in this dialect then I hope they continue to.

Mostly all African-Americans have spoken or will be speaking African American Vernacular English in the future, this is because of the recent migrations of African Americans from the southern states toward the northern states. Therefore, the African American men and women who had slaves as their ancestors and those who were handed down the dialect from them are spreading out. With spreading out comes passing on and what’s happening is, the farther they spread the more popular this dialect becomes. More and more people will continue to be exposed to African American Vernacular English. All of this had started when we sailed to Africa and brought back slaves from West, Central, and even Southern Africa. So all of these Africans shoved on a boat together each of them speaking different languages had no clue on how to communicate. After a while when they got to the states they began to be exposed to English and they tried to learn it the best they could, all while slave working. And thus African American Vernacular English was born.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. "If Black English isn't a language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" (Essay)

West, Kanye. "Otis" (Song)

Ender's Game Linguistics

Ender Wiggin is the average American six year old. Well, not really, but he’s an American, fictional six year old. Ender Wiggin in the main protagonist in Orson Scott Card’s 1983 science fiction novel Ender’s Game (and all of all the other books, Speaker For The Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender’s Shadow, Shadow of Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, First Meetings, Shadow Of The Giant, A War of Gifts, Ender in Exile, Shadows in Flight, Earth Unaware, Earth Afire, and Shadow Alive).  He’s the third, he has an older brother Peter and an older sister Valentine. They live in a world where English in the “international standard” and every kid in the world is learning it. Except French kids, France kept tradition and gives kids 4 years to learn French before starting with the international standard. Earth is faced with a Bugger (or Formic, dependent on whether or not you intend to see the movie or read the wiki page) crisis, where they are being invaded with an alien species. Young Ender is sent to an international military school, where he is with kids from all over the world being trained to lead the International Fleet, better know as the I.F. While all of the boys speak English, they speak variants of English. The dialect and accent that the kids speak affects their hierarchy and education levels.

There is this boy in Ender’s launch group, named Bernard, from France. The story is narrated from a third person perspective, but from Ender’s thoughts, we see that he thinks that Bernard has a very exoctic, rare sounding accent.  Ender’s original perception of Bernard is that he is snobby and arrogant. He doesn’t have this idea about the other boys in his crew, but because Bernard is French, then Ender thinks that he’s arrogant. They use language and other things to turn the students against each other. The officers clearly establish who is from France and they single out Ender on the ride to Battle School. Colonel Graff thinks that isolation maintains creativity, and he clearly doesn’t believe in the core value of collaboration.

Then in the game room, Ender meets kids who are older than he is, but have this sort of uneducated, slow sounding English. Some of them sound slightly southern. but mostly the spoke with an improper sense of grammar. None of them were commanders or platoon leaders, all of them were just soldiers. All of the boys who lead in the top armies, such as Dragon or Rabbit, were all American, British, Australian, or French. They all spoke some sort of almost unaccented English.

Not only are all of the student commanders and platoon leaders from wealthier, well educated countries, the same also applies to all the leaders and officers from the I.F. that we see in the book. Colonel Graff, who is in charge of Ender’s training whilst he’s at Battle School is American, and always conducts himself with this great sense of propriety in his English. When Ender is at Command School, he has a teacher by the name of Mazer Rackham. He defeated the Buggers in the first invasion and is a great commander. Mazer’s English is average, he makes typical mistakes while speaking, but all in all, speaks standard, unaccented English. This is fairly typical of people who are high up in the I.F.

While Ender is at battle school, his two siblings at home decide they want to take over the web and start writing political commentary. Because Peter is only 12, and Valentine is only 10 at the time that they do this, the decide to take up the pseudonyms of  Demonthes and Locke. Peter plays Locke, who is a person who encourages communication between nations regarding the Warsaw Pact. This is strange because Peter is not at all like that in real life; Peter would skin squirrels alive and watch them suffer and die. Valentine is quiet and sensitive in real life, she baked cakes on Ender’s birthday even though he was at Battle School and no one baked anymore. She always stuck up for Ender when Peter would bully him. Valentine’s online persona, however, stirs up tension between governments and doesn’t encourage any communication between anyone. The online personas of the kids causes great political tension and they are both employed to be working full time writing columns for websites on the net. However, in order for them to have done so well, they had to present the front of a well-educated, wealthy men who are very politically inclined. Peter couldn’t present himself as a ruthless 12 year old boy who was jealous of a third who got to go to Battle School. Valentine couldn’t present herself as a 10 year old girl who was sensitive and fearful for her brother’s psychological and physical well being. Valentine had to present herself as a man, first and foremost, for anyone to take her seriously. Secondly, she had to not be kind-hearted or sensitive at all. She had to use such harsh language to not show herself and to make her opinion known and popular. Whereas, Peter on the other hand, had to phrase his thoughts in such as way that made him look very deep and thoughtful, while encouraging communications and world peace. Peter’s character had to be careful to not use strong or harsh language in order to get his thoughts and opinions well known.

As children running this column, it became so well known that they had to compare and contrast the views of Demonthes and Locke for school. Valentine almost got herself in trouble, writing such an eloquent analysis on comparing the views of the two, that the school wanted to publish it on the school website. The problem with that though, was that the writing style between Demonthes and Valentine was almost identical. After that, she quickly learned that she not only had to code switch while talking, but she almost had to have two separate writing styles and vocabularies. Peter was better at not revealing his character, because he had always code switched between talking to Ender and Valentine and talking to adults. Peter had created this facade that caused adults to see him as a sweet, intelligent, sensitive boy instead of the ruthless killer he was in his younger days.

Back at Battle School, Ender is in Salamander Army under the command of Bonzo Madrid, from Spain. Ender’s first mistake in the army was to pronounce the commander’s name wrong and to not speak to the commander properly. Despite Ender eventually being the most valuable soldier in the army, Bonzo has a bad impression of him because he has a Spanish name and Ender isn’t familiar with Spanish names. Although English is the international standard, most countries kept ethnic names with influences of past languages.

All in all, language is very powerful. As we see from Ender’s Game, language affects the boys’ ranks and how they were seen by other boys. Language also gave them a sense of individuality, and we always knew who was talking even when it was clearly spelled out. We see language, while key to communication, affects the hierarchy of society.

Works Cited

Card, Orson Scott. “Ender’s Game”


Have you ever had something you couldn’t do? Something you couldn’t say? That’s me, that’s who I..... or at least who I was. Ever since I got my braces, the things I used to say, I say no more. One time during Freshman year, I said a word that I hadn’t used in a while. This word was so simple, and the fact that I couldn’t say it made me livid. It was so embarrassing. I tried, tried, and I tried again, but I couldn’t pronounce it correctly. It got to the point where my entire class made fun of me. God, I hated these braces. Eventually it got better, but until that happened, I was the butt of the joke.

One day, a couple of my friends and I were having a conversation. I don’t remember what it was about, but I went to say this word and all I got in response was a room full of laughter.

“WHAT? Can you say that again?”

“What are you talking about?” I uttered with a face of confusion. I was so lost as to what they were talking about. Thinking to myself, What are they talking about?

“Repeat your sentence,” another said.

“When you get married you should be......,” and then I knew what they were talking about. I knew my braces had changed the way I spoke, but not to the point where it was noticeable. So I said it.


I said it again just to be sure that this is what they were laughing at. As soon as the word left my lips, the room erupted again. At first it was a little funny, but then it got annoying. Every time I said something, someone else would end up asking me to say the word again.

“Can you say ‘purr’ again?”

It really got to the point where I just eliminated it from my vocabulary. Clearly that wasn’t the word I was trying to say, but everyone wouldn’t listen to that part. Not having someone to listen to me, and to have everyone laugh at me, caused me to cry. I wasn’t crying because they were laughing; it was because I felt defeated.

When I went home,  I told my mom about the situation. After hearing what I had to say, she just told me that sometimes there are certain challenges people have to overcome. Everyone can’t be perfect at everything. I knew that my mom knew the struggle I was going through because she has had similar situations occur in her life.

Although I got to talk to my mom about it, I still felt some type of way because she wasn’t in my predicament. I felt lonely because I thought I did not have anyone my age to relate to. I understand that she could understand, but I wanted to not feel the way I did. I felt upset and defeated. I hate not knowing how to do something. Knowing that I couldn’t say, the word, not only affected my speech, but the way I was thinking.

After realizing that I couldn’t say the word, I got upset. “Upset” is really an understatement. Sometimes I cried, but that was in the comfort of my home. Then I started to think, I’m just like a baby, so why not learn to say it and adjust to my braces. So when I was alone I would concentrate on saying that one word.

“Purr. No! Peerrr. No.”

Sometimes I even got mad with myself and would go days without trying to practice. But I knew that if I wanted to say that word again, I would have to continue to try. After a while I got better and I felt confident about it. So I had a conversation with a friend and she decided to bring oiiup that topic.

She said,“......hahaha that’s why you can’t say.....”

Knowing that I could actually say the word without much effort, I laughed and said, “Why can’t I? Pure.”

When I said that, it shut her up and she was surprised. I was a little surprised, too. Not only that, but I was proud that I could actually do it. Knowing that I could say the word, “pure,” I felt some confidence coming back. I was strengthening my resilience to bounce back from that situation, and obstacles like that.

Now that I am a sophomore, I can relate this situation to a clip that I recently watched. The clip is titled, “American Tongues,” by James Baldwin. The clip talks about the different ways that Americans speak. James Baldwin traveled across the country and got different individuals to say certain things. When my peers heard me say the word, “pure” wrong, they didn’t realize that my braces caused an accent. The way I spoke was because of the complications that I have had. That is how the different Americans in the clip portrayed one another. They said each other was wrong, but didn't realize they were all correct, but had different ways expressing it.

Looking back on freshmen year, I feel as though the incident was a barrier that I broke through. Now that I know that it’s okay to fail, just as long as you can come back from it, makes me a better person. This has helped me for situations to come and has helped me have a better outlook on obstacles. Adjusting to my braces was not easy, but I am glad to have them. At first they got me upset because I could not say what I wanted, but later on it showed that even with the circumstances that I have, I could make the best out of it.

It's Gravy, Guys

“Excuse me. Can you please show me where the gravy is?” I shuffle through the endless aisles, piled to the brim with food. We reach our destination as the worker peels away. I nod a silent thank you and look at the wall in front of me. Cans of gravy. Brown. Not the gravy I wanted. “This isn’t what I wanted,” I say aloud to myself. I draw the attention of other customers, but do my best to ignore their glares.

I leave the aisle at once, almost disgusted with the fact that I didn’t get the real gravy, the Italian gravy, that I was searching for. I wander around the grocery store looking for the sweet Italian perfection my father had instructed me to get. I finally find it, perched atop the highest shelf in aisle 9. I politely handed the cashier the can. She slid the barcode swiftly across the scanner, “Tomato Sauce- $3.99”.

“Dad, he gave me brown gravy. BROWN.”

“It’s Jersey bud, we aren’t on ninth street anymore. They don’t talk the way we do.”

“God, I hate these people.”

I never thought about it. They’re so close apart, separated by a small body of water, but

they do things so much differently. The way we drive, the way we cook, they way the houses look, but the way we talk especially. They say coffee, not “cawfee.” They say water, not “wooder.” I had to make that adjustment when I moved, but I did it subconsciously at first. I hadn’t even realized that I started pronouncing the “a” in water instead of the “o”. I wanted to be normal to them. I wanted to speak like them, I wanted to speak correctly to the new neighbors in their cookie-cutter house. I remember the first time I spoke to them, they knew instantly where I was from.

“How’d you know?” I would ask, confusedly.

“I mean, the way you ‘tawlk’ instead of talk. Everything has an ‘aw’ in it and everything sounds different from the way we say it here.”

That made me conscious of the way I spoke, the way I stood out from everyone else. I started making an effort to say things the “normal way.” I wanted to be like them, be someone that they wouldn’t make fun of or look at differently because of the way I spoke. I’d rather fit in with people there then feel inferior because I spoke, what I felt was, a complete different language from them. I wanted to fit in with the kids there not in the things I did but in the way I spoke.

I did keep, however, the words that people from New Jersey didn’t know, or words that we as Italians pronounce so differently that they couldn’t possibly know what I was talking about. Gravy for instance, the red stuff. I will always say that, no matter where I go. It's my heritage. It's who I am. It will always stay with me. But gravy is a real word, just a different meaning to people from South Philly. Other pronunciations are so different, they don’t resemble the original word at all. Italians say “rigut” instead of ricotta. We say galamad instead of calamari. Those are the things I would never change. The words I keep with me no matter how much it sets me apart from others.

        A video we watched in class, Americana Tongues, demonstrates how language differs from region to region, and reinforces the idea that no matter how small the distance, the English language we speak is all different. The way one part of Boston speaks is different from the way another part of Boston speaks, same with New York. Their languages and dialect are entirely different and they're in the same city. An entire body of water separates Philadelphia and Cherry Hill, the languages are completely different. It makes me feel like an alien.

I’d like to say I recover my language when I come back to Philly, but I’d be lying. I feel like Jersey has changed me, stripped me of something that was a big part of my identity, the way I speak. The language made me feel closer to my family. It made me feel at home. Now I can’t “tawlk” like that no matter how hard I try. Most people would say, “It’s your language. It’s like riding a bike. You never forget.” They’d be right. I didn’t forget. I subconsciously choose not to speak like that. It’s like my brain knows it isn’t the “correct” way to speak, so it refuses to let my mouth and tongue move in such a fashion to pronounce those words in that manner.

It would be easy to blame Jersey for taking away my language, for taking away who I am, but that isn’t the truth. I blame myself. I let this happen. I became conscious of what other people thought of me, something that I told myself I’d never do. I changed for the sake of other people’s acceptance, even though, at first, I thought I was changing for myself. I thought it was what I wanted.

“Dad, do you like it here?”



“It has its ups and downs. They can’t drive and their cheesesteaks aren’t as good. We can’t walk anywhere. But on the other hand, we have a pool because we have a backyard and its safe here. The ‘wooder’ is better too.”

“Dad, how’d you do that?”

“Do what?”

“You said ‘wooder’. That’s not how people say it here.”

From that moment on, I never heard my dad say “wooder” again. He never said “haungry”, there wasn’t an “aw” in everything he said anymore. I realized it wasn’t just me. It was human nature. When the way you do something is deemed different from the norm, you want to change yourself to fit in, whether it be consciously or subconsciously. As people, we don’t like feeling inferior because we’re different.

Still, even after realizing that, I can’t speak my native tongue. The sharp South Philly accent has left me, never to come back again. I force myself to speak that way sometimes, but it just comes out wrong. It feels forced, because it is. It comes out right, but all wrong. My mouth and tongue may never move the same way again, and produce the same noises that I once called my language.


American Tongues. Film. 4 Nov 2013.

Stuttering is a Language

“You can’t d-d-do this t-to me! You won-n’t ever find a b-better act-tor!”

“I’m sorry, but we simply cannot cast someone with your condition!”

“But th-this is my d-dream”

“I am sorry, but our decision is final.”

My name is Steven Cyders and I am an actor. Well... I’m trying to become an actor. I have a stutter, so nobody really takes me seriously. I’ve tried to fix it in the past, but nothing seems to help. For as long as I can remember I have wanted to be an actor, but everyone always told me that I should try to find a goal that was more attainable, something more realistic. I didn’t listen though. If you could look past my stutter you would see I am a great actor.

After my last rejection, my 42nd, I did some thinking. I came up with a new plan for getting rid of my stupid stutter. I reasoned that a good actor can do different voices and accents besides their own, so if my ‘accent’ is a stutter, I just have to do a different accent. It’s brilliant! If I use someone else’s voice, then I won’t stutter. The only problem with this is that I don’t know how to do any other voices, I always focused on the emotional part of acting when practicing because my stutter made it difficult to do voices. I guess that the best way to learn something is to experience it yourself, so if I want to learn a different dialect, I need to hang around people who use it. So I have to do two things; first, figure out what dialects I want to study, and second, google techniques for analyzing speech.

After doing some research I have narrowed it down to a few different dialects; Southern, Western and Boston. Hopefully along the way I will find something something subtler, something that isn’t tied to an area, something normal, something without a stutter. I am hoping that by the end of this trip I can reduce my stutter. I leave for Alabama tomorrow. I am really excited to start this learning process and see how people in different parts of the country speak.


I awake to the steady beeping of the hotel alarm. This is it. This is the day I start my journey, the journey I hope will change my life for the better. After getting dressed I go to a diner for breakfast. I figure if I can go to a small diner I will get to hear some of the locals in their natural environment.

I get to the diner and I only have to wait a few minutes until a waitress comes over to take my order. She speaks with a classic southern drawl that gets me giddy in anticipation to learn it.

“My name’s Ellen and I’ll be servin’ ya dis mornin’. Anything I can git fer you hun?” She says.

“I’ll j-just have s-scram-mbled eggs an-nd b-bacon p-please.” I stutter. I spend the rest of the morning in the diner, listening to the conversations around me and to the waitress who brings me my food and fills my coffee a few times.

From what I was able to gather at the diner, southerners are polite and respectful, but sound almost uneducated to someone unaccustomed to hearing their contractions and vowel pronunciation. They seem to always call people Sweetie, Honey, Darlin’, or some variation. Their R’s are drawn out and soft, and AH becomes AW, like father and fawther. I think I understand their language well enough, so now all I have to do is practice. The best way I can think to do this would be to talk to myself in a mirror and try my hardest not to stutter. I set out for Boston tomorrow.


I am still practicing my southern accent, but I am getting kind of frustrated. I thought it would come easier, I thought I would have it down by now, but I guess it will take more work than I had hoped; I will have to work really hard to get rid of my stutter.

After I drop my bags at the hotel I decided to start at Faneuil Hall, a famous marketplace. As I am walking around I can hear a few accents, but I need to engage in conversation to get a better understanding of the language.

“Exc-cuse me, c-can I t-talk to you f-for a second?” I say to a man who walks by.

“Shure, I gyess. How can I help ya?” The guy replies in a thick nasally Boston accent.

“Well, I’m n-not from ar-round here and I w-was wondering if-f you could tell m-me the sign-nificance of-f this hall.” I ask him, gesturing at the building over my shoulder.

“It’s bay-sically just a meating playce that has been ahround synce the seventeen hundreds and nyow it is awlso paht of Bouston National Histo-ical Pahk.” He says.

“T-thanks.” I say.

I spend the rest of the day talking to the people passing by and get a pretty good understanding of the language.

Well that’s it for Boston. From what I heard Bostonians have a nasally way of talking and they turn their Rs into AHs. I am getting better at the Southern accent now too, I am not stuttering nearly as much. I guess it’s time to practice the Boston accent, hopefully my experience from the last one will make it easier. I hope I can master these by the time I get home.

So I am off to Oregon tonight. The western dialect is one that the majority of the country sees as normal and plain. This is the one that I am most excited to learn, but I think it will be the hardest. I guess you could say that I already have a western accent, but I don’t like to look at it like that because it would hinder me trying to lose my stutter.

When I get to Oregon I decide to go to a park today. I wander around listening to the people talking. I find it hard to pick out specific things in their speech. They do not have defining characteristics of speech. As I walk around I wonder if maybe they do have accent. Maybe to the southerners in Alabama they sound funny, or to the nasally Bostonians. But just like someone with a southern or boston accent sounds normal to them, the people here sound normal to me. I sit down on a bench to think and by the time I leave I have convinced myself that I will always have a stutter.

This trip was useless; I will never get rid of my stutter. I got a ticket for the next flight home. Maybe everyone was right, maybe I can’t be an actor. I guess that’s it then. I will go home, try to find a decent job and forget this whole thing.


Well it turns out I was wrong. When I got back home everyone told me how much my stutter had improved. I was shocked! I had thought I did not learn anything at all. I recently decided to start taking speech classes, and my stuttering has really been improving. I even have a new audition on Friday! I think that with a little more practice and focus, people might actually start taking me seriously. It’s not perfect, and it can’t be completely cured, but at least it always leaves room for improvement.

Perceptions of Individuality and Others

Does an individuals accent or regional speech affect how they are perceived? Around the world different accents and dialects have developed through the years. Right along with the dialect and accent development came the perception development. In the movie American Tongues, many people from different places in the United States speak about how they view other people and how other people view them, based on accents. The individuals, in the movie, who are interviewed also mention how accents or dialect affected certain decisions that they made. Language gives people a sense of individuality, but assumptions can affect perceptions.

At the beginning of the movie, the narrator is speaking about how people hearing the accents from remote mountain areas or islands of the East Coast region, view them. He also put a label on the people viewing the speech of certain places in the United States, when he said, “... may sound old fashioned to outsiders.” By saying the word, “may,” it shows that he is aware that assumptions are being made, but he does not have proof to back up what he is saying. The listener, to the video, is given the opportunity to hear some examples of the speech, but he never identifies what makes it be perceived as “old fashioned.” When he says “old fashioned,” he showing how the viewers are perceiving those with his accent. He uses that example to show one of the many categories people with different accents get placed in. The word ‘outsiders,’ is used to give the individuals that are labelling him, a label. He, too, is perceiving individuals.

Near the middle of the movie, a woman is speaking about why she left her boyfriend. She does not like how his speech reverted to his childhood speech, when they visited his hometown so she said, “...someone with those little accents was not going to crawl around inside of me, I was not going to have little southern babies who talk like that…” By saying, “who talked like that,” she proves that the language is what bothered her, not that they were southern. It seems as though she perceives this accent as sounding less educated than others. She wanted her children to speak like her, she didn’t want them to be different or individual. She assumed that if she married this guy, her children would have southern accents, which wouldn’t necessarily be true. It seemed that she had tied how he spoke, to her perception of him, which has now changed. She didn’t want her husband to be an individual and speak how he was comfortable, because she didn’t like it, and seemed to attach meaning to the way he spoke. It appears that she was not just focussed on how she felt about him, but how is southern accent would affect her and their future generations. She perceived him as a hillbilly, because he wasn’t speaking in a voice that she was accustomed or attracted to.

At the end of the movie a man is speaking about stereotypes, and how most people view certain types of people. In this instance, he was referring specifically to social class perceptions. He categorized groups of people when he said, “If you're a member of one of these stigmatized groups then the way you talk will also be stigmatized.” By saying “groups,” that immediately shows that although people are individuals, they get categorized. If an individual gets put into a group, then people will perceive him or her differently than if he or she were by themselves, or part of a different social or economic group. Using the word “will,” shows a sense of certainty; he knows that people will be stigmatized or perceived a certain way. By saying “then,” he is making a point that if you identify with one of the groups, it will cause you to be perceived a certain way no matter how you talk.

At Science Leadership Academy, students view accents as a good thing. They like that people are different or unlike everyone else. There are many quotes that I could use to show how people at SLA feel, but a few words that many students here have in common when they think about accents, are “pretty,” or “beautiful.” The people at SLA are open to differences, therefore when they meet people with accents different than theirs, they don’t assume that those people are less educated or will act a certain way. The word “pretty,” shows that the listeners have heard what the individual with an accent sounds like, rather than assuming that all people from that region sound the same. It also shows that the perceptions of people can be positive as well. When they say, “beautiful,” they show that they are being accepting and welcoming to each student with an accent, which helps those with different dialects to feel comfortable in an environment where everyone else has the same way of speaking.

Language gives people a sense of individuality, but assumptions can affect perceptions. These interviews show that perceptions of human beings can individualize or categorize citizens of the United States. Something as simple as an accent or dialect can identify or define a person. Even the social or economic group an individual belongs to, may cause people to perceive that individual in a certain way. This shows that people's perceptions of accents can take away individuality, by pressuring people to conform to a specific style of speaking. Another way assumptions can affect perceptions, is by people positively have an assumption. When one makes an assumption about someone, whether good or bad, others will perceive the individual a certain way until they can get to know the person.

Works cited:

N/A. "Documentary: “AMERICAN TONGUES” by Andrew Crowley." Web log post.Ravenouslanguage., 06 Dec. 2010. Web. 02 Nov. 2013.

Globalization of Communication

Globalization of Communication

It is easy to take language for granted. From when we are born, we breathe language in like air. Words surround us and penetrate us, and as we grow, we internalize them. Language becomes a tool so natural to us, that we fail to even notice it. It becomes indistinguishable from our thoughts, simply a part of us. This may be why our species fails to question the languages we work with. While language does create a means of communication between an individual and others, the way in which language has evolved has built artificial walls, which divide the global community along racial, ethnic, social and cultural lines. These unnatural divisions help to enforce xenophobia and bigotry. Perhaps more importantly, though, they make communication between individuals of different backgrounds more difficult than it could be. In effect, this inability to share ideas and collaborate has slowed the evolution of human thought.

Civilization is constantly evolving. Our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the universe in which we exist have been refined and updated with every generation, allowing us the power to shape and mold our lives more effectively. This is where language comes in. The capacity for creating such intricate systems of communication is uniquely human, as is the success and development it has brought this species. Language has enabled every major advance of human thought that led to this success. During times of revolutionary academic pursuit and discovery, entire regions come together to discuss and collaborate. From the Renaissance, ushering humanity out of the Middle Ages to the Islamic Age of Enlightenment and its concomitant scientific and philosophical revelations, language has been essential. Each of these revelations, however, was driven by a single cultural group.

Every unique dialect, every unique accent and every unique language grew out of the needs of its speakers, and therefore reflects only that group. A black slave toiling away in a 19th-century cotton field needs different tools to express different ideas than a French bourgeois in a lavish sitting room. Consequently, the slave and their descendants will speak differently than the bourgeois and theirs. This means that the slave and the bourgeois are even less likely to collaborate for the betterment of humanity as a whole. If every cultural group experiences the world and thus speaks about the world in a different way, intercultural communication becomes problematic. With fewer possible contributing voices, progress moves slower.

So language helps us, but the way it has evolved is hindering us. What do we do? If the obstacle to global collaboration is the wall of language, then we must eliminate that wall. By learning more than one language, multilingualism, an individual gives themselves the key to cross the language barrier. As G. Richard Tucker points out in A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, there are now more multilingual speakers in the world than monolingual speakers. This multilingualism may close the gap between speakers of different languages, but it is not without its shortcomings. The most widely spoken language in the world is English. English, however, was originally spoken in medieval England. Since that time, English has been the language of the English people and their descendants. It is their language. If English were to become the language of intercultural communication throughout the entire world, it might be perceived as having a higher value than other languages. In turn, this might place its original speakers, the people of Britain, Australia and the United States of America, above those who more recently adopted the language. While adopting one of the world’s many organic languages on a global scale is one option, it would be inefficient to use an existing language based on these cultural ties.

What we need is an easy-to-learn language of intellectual thought, which is understood worldwide. It needs to feel organic, but must not have ties to any one group. It needs to be simple enough for anyone to use it, yet able to express thoughts that are entirely unimaginable now. Some have created such lingua francas in the past. In 1887, Dr. L. L. Zamenhof created Esperanto, the most widely-spoken constructed language in the world. It is an easy-to-learn, fully-developed language, and is not specific to any individual group of people. Unfortunately, the two-million-speaker Esperanto movement has seen limited success. If we want globalization of communication, we need a global effort.

A more perfect global society, whatever that may entail, is within the realm of possibility. Improving life for every resident of this planet through advances in science and philosophy is within the realm of possibility. Such advances can not be achieved by a fractured society such as ours, and the first step towards a unified global community is unity in language. We must redraw the maps, and erase the artificial lines of language. With the ability to share every idea, every worldview and every perspective on every issue, humanity could not help but thrive.


"A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education" Center for Applied Linguistics. Tucker, R. G.. 3 Nov 2013. Web.<>.

"Across Cultures, English is the Word" The New York Times. Mydans, S. n.d. 3 Nov 2013. Web. <> 

"Esperanto Is..." Esperanto USA. Limako. 3 Nov 2013. Web <>

Where it All Started

Ilker Erkut

Creative Story

It started with a man, who spoke like everyone else.  Just kidding, he was the only person to live at the time.  His name was Monkemon.  He was not all human but had some animal in him.  What is the animal!?  It was a monkey.  He was what the people from my time called a caveman.  Before he was born, he lived in his egg which was under a banana tree.  It has not grown any bananas in centuries.  But one day a banana grew bigger and bigger, until it fell off the tree into a banana shaped cup.  The banana fit perfectly, just like when a basketball goes into the net without hitting the rim.  His egg slowly started cracking and... BOOM.  Monkemon jumped out of the egg and the sun rose and everything sparkled.  Next thing, the banana tree grew tons of banana’s and everything around him became full of life.  He searched long and hard for any other life form.  Later on he found a monkey; a girl monkey laying under a banana tree on the other side of the land.  Never in his life has he ever seen one, till now.  He could understand her and he felt comfortable with her.  They went on countless adventures till, one night they had been through a lot, and they were really tired.  The next morning they woke up together and did not say much but, they were not sure what happened that night .  

Later on in their adventures the monkey made offspring.  There were two babies,  that both spoke differently.  

“Uh Uh-Ah Ah” said the more monkey looking baby.

“Googoo Gaagaa” said the more human looking baby.

And thats when their imagination went wild and they started experimenting.  They guessed that since Monkemon is a “caveman” he gave one baby more human features and traits, while the girl monkey gave the other baby monkey features .  

They were intrigued by the idea of differences in their babies.  They settled on the fact that there were no more life forms, so they started making more and more babies.  After about a year of producing, they stopped.  They had about 400 children.  They had some older than others and some could understand better than others.  After a certain point they let them go on and adventure so that their kids could have a similar life as they did and produce to make new kinds of life.  One of our children are fortunate enough to find what we call now a “fish”  He was the only child out of them all 400 that found a new species and produced.  After years of producing and experiencing they finally had a full community of many different looking and speaking creatures.  It almost was a burden.  No one could really understand anyone.  You had some people talking like…

“Helluhuh-Ahah” said the monkey/humans.

“Hello” said the humans.

“Hello” the fish humans said very low.

Fish do not really talk, they communicate with each other differently, so when you have a fish and a human, then it is what we call a shy human.  

Everyone became friends with the people that they could understand.  They started living in different parts of the world with the people that they could communicate with and thats when the world started developing.  Hundreds of years later I was born.  My name is Moose.  I am just revealing my ancestors life story; as you can see I have a pretty big family.  But I had to tell you all of this so that I could reveal the big secret.  I AM THE MONK OF MY FAMILY.  I was given the power to understand every language, accent and noise coming out of a living thing.   Wherever I go I can understand everyone and can change the way I speak to match theirs.  I am not sure how this came to be.  I feel as though my people that each had different accents in their past, which made it diverse because they both understood completely different languages, which give me this power.  I walk around and see people being made fun of or reprimanded for not speaking right.  But honestly I think that people who hear a new language or different accent, are making fun of them so that they can add more people to their way of speaking.  Its like negative motivation.  They do not care for them but they are adding more to their “army” and have more people to carry on the language and extinguish the other languages.  But that will not happen with me around or anyone like me in the world.  I cannot travel like my ancestors used to, because we need money to travel rather than just walk and explore.  I have not been able to explore and carry on my parents legacy.  I have decided to stop what I am doing because  being a 26 year old man, I have a long life ahead of me.

Next thing I know I am on a flight to Asia.  I started from right and I am making my way left on the global map.  I can figure out people like me because they will speak to me similarly but with an aspect of an animal.  I finally get to Russia and start my search with nothing else in mind.  I go from country to country and have not found anything NEW or UNIQUE.  Then that gave me a thought, maybe I was the last of my kind and the exploring ended with me.  I had all the accents and languages so that it would cut out all the traveling.  As much I want to believe that is not true, that is the only logical explanation.  As soon as I catch the plain to go back to Greenland I meet someone that is very shy and has weird movements when not talking.  I instantly knew that, that was one of family descendents.  He had very fish-like speaking.  After meeting him on the plain and discussing each others opinions on our parents expectations I reflected on the day.  I had the craziest idea that people that speak differently might have animal features in them.  When I say that the man I met today was like a fish, I meant it as what my parents called them hundred and thousands of years ago.  He is not actually like a fish, but it made sense.  Some animals interact differently.  Some are more high temperament just like people with high temperament.  It was pretty adventurous thought that I did not want to get into.  I have found yet another member of my family and can travel the world with him, to continue our future .  We went back to Greenland...

Suffering in Silence

Speech impediments affect millions of people worldwide. Over three million people stutter in America alone. Speech impediments can be caused by a variety of things, the two most common reasons are developmental and neurogenic. Often times people who have an impediment to go speech therapy to try and overcome their stutter. People with a speech impediments often have less power in a system because of  the unwillingness of others to listen.

John Stossel, a co-anchor on 20/20, had a major speech impediment. He stuttered. As a child and even early in his broadcasting career John had to face the daily challenges of his speech impediment. In an interview with Stossel he says, “Fear of stuttering can easily become worse than the stuttering itself…”  Many with a stutter have a fear of being rejected because of their stammer, rather than their actual impediment. This silences countless stutters. This silence gives them less power in a system compared to someone free of a speech impediment. Whether the system be where that person works, learns, or lives. These people can often be eclipsed by the shadow of their stutter. Stuttering can affect anybody at any age, though it commonly begins in childhood, it can also happen after a serious brain injury like a stroke. Stossel also talked briefly on what is was like growing up with a stutter, “I remember terror in the classroom...” This is a common fear, the terror that his listeners, or peers, would not listen to what he has to say but instead make fun of him for how he said it.

This is a problem that people who stutter, face daily. To try and help cope with their impediment, many go to speech therapy in hopes to help their stutter. With dedication and practice many people are able to overcome their impediment. People like Marilyn Monroe, James Earl Jones, and even Emily Blunt and King George IV, have all stuttered. The Stuttering Foundation did a small biography on Marilyn’s impediment, it was said,  “A speech therapist taught her how deliberate breathing prior to speaking could guide her to fluency.” Though in times of stress towards the end of her career the impediment became noticeable, look at how iconic she became. She worked so that her impediment wouldn’t control her, and this gave her the iconic and airy Marilyn voice.Speech therapy will not automatically cure a persons impediment, or turn them into famous actors, but with dedication a stutter could become less noticeable.

Thanks to the movie “Kings Speech” many have gotten a glimpse of what it is like living with a stutter. The film follows the story of King George IV overcoming his impediment while trying to rule a country. Though it is one thing to watch it in a movie and another to live it daily, this movie has shined a light on speech impediments like no other movie has. Wheeler-Bennet, the King’s biographer wrote, “..failures of previous specialists to affect a cure had begun to breed within him the inconsolable despair of the chronic stammerer and the secret dread that the hidden root of the affliction lay in the mind rather than the body.” So many people carry this secret dread of their stammer, even if they aren’t required to make war speeches in front of an empire. The feeling of not being taken seriously is often a bigger obstacle than the stutter itself. This makes us notice how someone without a stutter might look at those who do. In several points in the film mainly when Bertie, the future king, would make a public address did I notice the listener’s reactions. In the beginning of his speech many would look on eager to hear what he had to say. His first few stammers people would being to wince in embarrassment for him, before eventually looking away. In that situation the listener tried to distance themselves from the speaker as much as they possibly could. They did this by looking away, staring off into space, or twiddling their thumbs. Bertie's message was lost due to his stammer and people’s lack of patience.

While researching, trying to find how people react to a stutter I decided to see what google had to say. In a google search phrase, “Are people who stutter” google auto filled in the statement with the following : smarter, stupid, shy nervous, intelligent.  The first subject that was read was the shy nervous option which eventually lead to the National Stuttering Association’s common myths page. The association dismissed many myths such as “People stutter because they are shy and self conscious,” and  “Stuttering is a mental disorder.” The list goes on ranging from poor parenting to a lack of intelligence.  Another source that was found was the publics opinion on stuttering, most of the studies showed that the public thought those who stutter are shy and and often nervous.  It was also said that, “Considerably more children who stutter were bully victims than were children who do not stutter.” I wasn’t surprised by this, it is terribly cruel thing  to do to someone, especially a child. Children often have a short attention span, so not having enough patience and a lack of understanding can lead to bullying. This only makes it harder for someone to stutter have their voice be heard.

Recent media has shined a light on stuttering because of this we now have a better idea of what it is like living with a speech impediment. Many famous people like Marilyn Monroe and King George IV have stuttered, but with serious therapy, time, and dedication they have overcome their impediment and let their voices be heard. Many studies have been done to show that though stuttering is not caused by shyness or nervousness, it can be caused by emotional traumas. People who do stammer are no less intelligent, than someone who doesn’t. People with a speech impediments often have less power in a system because of  the unwillingness of others to listen.

Work Cited

Emily Aten, . N.p.. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <>.

. N.p.. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <’t-silence-his-story-2020’s-john-stossel-inspires-others>.

. N.p.. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <’t-silence-his-story-2020’s-john-stossel-inspires-others>.

National Institute of Deafness, A. C. D.. N.p.. Web. 29 Oct 2013. <;.>

Center for stuttering therapy, . N.p.. Web. 31 Oct 2013. <>.

Outcasted from the Beginning

Well, I guess you could call me crazy, I mean that’s how Italian New Yorker’s are perceived right? Dumb because they don’t speak right like others. There was a particular time when I felt this, being dumb for the way I talk. Being a teenager ain’t easy, especially when you “different.”

“Oh c’mon Michael, we don’ wanna be late.”

“Ma, you know I don’ wanna leave. One minute, we’ve gots time. Don’ gotta be dere til six anyway. It only five.”

She really had to make the flight at eight a.m.? Airports are stupid, gotta be there hours before yo flight. I could use that time hangin’ with mah friends, havin’ a good time. Not travelin’ seven hours to somewhere stupid where I know nobody.

“Do I gotta go? Boardin’ school is fo preps. I could live alone, I practically do. You never home, I always gotta feed mahself and shit.”

“You stuck with me boy, yo father’s dead. Where you gon’ go?”

Gettin’ off that plane never felt better, everythin’ was beautiful in Liverpool, but not the kids. Oh God, not the kids, they got to be some of the ugliest kids in the world.

The following Monday after we arrived, my Ma started her new job, and I started at a new school, King’s Bruton. All my luggage was put in a dorm (well here they call it quarters), and I was forced to have the bottom bunk by the door. Perks of being the new kid. In the afternoon, I started my classes. Great.

“Hey, erm, excuse me? Where’s class two fawty two?” I said to a kid, who looked like he was in 11th grade.

“Huh? That’s not a class. Sorry.”

“Oh, well you know where three fawty five is then?”

“I don’t know what ya sayin’, I’m lost. Try aaa-nun-c-eee-ate-ing better.”
All day it went like this. I was late by at least ten minutes ‘cause nobody in this school can understand simple English. I speak perfectly good, and it’s as if I speak a differen’ language. After classes, I jogged to my dorm to go call my Ma.

“Ma, the people here are dumb. Don’ know standard English.”

“Why’s dat my dear? ”

“Just some kids and teachers in the school don’ like how I speak. (speaks in a Liverpudlian accent)’I’m not torkin’ right.’ I’m not, “Ayyo, mate, what’s appenin’?’”

“Don’ worry about them, it’s only the first day. In a months time, things won’ seem as bad as they are right now. By the way, shouldn’ you be busy?”

“Ard, Ma. Talk to ya later.”

Two weeks and still no friends. Wow, what am I doin’ wrong? I should be the class clown, somebody fun, not no picked on loser. Thas for the wimps. Some 12th grader I never known, came up to me.

“Ayy mate, why don’t ya go back to New Yark? You not one of us, kid. You tork weird, and you just don’t belong.”

The same thing over and over. Mah speech is wrong? Their speech is wrong, I’m the only speakin’ right, they the one’s who say, “talk,” as “tork.” That day after school I went to my dorm with a swollen black eye. After the 12th grader talked to me, all his buddies came around and started throwin’ punches, and kickin’. I could feel the hate with each blow. The leaders of the dorms don’ seem to care, and nothin’ ain’t right here. My Ma was wrong. I’m the loser of this school ‘cause of dis damn accent.

“Is Michael Visss...innie here?” Said our English teacher on the first full month of school.

Out of her ignorance I said, “Nope. Michael Vicinni does happen to be here doe.”

“No need for smart-asses, ya wanker.” Said the kid sittin’ behind my.

“It’s a month inna school, boardin’ school, people shoulda know my name by now.”

“You warkin around like you own something,” said a classmate. “You oughtta get webbed with your attitude, nobody wants to be friends with a nob.”

After that I lost it. I couldn’ fight, I jus ran out, like a wimp cryin’. I lost all respect in myself. I wanted home. I needed my Ma, I needed friends who spoke like me. I’m usually the class clown, the one the girls like. Now imma no good, “wanker.” That afternoon I jus’ went to mah quarters, and called my Ma...Only to realize she’s busy and has no time for me. Great.

I walked into the mess hall to get some dinner, as usual I sat by myself. Halfway through when I was eating my dessert a girl come over, and might I add she was quite attractive, got goosebumps and everythin’.

“Erm ello, Michael is it?”

“Uhh, hi.”

“Sorry to bother you, I just noticed nobody eva sits wit you.”

“Yeah, don’ have no friends.”

“I’ll be your friend and help you wit your accent if you’d like. I noticed you get teased quite a bit.”

“That’d be uhh well, thanks uhh...”

“Ali, I’m in yer grade.”

“Thanks, Ali.”

That day was a turning point. Everyday Ali and I would sit under the Weeping Willow tree by the main entrance in front the school after three p.m. I helped her with math, and she helped me with my speech. She was beautiful, enticin’, long wavy blond hair with slight streaks, a perfect smile, with slightly blushed cheeks. She was practically an angel, and made me feel like nothin’ could go wrong. Mike and Ali, Mike and Ali, Mike and A...


This burly boy in my grade came around to me, with his group of friends. Ali was in the back of the group just watchin’, with a smile on her face. To think I could have friends here, to think somebody might like me, how stupid. 

“We’ve told you, you aren’t anythin’.” *Another smack across the cheek* “When you tork, you tork weird, it’s not right. Go back where you belong.”

The thought of Ali and I together was interrupted by punches, left and right, across the cheek, in the nose, in the eye, and more stupid comments about my accent. That was it.

“I’m not takin’ yo crap anymore. You ignant, imma be me. I may damn well, speak as I want.”

Before I knew it, I threw a punch at the main, burly boy’s face. It connected to his jaw, and my knuckles were scraped up by his teeth. The only thing I remember after that was sittin’ outside the principal's office. I was all alone though, no other boys, or Ali. My body was shakin’ and couldn’ sit still. I hated this place, why was I nervous about what the frickin’ principle thought? All that was said was me tellin’ my Ma I was expelled. Nobody else, just me. Great. 

Hold Your Tongue

I wish I had yelled at those men. I wish I had slapped them across their pretty faces and told them my name. And my mother’s name. The number of my apartment. I wish I had tore holes in their silk jackets and made them look through the cracks and see the world through my eyes. I wish I had ripped out their Burish tongues and nailed them to the wall and said “This is what it means to free.”

+ + +

It was Friday. The fluorescent light above the check out counter flickered. Two young men, one in a blue silk suit and the other in a grey silk suit, laughed as they threw a case of beer on conveyor belt.

“Is that all, sir?” I asked.

“Oh yeah baby,” the man in the blue silk suit said, his Tary accent brusque and unpracticed. He winked.

“That ugly bitch thinks you like her,” his friend said, laughing. I scanned the beer and handed it to the bagger, Marc, my face reddening.

“What’s wrong?” Marc whispered. The man in the grey suit noticed us talking and trotted over to Marc, smiling.

“Hey fatass. I bet your dad was a whale who fucked an elephant who farted out you piece of shit.” The man smiled at Marc and handed me a ten dollar bill. I handed the man in the blue suit his receipt and his change, carefully hiding my anger.

“I hope you have a nice day sir!” Marc said cheerily. The men laughed and left the store, the door jingling as they left. “I don’t see what your problem was Mae. Of course, I didn’t know what they were saying, but I’m sure it was all in good spirits. They wouldn’t have been talking about us. Young Burish men like them have much more interesting things to laugh about than a cashier and a grocery bagger.” I nodded.

And held my tongue.

+ + +

“Are you getting off here?” I shook my head. “Well, I guess I’ll you see you tomorrow then.” Marc shuffled out of the subway car, quickly lost in a sea of polo shirts and khakis.

I turned back to the window, and watched the underground walls. There was graffiti everywhere, mostly in Tary, though occasionally brightly painted phrases in Burish. When I was in school, I knew kids who snuck into these tunnels and smoked and painted and said all the things they couldn’t say. I wondered what would have happened if they had met a Burish kid. I wondered why that Burish kid had anything to say that he could only share with the darkness.

I got off at the end of the line. The station was empty, except for one old vending machine. “No one down here is free” was sloppily graffitied in big Tary letters across the machine’s frosted glass front. As I got closer, I noticed someone had written a response to the Tary graffiti in neat blue Burish letters underneath. I waited in front of the vending machine until the subway had left. When the tunnel was silent, I pulled my pen out of my ponytail and wrote the Burish phrase on my forearm, careful to get every letter correct.

It was 9 o’clock, and outside the crumbling Tary neighborhood was falling asleep. It had once been one of the most lively and diverse areas in the city. But those days were long gone. Now, depressing and dilapidated, it was the perfect place for rebel groups to hide. Revolutionaries hid amongst the abandoned art galleries and empty cafés. The police never bothered to make rounds this far out, and the street lights had stopped working years back. Under the cover of darkness, rebel organizations built their strength and intelligence, preparing for the day when they will restore equality.

I walked the five blocks quickly and quietly, blending in with the shadows. I stopped in front of a narrow gated alley way. I slipped inside, closing the gate quietly behind me. It was even darker there, but I was used to it now. Eight steps forward, first door on the right. Knock. They will see you, and if they know you, they will let you in.

“Ah, Mae, late as usual,” Evelyn smiled and greeted me with a hug. Her Tary was perfect. Evelyn’s husband, Philip, greeted me with a nod. Philip and Evelyn had been young, rebellious fools. Philip had suffered the consequences, and no longer had a tongue. Now, they were old, cautious rebels. And they were teaching us Burish.

The classroom was in an old bakery that used to sell gourmet cupcakes. There was a circle of old pink metal chairs in the center of the room. In each seat there was a familiar face; a tired face. Each one of us had stumbled upon Evelyn and Philip one way or another, and now each of us was as invested as the next in being a part of the revolution.

I sat in the last empty seat next to Evelyn, and the class began.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen,” Evelyn said in Burish. We echoed. “In today’s meeting,” she continued in Burish, “we will learn how to talk to police officers and federal officials, especially in an issue of arrest.”

We immersed ourselves in the language. We took on Burish names, like Elizabeth and Maxwell and Isabella and Anthony. We wore stolen neckties and moldy faux-fur coats. Our Tary and our Burish intertwined together. Our exhaustion turned to excitement. It felt like we were building something. It felt right. We found security in our own fantasies. We shared our dreams with one another like graffitied rebels shared their words with the walls. We thought, unlike the underground artists, that one day we would be something.

+ + +

There was a knock. And the door was in splinters on the floor.

“Put the books down fuckheads. You are all under arrest. You must remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you. Come to think of it, it already has.” Both policemen chuckled.

The classroom was silent. The man next to me, Jack, looked one policeman straight in the eye and said, in perfect Burish, “What seems to be the problem sir?”

The room turned to chaos. The blood of Burish officers and Tary rebels intertwined. I attempted to punch the officer closest to me, but he deftly grabbed my wrist and twisted it until he heard a crack. Pain shot down my arm. I screamed.

Ugly bitch!” I yelled in Burish.

“So that’s what they’ve been teaching you, huh?” He slapped me across the face, hard, and dragged me out the door by my limp wrist. My jacket sleeve fell down to my elbow.

“What does that say on your arm girl?” He stopped in front of a small chrome cop car. The damp night air shimmered around me. “Freedom is overrated, it says. Damn straight girl. Damn straight.”

The Power of Words in a Time of War

Language plays a powerful role in Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. Although the book has many strong themes, one of the strongest is how words and language give a lot of power. This is demonstrated not only in the way that the characters interact with language, but also because of Zusak's talent in manipulating words to tell a beautiful and complex story. Zusak portrait a time language is used by a tyrant but individuals find a way to use words to bring hope and healing. Luckily for readers he uses this talent for good, but his book shows how this gift can also be used for evil.

Before we dive too deep into the good and evil that lies within the pages on this book, and within our own world, we should know how this book plays out. The Book Thief is set in Nazi Germany throughout World War II. One of the most notable things is that this book is narrated by Death. The actual book thief turns out to be a young girl by the name of Liesel Meminger. She lives in a small town outside of Munich with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. Eventually a Jewish man comes and lives in their basement in order to escape the world of war going on around him.

Liesel first finds the power of words when she herself learns to read. Her foster father, Hans, teaches her. This not only brings the two of them closer together, but gives the girl a power she never knew existed before: knowledge.  Her foster father teaches her to feel the joys of learning. He introduces her to the powerful system of words.This first helps her to succeed in school. She was being unfairly punished because she had not had any education before coming to live with her foster parents.

Secondly, she was given the power to steal. Even though thievery is wrong and illegal, for Liesel Meminger it was empowering. She was addicted to the the words that she had learned to read, and she needed more. Stealing books also gave her a feeling of control over her life. She had something that she was good at, something that helped her and something that no one else did. When a Jewish man by the name of Max Vandenberg came to lived in their basement to escape the Nazis, Liesel became very close with him. They first connected over books, more specifically books that had been stolen.

Because the characters are struggling through a war, the threat of violence and bombs are alway looming over them. Whenever the bomb warning is in effect Rosa, Hans, and Liesel have to go to their neighbors cellar which doubles as a bomb shelter. Being in the shelter is tense and scary. Liesels decides to help everyone feel more relaxed by reading to them. Here Zusak describes her first time reading in the cellar. “By page three, everyone was silent but Liesel. She didn’t dare to look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging on to her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out.” (Zusak 381) Liesel took power in that basement full of weak people fearing their lives, and she used her power to give them strength and hope. The system of words Liesel used was the same system that any other individual had, but she knew how to use them in order to give some good. Liesel was proactive about using the system of words and power that came along with those words, to not only to help herself, but to help all the other frightened individuals cluttered in a cellar. This however is not the last time Liesel shared the power she finds in language with others.  

One of the places that Liesel steals books from is the the library of the mayor's wife, Ilsa Hermann. When Frau Hermann eventually catches Liesel, instead of punishing her, she encourages Liesel to read and they soon became friends. The mayor’s wife also introduces Liesel to writing. The thought of being able to use your words as well as the words, as well as the words of others, for power is a new idea to her, but Liesel Meminger realizes its value quickly. She then starts to write her own story, which is so compelling that Death picks it up one day, and has never let it go. There must be some true power in the words in those pages if it is that appealing and meaningful to Death.

It is impossible to write of language and power in that era without addressing Adolf Hitler. Max talks a lot about Hitler, which is understandable because of how much Hitler has affected Max’s life. Throughout the book Max writes two books for Liesel, the second one is called The Word Shaker. Even though the book MAx wrote is largely about the friendship Liesel and Max have, it also talks a lot about Hitler and how he took power using words.The third paragraph in Max’s story starts, “The Führer decides to rule the world with words.” (Zusak 445) Hitler is a perfect example of someone who knows just how much power words have hidden within them. He used words to rally people against each other and create war. The words had spoke moved people to do unthinkable things. The words of the Führer brought the whole world to war, for the second time.The simplest way of putting it is that Hitler used the power of words for evil. It is sometimes hard to grasp how influence he with only words as his primary weapon.

We need to take a step back sometimes and review how we use language, It can be  easy to forget all the power that we own from the words that we use every day. In the end it all boils down to this, use your words to help and give hope to those around you. Do all the good you can and try to extinguish the evil.

Works Cited:

Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.

Jargon and Tongues

Soledad Alfaro

When in conversation one tends to select a dialect, a rhythm, even a tone of talking depending on the relationship with whom you are conversing. The words that are selected from the back of the mind and pushed out through the mouth carry an empathetic consciousness based on the prior knowledge and experiences of both people. Therefore, it forms the outcomes of our discussions with one another. For example a conversation between two lawyers who handle criminal justice cases would include terms such as “abate” or “abstention doctrine”, when speaking of conflicts within the courtroom or their law offices. They are comfortable with the language in the scenario because they both are aware of the terms, and come from  similar backgrounds which merge together through their profession. This may be unlike the conversation between an E.R. doctor, and a police officer on patrol. If the doctor chooses to use advanced terms to describe the diagnosis of a patient to our officer, it is more than likely that he will ask for clarification for the unfamiliar terms. This is because these words will sound foreign to him based on the inferences we can make of his prior knowledge. The officer and the E.R. doctor would not have an advanced medical conversation, or one about the systems or vows of a police officer, because they have been educated in different ways and do not understand all of the details inside the languages of these different professions and environments. The name for these terms is called Jargon. Jargon is displayed in every situation that we are in, in terms of conversation. There can be many different variables that affect the type of language we use and all are sub situations of jargon. Such as the slang we use based on the cities that we are from, or the distinguishing of different classes and the concept of code switching. Jargon is the foundation of familiarity in language. It is how we find comfort in our conversations with others, and establish common ground in one’s culture.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, is one not only known for its historical landmarks such as the Liberty Bell and Benjamin Franklin’s burial site, but also its borderline foreign use of slang applied in informal conversations between locals. In different parts of the city one can open their ears and listen to colorful conversations that are  sources of coded language which can only be translated by a Philadelphian. For a New Yorker or someone from Kansas this is an unclear vernacular, that is only understood by those who have familiarized themselves with it. It is a jargon among the people of its city. The word “Jawn” is a prime example of the Philadelphian tongue. “ Jawn can mean anything. Person place or thing. Sometimes if we are telling a story, and we don’t want people to know what we are talking about we’ll plug in jawn for everything. The other day I was at the jawn...not knowing I had that jawn on me.” (MK Asante, Buck pg. 4)  When the writer uses “I was at the jawn” to describe a place, and then follows with “not knowing I had that jawn on me” to describe a thing. The only way one could distinguish the two would be for them to already have a preconceived understanding of the Philadelphia jargon and the word “jawn

When the subject of slang comes up as a form of terminology it is often deemed one of uneducated people. However there is a sense of comfort in broken language that rolls off of slurred tongues and sounds like home to many. We hear it in the music of different cultures. How country delivers these sort of simple abbreviations of “yall” or “fixin” and then in music like rap we hear words of a similar cadence. One could also say that it is a clear observation that the music people listen to, also corresponds with the language of its audience, in order for it to be received as relatable to its listeners. Many times the particular dialect can have a major affect on the different classes that we have in America and how we infer who is of which class. Native Son by Richard Wright, shows us a clear dynamic of racism in relation to classism in the 50’s. It talks about a boy who is trying to accept his class and his current position in life.  “Goddamnit, look! We live here and they live there. We black and they white. They got things and we ain't. They do things and we can't. It's just like livin' in jail.” (Native son by Richard Wright) In this quote you don’t only see the clear frustration of the character but you also notice his dialect. It is one that rules him to be inferior to those above him, which specifically in this era would be white people, but he is also comfortable speaking the way he does in this quote. You can hear the sense of familiarity that comes along with the person of whom he is speaking to. One would guess that it would be a friend or a family member someone who already knew him well enough to understand his anger and the way he talks.

Language is the backbone of communication between humans. It is how we receive all types of messages whether they are met to be formal, informal or personal. When we are addressing these different social situation there is a manipulation that we take on with our tongues. We insert these codes in language in order to get across certain points and drive these ideas into the minds of others solely using words. This is why we have uses in language  such as slang, which simplify words to make them more understandable. Some of the most valued people in our society were manipulators of language. People who were poets and writers, who could take words and give them a whole new meaning through this manipulation was translated into these roots we call “slang”. In African American communities it can be considered a call to home. The slurred words that were caught between confused lips when slaves were first brought to America had to be relaxed somehow in such a hard language. In that there were abbreviations of sounds that weren’t there before in order to hold a sturdy tongue in front of the masters. Saul Williams, is one of those masters of manipulating language. He is a poet who is famous for his depth in the routes of our history and how we communicate through tools such as jargon. “Whereas the Quanti drum has allowed the whirling mathematicians to calculate the the everchanging distance between rock and stardom”. (Saul williams, Coded language) This quote is from a poem performed at Def Poetry Jam. Williams  is talking about how we use language to analyze and to better understand the systems of the world. Hence the comparison of the Quanti drum which is a drum that originates in Africa to the logic of the mathematician. It is a series of questions and answers that are spoken in different tongues but all in the same language.

We hold onto what we know like crutches. Pushing words through the spaces of our teeth trying to find balance between what is familiar and what is foreign. Coming to grips with the fact that we all speak in unfamiliar tones based on the home in our voices. Every sentence has a rhythm every word one thousand meanings to it based on the type of pronunciation. Jargon, is how we remember where we are and where we came from, because it sticks in our minds our jobs and our lives. It is how we communicate and it is how we will always understand one another.

Works Cited:

Wright, Richard. Native Son,. New York: Harper & Bros., 1940. Print.

Asante, Molefi K. Buck: A Memoir. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

I Don't Love Vodka

I Don't Love Vodka

It is important for stereotypes to exist because they provide a common ground for different groups of people. However, we have a tendency to use these stereotypes as entertainment or as a means to dominate a person or group (for example, Hitler and the Nazis). Now, what do you do when a young teenage girl is the subject of such stereotypical judgements? The answer is nothing. You do nothing. Stereotypical humor is often the favorite kind of humor among teenagers (after sexual jokes, of course).  Take for example, one of the countless reactions when people find out I speak Russian.

“Wow, you know another language? You must be so smart!” they say.

“Thank you…?” I respond. I don’t mean for it to be disrespectful, but it often seems that way. Once they’ve mentioned commented on my intelligence, I anticipate the stereotypes that are bound to come my way.

Everybody is familiar with the traditional Russian stereotypes, right? The most popular one believes all Russians have unlimited supplies of vodka in their homes and can drink bottle after bottle effortlessly.

“You must love vodka, right? Can you hook me up with some?”

I know they are joking, so I laugh. For a moment it’s funny. Yet, after hearing the same vodka jokes again, and again, and again, somehow they just cease to be funny. It’s hard to believe, right?! Other stereotypes state that Russian parents are perpetually angry and strict, as opposed to the rational and loving American parents. If they’ve expended all of their brilliant vodka jokes, they’ll usually go for parental stereotypes.

“Huh, your parents must be so hard on you!!” they assume.

Cautiously I respond, “You could say that.”

Other stereotypes state that Russian parents are perpetually angry and strict, as opposed to the rational and loving American parents.

It is absolutely bewildering to me that people can make such wild assumptions just because of the language someone speaks. From my own experiences, I see that strangers and friends equally stereotype me and my family just because we speak a certain language. In this case, that language is Russian.

Languages, dialects, accents, and slang all indicate unique characteristics about a person. Often, we assume that if someone speaks in one of the aforementioned ways, they are foreign to us. Therefore, it is assumed that that “someone” has different beliefs and behaves differently.

In the documentary “American Tongues” several people from the northeastern states were asked for their opinions on people from the southern ones (American Tongues). They blatantly stated that southern dialects and accents indicate that they are stupid and inferior. Such stereotyping  about a person’s intelligence or behavior based on their accent is a well known and common phenomenon in American culture. Northeasterners claim that the “Southern Drawl” and their strange slang is what leads them to believe that Southerners are dumb. Though they were not mentioned in the documentary, some stereotypes about Southerners say the men all drive pickup trucks, or that they have sex with their cousins. These ideas rarely applicable to any individual (as most stereotypes often are), but still they fuel hatred and judgement from other people. In such ways, people use the differences in others’ dialects to form judgements and stereotypes.

Linguistic stereotypes are not limited to southerners On the other hand, many people from the south perceive northeastern English speakers to be pretentious and hostile.  Northeastern English seems curt and rough to southern Americans in comparison to their style of speaking. A prime examples of the type of person they assume we are would live in a big city (New York, for example) and would work in a big corporate office with little to no emotion. Obviously, we are not all like that, and yet when someone hears a New Yorker speak, they create that character that fits into all the stereotypes, and they apply that character to the speaker.

This has happened to me far too many times. I have encountered racist stereotypes because of the languages I speak or because of the accent I have. Many of the judgements people make about individuals are based off little more than what they hear them say in a couple of seconds, and this simple baffles me. In conclusion, such quick cultural stereotypes that are based off of nothing but linguistic differences are just one way stereotypes damage our society.  

Works Cited:

American Tongues. Dir. Louis Alvarez and Andy Kolker. Perf. Polly Holliday and Trey Wilson. Center for New American Media, 1988. DVD

Code-switching Isn't Always Bad

Systems, such as governments or civic institutions, are not shaped by a single, uniform culture like they used to be. Cultures used to dominate a certain area or country. If there were any other cultures in that country, they were usually restricted to a specific area or were forced to assimilate. Places like the United States have brought different people from different cultures together. A prime example of this is school. Schools are places where children from all different cultural backgrounds meet. People from different cultures have different ways of speaking. We often change the way we speak to accommodate others. This phenomenon is called code switching. Code-switching has gained a bad reputation because it has been identified as the reason for people losing their identities or accommodating prejudices towards their social class, ethnicity, or religion.

Code-switching is not all bad, though. In many situations, it becomes a way for individuals in a system to be more productive with one another. At home, I speak English. However, for some, it would be hard to understand as there are Yiddish and Hebrew words interspersed. Consider the James Baldwin essay If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? in which he could tell the white man had no idea what his family was saying to him. When talking to one’s family, it may be good others cannot understand them. However, when people from different cultures are trying to communicate with one another, code-switching has value. The role of individuals in a system, generally, is to contribute to the system while maintaining personal interests, morals and identity. Code-switching is a way to communicate more productively with people who may not share your cultural background.

I have personal experience with code-switching. At home, my family speaks English. However, there are certain things we express to each other in either Hebrew or Yiddish, not full sentences, but short words or phrases. For example, if we are talking about dinner we might say it is either milchik or fleischik. Milchik means dairy and fleishik means meat. If we were describing a religious person, we might say they were frum. While there would be a lot of language that would be understandable to others, there would be words that were lost on them. At school I never use Hebrew or Yiddish. I do not see that as a bad thing. If I were to use Hebrew or Yiddish, there would often be times when I would have to explain myself to people.  I have a strong cultural identity and am still religious. It is important to maintain personal identity even when you are code-switching.

James Baldwin, in his essay If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? makes the point that a culture’s way of speaking maintains the identity of individuals. Baldwin writes “It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” When language differences separate one from the larger community, it makes collaboration more difficult. While languages of a specific culture have their merits, when speaking among a more diverse group, language differences between cultures become a roadblock. In these instances, code-switching allows one to participate in the larger, more diverse community.

Cultural differences in speaking is not the only thing that may create a need for code-switching. People across the U.S. have many different accents. In the documentary American Tongues, a variety of accents from the United States are introduced and some of them are easier to understand than others. In the film, many accents are introduced that would be hard for people to understand. In this case, code-switching becomes helpful. People can change the way they speak in order for others to understand them better. In American Tongues there is a part where they show people speaking Creole. These people did code-switch in the film. They spoke to each other in Creole but changed the way they spoke to the camera. In that case, code-switching was a helpful tool.

While code-switching can be a good thing, it is important to be aware of the dangers of code-switching. For some, code-switching is a tool to hide their identity, religion, or social class in order to assimilate. One should not use code-switching to deny his or her identity as an important part of being an individual in a system is to maintain identity and cultural background.

The systems that ran along cultural lines have largely been done away with. Instead of cultures being localized to a certain area like they used to, people from different cultures are spread out all over the United States and all over the world. Since language is often such a big part of culture it creates differences in language between cultures, even those that share the same language. This can make it hard for individuals of the systems of today to communicate with one another. The solution though, is code-switching. Often seen as a negative, code-switching is ignored as the helpful communication tool that it can be and is deemed the culprit of the loss of an individual’s identity. While it is true that loss of identity can be a danger of code-switching, those that do it for the right reasons are able to maintain their cultural identity and communicate with others.

Works Cited

Baldwin, James. “If Black English Isn’t A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?”. The New York Times. New York City: The New York Times, 1979.

American Tongues. Dir. Louis Alvarez, Andy Kolker. Perf. Polly Holliday, Molly Ivins, Robert Klein, Trey Wilson. Center For New American Media, 1987. DVD.

Thats Wicked Cool

Thats Wicked Cool

Language is a big part of communication. Over time, people have changed and created their own words. I remember a couple years ago on my annual visit to Massachusetts, I was talking to my cousins who live up there.

“Look at this shirt I got today.”

“Woah, that is Wicked cool!”

“Wicked?” I questioned. I had never heard anyone use the word wicked before.

“You don’t know what that means?”

“No, nobody ever says that, did you make it up?”

We talked about it for a while and I explained to her that nobody in Philadelphia uses that word so I hadn’t known what it meant. After talking about that, we had a whole conversation on the different slang that we had in philly compared to what they had in Boston. I told her that we had commonly used words like “jawn” and  “drawl”. We also talked about how a lot of people in philly use the term “yous” and she thought that was hilarious! After she stopped making fun, we started talking about how she thought I had a really strange accent, but I thought it was totally normal.

“Say water.”


She loved that, I had to keep repeating the word to satisfy her. I realized that depending on where you are from, you say and pronounce things different things. I thought it was so funny at first, but then I found it so annoying that they would continue to laugh at the way I would say things, yet I didn’t say anything about they way they talked. I knew they weren’t doing it to be mean, but it still hurt my feelings. Since we go up there about twice a year, the next time I went up there I tried code switching to talk more like them. After a while I realized that I shouldn’t change who I am or how I talk to fit in with other people. There was nothing wrong with the way I talked, and there was nothing wrong with the way they talked either. We are just from different places.

On my way home from boston, I put in my headphones like always and turned on some music. The first song I happened to turn on was rap music. I to listen to a lot of rap, but all the rappers are from different places. I was thinking, what different slang do the rappers use? The language just from teenagers that are from different places are so weird, so would the rappers and other performers’ language be different too? I think that teenagers get a lot of their language from the music they listen to. They take the slang, and it becomes really popular. I listened to the song “Dope Dealer” by Meek Mill, who is from Philadelphia. I saw that he used some of the same slang as the kids that I hang out with. He used the word “Swerve” which is basically to dismiss or say no to something that somebody says to you. I realized when I was reading the lyrics that he didn’t use the word jawn which I thought he would use, or any other big philly terms that  I thought he would.

Since I was listening to a rapper from the East Coast, I decided I would listen somebody from the West coast as well. I listened to a Kendrick Lamar who is rapper from California. This was a little harder for me, because I am not from there and I haven’t even been there before. I asked my friend, TJay, don’t forget the “Ay” some of the slang as he spends his whole summer in California. I listened to the song called “Swimming Pools” with my friend and he told me about words like “blood” “scrub” “bang” “cuz”. He also told me about the pronunciation of some of their words. I thought this was really interesting as I had never heard anybody say those words in a sentence. I didn’t think that the words that people used would be so different depending on where you were from. When I was listening to the song, Kendrick actually said some of the slang Tjay taught me a couple times in his song.

Although there are so many differences in the slang from Philly, and the slang from California, there are also some similarities. When I listened to all the songs  and talked to different people, I realized that both of the rappers used words like “cuz”, “swag”, “bread” or “bout’ that life”. Cuz is basically what you would just call a person, swag has to do with the clothes you wear, and how you act, how you walk, things like that. When people say bread they are talking about money, and when people say bout’ that life it means that you agree, or you’re into something. For example if somebody is doing something inappropriate and you don’t agree with it you would say “I’m not bout’ that life.” Another thing that I found was kind of interesting that a lot of people will say “like” at the end of sentences. It doesn’t actually mean anything, but in a sentence you would say “Oh my god, I love your hair, like.” I find it very strange, and I don’t know why people use it in a sentence. Depending on where you are than your opinions change.

All the places that I have been always tell me they think Philadelphia is so weird. When I ask them why, they tell me that it is because we say “hoagie” instead of “sub” and “water ice” or “wooder ice” instead of “slush”. I never really thought that philadelphia was so much different than other places. Now I know that we have a lot of differences. I’m sure other people say that too, about the place they are from.

In class, we were reading an essay by James Baldwin. He was saying that Black English should be a language. Baldwin states, “If Black English isn’t a language, then tell me what is?” Even if it is not considered “proper” to speak that way, it is what's happening all around us. Everybody is talking like this. It has become such a big part of the “standard” English language. I decided to talk to my friend and asked her a few questions about the slang we use in philly.

“Do you know what jawn means?”

“I mean I know what it means, but I don’t really use it with my friends, I don’t want to sound rude, but I think that like a lot of black people use those kinds of words.”

Well what words do you mean by ‘those kind’?” I asked her

“I mean like ratchet, irkin, drawlin. Those just aren’t words that everybody uses.”

I think that if everybody, even people that aren’t black, know what black slang is then it should be its own language. So many people know what it is and not everybody would have to talk like this, only people that wanted to. I think it is important that people should be able to talk however they want. Just like if I wanted to become fluent in spanish and make that my primary language. Not everyone has to do it, but I still have the ability to talk in whatever language I want.

Works Cited

“If Black English isn’t a language than tell me what is” by James Baldwin


A Collection of Poems Concerning Language

In this set of poems I will be addressing two main points I believe are necessary in understanding the effect language has on us as a people. My first piece has to do with the murder of language we perform in our country. We gentrify dialects of neighborhoods so everyone can speak what is thought to be proper American English. My second piece is focused on my own experiences with language and the discrimination I faced growing up with a speech impediment I never saw the need to “fix.”

Poem #1

Our language is deaf, dumb and blind

to the sounds slipping off of our lips.

English holds in it’s hands a melting pot

and expects every individual to melt into the

perfect specimen of an American.

Our voices were deadened by dications and grammar textbooks.

The idea that our words are meant to serenade

individuality through soliloquies can no longer

stand steadily against the winds of waking, breaking, earth shaking ignorance

In America, they’ve beaten our language

red, white,

black and blue

out of our mouths.

Held cold social norms against our throats like guns

threatening our vocal chords until they vibrated the way they were meant to

It’s all about equality, they tell us,

that if every voice rings clear just the same then our future’s will

have equal chance of subjective success.

South Philly guidos say,


“Yeah, djew? I was at dat place on Argen.”

So they’re illiterate.

Somehow their voices don’t equate to the

generic, robotic, hypnotism we’re force feeding the children of our country.

I was raised on a skewed version of English.

My grandmother had no consideration for social normalcy,

when she sat me on her lap and weaved stories of our Italian ancestry.

With her voice like sandpaper, skin tingling grammar,

she molded me into a living example of our history.

The tree of English hangs solemnly over our heads.
It’s a weeping willow sobbing each time we amputate one of it’s limbs.

Assuming, abasing and alienating America’s ancestry wasn’t the goal,

we never meant to perform a genocide on heritage.

We are being gagged and bound by

stereotypes lying alive in our lungs

and we’re the ones who placed them there.

Poem #2

The first time I was alerted of what was regarded as an “illiteracy,”

was in the first grade.

I was pulled aside by my teacher,

told to go with a strict looking woman in high heels

who held flashcards with words written on them like

red, rain, rat, and race.

That day the letter r became my mortal rival.

Over the years, I became an artist of restraint from the cursed letter in-between q and s.

My speech therapist would ask questions like,

“Bella, what color is a fire truck,”

and my response would be, “the shade of an apple.”

My sarcasm was not appreciated, as I was a child whose voice was god given proof she’d never reach higher than a 2.0 gpa.

The jumbled cacophony of my pronunciation encouraged playground bullies to take up arms.

Pointed fingers from grade schoolers are sharper than daggers,

Giggles behind backs ring raucously like gunshots.

I never knew a voice could so closely resemble nails raking a chalkboard until in middle school

they used to make me pray the Our Father.

Our Father who art in heaven,

You had to have had a reason for blurring my lip’s eyes oblivious to the flashcards I was being forced to swallow.

Hallowed be thy name,

Although I seem to have lost my own somewhere in between “idiot” and “retard.”

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us,

I’ll try God, but I don’t think I can.

I was forced to contort my tongue into shapes it was not born to create.

I swallowed my confidence when I meant to swallow my tongue.

Stiff and inflexible, I believed it was nothing but a handicap muscle in between my clenched jaws.

No good for annunciating what I needed so desperately to get out,

So excuse me if my pronunciation is a little off,

Or if these words don’t sound quite right,

But I’d just like to say.... I’m sorry.

I’m sorry your ears have not yet been blessed by the ravishing requiem that is my


I’m sorry if you think the simple normalcy leaking from the corners of your mouth does not make you superior to I.

For my inability to say,

“Red rockets rose”


“Roger rabbit robbed the restaurant”

Is not a comparison of our I.Q’s.

I leave in my wake traces of ugly r’s sounding vaguely like w’s,

Because in my mind

The 18th letter and 23rd letter in the alphabet have a love affair

They can’t keep the enunciated hands off of each other

Their sounds coincide becoming one singular flick of the tongue,

that gives me an identity.

I found myself between the spaces of my teeth,

nestled in self consciousness,

I hid from judgmental sneer, jeers, and disapproving glares

Until my vocal chords moaned back into life.

Stiff from disuse, unused to the freedom of speech,

and now

my voice is rock and roll.

Bringing grins to the world dreamed by dreamers

sung by singers

and danced by all.

My voice

carries childhood on her brow, to in love with innocence to let it go, so let it live in the harsh vibrations of my throat

They ask me questions.

“Are you from England?”

“Are you British?”

“No, I just have a speech impediment.”

You avert your eyes and your mouth mumbles “oh” with judgement etched in every line of your cheeks.

Apparently, I make you uncomfortable,

so you stick to calling me the “girl with an accent.”

I don’t have an accent,

I am not from a foreign country so stop placing my past in places it has not been.

I am a melody, bringing sweet dreams to heads lying on pillows,

a birds chirp crisp in the spring air.

I am an 8th note swimming lazily down staff lines weaved by the treble clef,

a gregorian chant with more Catholicism than catholic school ever showed me.

Guitar strings envy my vocal chords,

I am a speech problem.

The Root of Language

“The Root of Language”

“When people put down the way others speak, they sometimes forget that everybody speaks with an accent, so before you jump to conclusions, consider the many ways of talking Americans have and remember that what sounds funny or odd to one person is music to the ears of another.” The previous quote from “American Tongues” illustrates the point that accents and dialects can be taken in different ways, and different ways of speaking can be either accepted or rejected because of what you’re used to. I’m from Philadelphia, so there are plenty of factors that come into play when taking apart my accent and figuring out which parts come from where or what. Diversity in metropolitan cities such as Philadelphia differs greatly, and therefore affects the subconscious code switching ability that many people possess through their accent or dialect. One problem that many people face is the stereotypes and prejudices that unfortunately come with a lot of accents. Like other Americans, my speech and accent is different from a lot of people, and is affected by the subconscious code switching ability that everyone has, and “American Tongues,” a documentary directed by Louis Alvarez and Andy Kolker about the English language from 1988 touches on how individuals in systems are affected by prejudices and stereotypes.

Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, located on the East Coast can be defined as a very separated or segregated city, but in reality the mix of all races and dialects comes into play when you include them all together. Neighborhoods in Philadelphia can be characterized by the ethnic or racial makeup, but there are so many sections that come into one through education, work, or recreational activities that it should be considered diverse. Each racial or ethnic group has their own accent, and they can and usually develop it to be their own through what is most comfortable to them.  I think knowing another language might be able to alter your natural accent in the long run. I’ve been speaking fluent Spanish for almost nine years now, and I’ve been to several South American countries to immerse myself in their culture. By now, I believe that pronouncing Spanish words for so many years must have had some effect on my accent in general, because the ways that you pronounce things in Spanish are hard if you say them with an American accent. My brain just subconsciously changed the way I say certain sounds to ease the transition from Spanish to English. In general, I believe that my accent has changed through the grand diversity that I have experienced through my life, and also affects the natural code switching ability that everyone possesses subconsciously.

Growing up in a city is a lot different than growing up in the country, both language-wise and diversity-wise. Cities tend to have a greater diversity of the general population, while the country has usually one main group of people integrated with a few different types of people from other places.Every race and/or ethnic group has their own accent or dialect, and being in the city where everyone is so close together affects the way everyone talks.The past 10 years that I’ve gone to school, I’ve subconsciously code switched between different cliques, my own home, and the adults that are in my life.With my friends, it’s easier to speak in a more slurred tone, use slang, and/or abbreviations.With my parents, there’s still some slang occasionally, but it’s not really a big deal. Teachers, mentors, advisors, and other adults are talked to without the slang, my speech slows so I can pronounce the words better, and I tend to use a bigger vocabulary. Through the help of a metropolitan city like Philadelphia, the language of the area can be changed through code switching.

Unfortunately, a few very big problems facing Americans today are the generalizations and stereotypes that come along with one’s accent or dialect. During the process of growing up, you tend to speak like the people around you because it’s what you’re used to. When you’re an adult and are seeking a job, sometimes your accent can get in the way. For example, through the media itself, in a lot of movies or television shows, east coast accents such as the ones from New York City are used to portray businessmen, rude taxi drivers, or street criminals. In another sense, country style accents are used to portray old-fashioned people, motherly like figures, or extremely religious people. Through the media, stereotypes are built up until they become the norm, and people begin to subconsciously associate the stereotypes as true. Even though the stereotypes are not true, they begin to get associated as true, which encourages people to believe them.In general, stereotypes about accents or dialects can lead to discrimination.


"American Tongues Transcript." American Tongues Transcript. N.p., 1987. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

"Penn: The Philly Accent Is Steadily Changing." Penn: The Philly Accent Is Steadily Changing. UPenn, n.d. Web. 03 Nov. 2013. <>.

Other information:

  • A "language autobiography," presenting scenes from your own life and reflection on your language.

Questions that were touched on:

  • What is the role of the individual in systems?
  • Where is language an area of conflict? at home? In school? In other aspects of public life?
  • How do you consciously change your ways of speaking? Do you code-switch? Why?
  • Do you have a public persona that is different from your intimate persona?

Sources that were touched on:

  • Ideas presented in American Tongues

Unfit King

Unfit King

“I wish that you were dead! This country requires someone fit to be king, unlike you, you blubbery insolent trash!”

“Hoho!” The king let out a hearty and boisterous laugh, fit for someone of his stature. “Sure is brave of you to say such things when you already know you are about to die! Heads up!” yelled the king, and with that he turned his back. The crowd cheered as the man’s head flew through the air. The executioners bowed, basking in their temporary fame. None of the people, save for a servant perhaps could see the king’s face. If they had, they would seen a single tear fall from the king’s eye.

Later that night, during his evening bath the king remarked to his wife:

“Why is it always my weight? I’m trying to work on it!”

“Oh you look fine honey” the queen proclaimed. The king most certainly did not look fine, nor did his wife for that matter. Both were morbidly obese. It had run in the royal family for generations. Such obesity could have been the result of poor diets, but even more likely it was due to the royal family's tendency to keep the royal blood as pure as possible. Little did the king know that people made a bit of a joke out of speculating how the king’s ancestors had ever taken the land that was now the kingdom. It was hard to imagine the king winning any sort of physical conflict in any way other than getting his soldiers to do it, or just sitting on his opponent.

“Well something must be done then. I have done everything in my power to change things on my end!” This was a lie. “I also have the power to change things on their end!”

“Ok dear, don’t get too riled up now, I am sure that the people of the kingdom love you. Just a few bad apples as they say,” said the queen.

“Oh piss off, you miserable filth! I know what I want and I know how I am going to get it done.”

“I was only trying to help,” the queen screamed as she ran into her chambers, crying. She had observed a most unfortunate pattern in the king’s behavior. Every time that his feelings were hurt, he grew more cold and plain mean towards his wife, who could do nothing save for clench her teeth and roll with the punches. After all, he was the king.

The next morning as the queen awoke, late, tired from all the crying she had done the previous night, she heard familiar voices. These voices most certainly belonged to the royal advisor, a thin balding man who always seemed to be scheming some dirty plan and her husband, the king. Their tones seemed to indicate some tension. The queen prayed that there was not an issue that the king had to address. If there was, she would most certainly be yelled at in the crossfire.

“Yes, your highness, it shall be done,” said the voice of the advisor. The queen breathed a sigh of relief, the king must have obtained what he wanted. The queen picked herself up out of bed and slipped on a pair of her most comfortable and yet still royal slippers. She did not feel the need to change out of her nightgown for the advisor. She couldn’t have cared less what that sad excuse for a man thought of her.

“Good morning” The queen said as she walked into the royal kitchen. She had expected to see the advisor sitting for breakfast with the king, but he appeared to have been escorted out of the castle. On second thought, the king and his advisor did not seem to be on the best of terms.

“Great news m’lady!” Shouted the king, his voice filled with glee. “The words that people so unjustly and incorrectly used to describe me are now illegal, or will be in a matter of mere hours! This is but another step to my molding this harsh and volatile land into the the great and magnificent kingdom that my ancestors envisioned in their time. What a joy to be the king of this glorious land!”

“That is fantastic dear,” responded the queen. And she really meant it as well, although her motives for thinking were a bit different than his. Sure, she was happy when her husband was happy and she she knew that he would be in much better mood than yesterday’s awful mood. However, a better mood for him, meant less chance of abusive behavior towards her. Somewhere in her puny royal mind, she knew what he had done and had been doing for his time on the throne was wrong. He was not a good king. This fact was apparent almost everyone. However, with so much power, nobody could do anything to oppose or criticize his mighty reign in any way.  “Yes, this is all very fine and dandy my love, however I require some sustenance. “Would a chef please fetch me an egg or four? I am practically dying of starvation.”

BAM BAM BAM! The woman lifted her tired head from her cleaning. Her child began to cry loudly. It was hard to tell if this was due to the sudden loud noise, or to hunger. She felt her own stomach let out a cry of protest towards its unintentional fast. Noise or hunger, there seemed to be no obvious solution to either. (Due to the small nature of the house, there was an unfortunately little amount of room for their cots to be placed anywhere to escape to noises of the door and the street outside.) The noise must have startled the poor thing immensely as the crying began to intensify to a ear-splitting volume. She ran over to the child’s cot and hoisted it into the air and quickly comforted it as she wondered where her husband could be. Had he had finally succumbed to the allure of the drink? The woman tiredly limped to the door, as quickly as she could so that the banging would not start again, wondering what the ruckus could possibly be about.

“Hello ma’am, we are the police and are here to notify you about your husband.” The woman sighed. She wondered if the world had finally got to him and he done something bad. They were not well-off, but the family got by one way or another. Both adults worked hard and honestly. She knew that a strong sense of right and wrong was shared between the two of them. What could it possibly be? Had he died? Had he been crippled in some sort of freak-accident?

“Due to a most offensive outburst of public indecency and vulgarity. Your husband has been taken into custody and will be executed tomorrow.” It felt like she had just been punched in the face.

“Executed for public vulgarity? Without trial?” Her shock quickly morphed into fiery hot anger.

“Yes ma’am, your husband in his most vulgar profession as a whale meat seller had quite the vulgar and disgusting pitch for his products. One so offensive that it was hurting the moral of the people and because of that he now shall be treated as a traitor to the kingdom.”

Her hot fiery anger morphed into cold despair. Panic overwhelmed her as she considered her possibilities. The woman crumpled to the ground as she thought about how she could possibly ever support her child with her husband dead.

The next day, at the time of the man’s execution, many people had gathered to witness the first of many executions at the hand of the king’s new laws.

“Obese humanoid lump of flesh,” yelled the man. The king cried once more as the subject was killed. The doctor would die the day after, after him the baker, and after a few years the king would die as a result of his own unhealthiness.   

The Way We Change

I say words differently than you. You say words differently than me, and her and maybe him. My mom moved to a small suburb of London when she was not even one year old and stayed there until she left for college. So naturally she developed an English accent and nobody questioned it. She went to a primary school called Little Green. In England, primary school is Kindergarten through second grade. When she was going into fourth grade her dad, my grandfather, got a job as a dean of the High School at The American School In London (ASL). This is a very prestigious private school where families that worked in the oil industries and places such as that would send their children so that their kids would get an American education. My mom and her sister transferred there within two years. The kids there had mixed accents between American and British so she didn’t feel any need to change the way she talked because there were other people that spoke like her.

When she was in her sophomore year of high school she went to live with her aunt and uncle in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Nobody had a British accent there. My mom decided to change the way she spoke to fit in with the other kids. For a year and a half, she had an almost perfect accent that nobody questioned. One day she got tired of always switching the way she spoke, so she decided to stop faking an American accent and speak with her normal accent. To her surprise, people thought she was faking that. She remembers very clearly having a friend that told her to stop pretending to have an English accent and just speak normal. She had faked her accent for so long that people thought that an American accent was just her normal tongue. My mother says she was stunned, what she was doing it to fit in actually turned out to be what people thought was her norm.  

At this point, my mom has been in the US for about 17 years, almost longer than she had been in England. She hasn’t lost all of her accent but it isn’t as strong as it used be. It isn’t very noticable to me but there are still some words that I can hear that we say differently, for example “tomato” she says it the stereotypical British way. There are other words that I, myself, have poked fun at the way she says them but she does the same to me. When people find out that my mom is from England, they automatically ask me if I can do a British accent. I can but only because I have trained myself, not because I’m actually English.

We usually take a trip to England once a year at least because my grandfather still lives there. He was born and raised in Staten Island, New York. He has lived in England since he moved there with my mom, aunt and grandmother before my aunt was born. His accent hasn’t changed even the slightest bit and people are always very surprised when they find out that he has lived there for as long as he has.

Whenever I go to England, my mom and aunt’s accents always come back full force. The funny thing is I adopt a pretty good accent when I go back as well. People that live there think it is just how I talk. I think the reason I change my accent is because I say so many things differently than them. Whenever someone hears that I am from America, they start asking me all kinds of questions. I think the funniest thing anyone has ever asked me when they found out that I was from America was from a little kid. I was at the park with a friend and her son and some of his friends. I was pushing her son and his friends on the carousel and one of his friends asked me if I was from America, I responded “Yes”. Then, he asked me if I ate a lot of bubble gum. I was confused why he asked this but then he told me it was because when his grandmother goes to America she always brings him back bubble gum. I thought it was interesting to think of the different things people think of when they hear an American accent.  

In the movie “American Tongues”, there is a segment where they talk about how in Boston there is a very stereotypical accent but not everybody uses that accent. I think this applies in many more places than just in Boston. For example, in Philly, you have the North Philly accent then in South Philly, they have a very different accent. The same thing happens in many big cities such as New York and London. In Philly, I have noticed if you live in one of the areas, especially South Philly, and don’t have the very specific accent you are looked at as an outsider. I remember very specifically trying to change the way I said certain words to fit in with the kids that lived around me.

I moved to South Philly when I was about 10 years old. I had lived in the Fairmount area before that, the two areas are very different. When I moved there, my mom put me on a soccer team hoping I would make friends. When I got to my first practice, I realized all the other kids either went to school together or have lived and grew up next to each other, I was the outsider. The thing that set me apart the most was the way I talked. Everybody had a very specific way of pronouncing certain words that is really hard to explain unless you hear it. I didn’t say the words like they did because my mom talked proper English and that had rubbed off on me. When I finally picked it up, it didn’t sound right. It was too forced and it would sound weird with the other words that didn’t have the same accent. In the beginning of eighth grade, I tried really hard to adapt the full accent. It sounded absolutely ridiculous. It took me awhile to realize how ridiculous it actually sounded and when I finally I did realize, stopped trying and left my accent alone. The thing I didn’t expect was for some of the words to stick. After trying to adopt the accent for so long, I actually had kept some. Now that I’m not with the same kids any more, I get made fun of when I say a word like “yous” or “couffeee”. I have learned to stop saying these words, but when I don’t think about if and just say them they come out with a twisted accent.

Works Cited:

American Tongues. Dir. Louis Alvarez and Andy Kolker. Perf. Polly Holliday and Trey Wilson. Center for New American Media, 1988. DVD.

Evolution of Language

Evolution of Language

           At its core, language is the means that individuals within a group use to communicate with each other.  Stripped down from its rules and accumulated history, language is what makes it possible for humans to function as a group and to be essentially human.  While many if not most other species have their own unique language oral or otherwise, allowing individuals to communicate within that species, human language allows for each generation to add its knowledge to that of the previous generation and thereby to accumulate cultural knowledge and evolve.  In other words, language allows us to have an historical record.

           Similarly, language is personal and idiosyncratic. The way we speak identifies us and sets us apart from others even from those within our group. Everyone has a unique style of talking. While it is accepted that there is an expected way of speaking, in reality there is no such thing as normal; even in one country there are many dialects that are associated with specific cities or regions.  Often the different regional dialects can be traced to the diverse languages of the people who immigrated to America.  There are still traces of the original languages of immigrants in the way we speak or through slang. Language reveals who we are.  We guess other people’s upbringings, their values, and their overall lives, without even getting to know them. We generalize and convince ourselves that we know. We judge one another, making assumptions. We have to accept the fact that there is no universal way of speaking English, or any other language for that matter. English is still a young language and it is already so far from Old English that they are essentially completely different languages. Our language is still evolving and being reshaped.    

           Language is not universal but is rooted in a specific time and place. It can be understood better by looking at two comedies that are conceived in two different media – William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and the recent television sit-com Scrubs.  Both works focus on using dramatic presentation to reveal to their audiences peoples foibles and let them appreciate the humor in the human predicament.  Both works were very popular in their days, which confirm that they both successfully reached their intended audiences.  Yet the works are very different from each other and speak to the time and culture in which they were written. 

           In Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing Act 2 Scene 1, Beatrice is talking with Benedick, but she is not aware of the fact that it is Benedick she is talking to because he is wearing a disguise. Beatrice says, “Do, do. He’ll but break a comparison or two on me, which peradventures not marked or not laughed at strikes him into melancholy and then there is a partridge wing saved, for the fool will eat no supper that night.”  In this quote Beatrice is saying that if Benedick finds out what she said about him, he would mock her and make some witty comments, but if no one laughed or acknowledged his jokes, he would be miserable because he is simply a fool desperate for the attention of others. This results in a multitude of translations. For us in twentieth century America, the language seems stilted and awkwardly complex, yet sixteenth century Elizabethan Englishmen easily understood the cadence and the allusions, otherwise the humor would have fallen flat and the play would have been a disaster.

           In the 2001 comedy show, Scrubs, which follows a group of quirky interns and shows the obstacles that confront them on a daily basis. Elliot Reed is frustrated about the way the Chief of Medicine, Dr. Kelso, talks down to her. When she complains to Dr. Cox about how she felt when Dr. Kelso was being so demeaning to her, he responds with his typical cutting wit, “And you, you neurotic one-woman freak show, take your blah-blah to the blah-blah-ologist; because if you're so stupid as to confront the Chief of Medicine over some quasi-offensive endearment, then you've just got to go ahead and replace the captain of your brain ship because he's drunk at the wheel!” (season 1, episode 4) While both this and the Shakespeare quote have a similar sense of wit and sarcasm, and Cox’s statement not any less complex than the great playwright’s, this quote does not require much, if any, explanation.  It is written for and spoken to a contemporary audience and the references are easily understood.  It is still English that is being spoken, but the language has changed significantly during the last 400 years, and Shakespeare needs to be translated to be understood by our ears.

           This evolution of the English language becomes even clearer if we look at written prose as it appears in the tragic novel.  It may be argued that we can see the most dramatic changes in this form of literature.  In Wuthering Heights, written by Emily Brontë in the nineteenth century, the language used is elaborate, although not to the degree we found in the dramatic poetry of Shakespeare.  There is a strong use of similes and metaphors, especially when describing physical characteristics.  Take for example our introduction to Heathcliff, “Do you mark those two lines between your eyes; and those thick brows, that, instead of rising arched, sink in the middle; and that couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly, but lurk glinting under them, like devil's spies?”  We are meant to feel the threatening fierceness of the story’s main character, to be almost afraid of him, to both love and hate him in this deeply Romantic novel. Today we would consider this language and this attitude to be more pretentious than beautiful.  We no longer enjoy being lost in long, emotive descriptions and are more prone to getting tangled in the words.  Contemporary language leans toward minimalism.

           This tendency is evident in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, where a completely different style is pursued.  Even though it was written in the 1920’s, our style of writing today remains similar to that of The Great Gatsby, for we are heirs to the Modernist style that evolved during that period.  At end of the book, Nick Carraway describes his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom after they have caused so much trouble thusly, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy––they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they made…” (p. 179). This quote is simply saying that Tom and Daisy did not care about others and when they created problems, they just left it for other people to deal with. It says a lot, about upper class America in general they retreat into their fortune and don’t even think about those who are poorer or lower than them. Instead of having overly complex language full of unneeded metaphors. The language in The Great Gatsby is spare. Despite its simplicity, it is rich in meaning and says much more than that of Emily Brontë.


           What these examples of the English language show - ranging from highly stylized, poetic allusions of Elizabethan England to the more vernacular, allusion-rich contemporary television comedy. Similarly from the highly emotional, richly described Romantic novel to the strongly symbolic, almost abstract Modern novel is that the language is constantly changing and evolving to express the aesthetic goals and spiritual needs of the time.  The language evolves in order to constantly remain as an effective means of communication.  We as individuals must stay linked to the others within our group and our world. And as we need language for this purpose, language, whether spoken or written, will remain the most powerful vehicle for our self-expression.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William.  Much Ado About Nothing. New York: Washington Square Press, 1995.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2004.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1996.

"My Old Lady." Scrubs. NBC. WCAU, Philadelphia. October 16. 2001. Television.

Baldwin, James. "If Black Language Isn't A Language, Then Tell Me, What Is." Editorial.

Literacy in The Diamond Age

The Diamond Age, a postcyberpunk novel by Neal Stephenson, doesn’t quite stick to the high-tech/low-life cliche of classic cyberpunk novels. In “Notes Towards A Postcyberpunk Manifesto,” Lawrence Person says that cyberpunk characters try to topple social orders, while postcyberpunk characters try to live inside the rules of them or build better ones. In The Diamond Age, while there are many different classes (social status, and legal status as well are determined by what religion, or “phyle” you belong to), there is one distinct middle class, the Victorians, and one distinct upper class, the Equity Lords. They are able to stay on top by being the only classes that are able to read - the lower class, the inhabitants of the Leased Territories, are only able to understand “mediaglyphics,” animated picture writing. Being illiterate hurts the lower-class characters of The Diamond Age by removing their opportunities and alienating them from society.

Towards the beginning of The Diamond Age, Nell, one of the protagonists, is trying to figure out how to use a matter compiler - basically a 3D printer that will make anything. Its interface is completely in mediaglyphics. Her brother, Harv calls it the M.C, and Nell asks him why. Harv says that“[Letters are] Kinda like mediaglyphics except they're all black, and they're tiny, they don't move, they're old and boring and really hard to read.” (Stephenson, 101)

Harv is saying that he doesn’t know - letters are boring, mysterious symbols that are only useful for making long words shorter. The fact that Nell, Harv, and the rest of the lower class don’t know how to read or write puts them at a disadvantage because they are unable to question things that are told to them. If they were to be arrested for a crime, they would not be able to read the laws to defend themselves. The part where Harv mentions letters being old is interesting because letters certainly are still relevant in The Diamond Age - all the decisions being made for Nell and Harv, all the laws being made, and even the designs for all the technology that is created to display mediaglyphics - are all in letters.

At one point in the book, Dr. X, who lives in the Leased Territories and manipulates Harv and his friends into committing petty crimes to serve his ulterior motives, sends a beautifully calligraphed scroll to a judge, inviting him to dinner on his yacht. This sets a massive chain of events in progress, including the judge resigning, the inventor of The Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer being coerced into redesigning it so 500,000 copies can be made for orphaned girls, and the same inventor being coerced into being a double agent for the Equity Lords with the compensation that he, too, can be knighted and become an Equity Lord. Not knowing how to read English, Nell, Harv, and the rest of the people from the Leased Territories could never be a part of something like this. Instead, they are reduced to pawns used for setting these events in motion.

Later in The Diamond Age, Harv mugs a Victorian with his buddies and finds a book. He brings it home for Nell, thinking it is probably junk. It turns out that it is the state of the art Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, designed and manufactured especially for an Equity Lord’s daughter. It is designed to raise a young girl with the right mix of practical lessons and subversive stories, so that she has the right mindset to do great things in life. Over a period of two years, the Primer teaches Nell how to read while telling her stories to help her deal with her mother’s abusive boyfriends. Eventually, she is told by the book to run away. Nell and Harv are hiding when Harv tells her that they need to talk about the Primer. “Why must we talk about it?” Nell asks. This being a sentence straight from the Primer, Harv doesn’t know how to interpret it.

“‘Huh?’ Harv said in the dopey voice he affected whenever Nell talked fancy.” (Stephenson, 464)

Even though Nell is being taught how to read and her vocabulary is expanding - which is certainly good - she is being alienated from her brother by this. Throughout the years of her mother’s boyfriends abusing her, the Primer and her brother have been her only friends, and she is becoming less close to her brother, simply because of her language.

Guided by the Primer and Nell’s wits, Nell and Harv eventually make it to Dovetail, a small middle-class town which exists to make handmade goods for the the New Atlantans, a Victorian clave. Harv does not know what to do in this environment and runs away, which is reflected in the Primer by Peter Rabbit, one of Nell’s four guardians and friends leaving. Nell is taken by Rita, a woman who lives in Dovetail, to New Atlantis to study in a Victorian school. Rita leaves Nell waiting on the sidewalk for a while, and apologizes saying that she had to socialize due to protocol. Nell flatly tells her to “explain protocol,” as if she was talking to the Primer. Rita tells her to watch her manners, so Nell responds by saying “Would it impose on your time unduly to provide me with a concise explanation of the term protocol?” (Stephenson, 560)

Rita is scared, and responds with a nervous laugh. Despite the Primer being an good influence on Nell’s development and teaching her very much about language, Nell is not just being alienated from the people in her community. They see her as too good for them. Nell doesn’t belong with the people of Dovetail or the Victorians either - they see her as a threat. In a society where everyone has the same literacy, this would not have happened. However, if different classes have different levels of literacy - or even different languages - it becomes even harder to break free of your class and social status.

Works Cited:

Person, Lawrence. "Notes Towards a Postcyberpunk Manifesto." Slashdot. N.p., 09 Oct 1999. Web. 28 Oct 2013. <>.

Stephenson, Neal. The Diamond Age. New York: Ballantine, 1995. eBook.