Ben Payton January 7, 2011 Mrs. Jennifer Underwood AP Language and Composition
How Does the Language We Use Reveal Who We Are?
Language is simultaneously a simple and complex thing. It is, of course, the words we use to communicate with our family, friends, neighbors and loved ones, but it also helps to influence both our perception of the world, and the worlds perception of us. Many of us are aware of these connections, but few are entirely aware of the way our use of language impacts others and exactly how language itself impacts several aspects of our lives, such as our emotions, our politics, and our thinking in general. The language we use in everyday life outside of our own homes can be, as evidenced by Richard Rodriguez in his essay Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood, highly different from the language we use every day in public. We may use words and phrases in the home that we would not dare utter outside it, because we know we are being judged. Whether it is in school, business or any other social event, we are immediately judged by those who do not know us, and we are judged on several aspects, a primary one being the language we use. An elevated, intellectual vocabulary usually causes the listener to assume that the speaker has received higher formal education while a vocabulary that consists of simple words indicates that the speaker has yet to receive such an education. However, word choice is not the only thing we are being judged on. The way our voice sounds to others, our accent, also plays a crucial part. If we hear a foreign accent, we
immediately associate the speaker with the country we believe the accent comes from and the attitude of the hoi polloi of that country. For example, speaking from personal experience, I am often asked if I or anyone in my family is from Britain, because to others it sounds as if I have a British accent. I have also been told, on more than one occasion, that it is this supposed accent that causes me to sound more sophisticated while speaking, as opposed to a standard Southern accent one would expect me to have, having been raised in Georgia my entire life. In Decolonising the Mind, Ngugi Wa Thiongo recalls his childhood, how he, his family, and his entire community spoke the language Gikuyu until the schools were taken over by Englishmen and English became the new language, hastily replacing Gikuyu. Soon, English was the only language they were taught in. They wrote, spoke, and played in English. This enforcement of English eventually took its toll on their perception of the world. It took them out of their own world and forced them into others. Language is simultaneously a simple and complex thing. It is, of course, the words we use to communicate with our family, friends, neighbors and loved ones, but it also helps to influence both our perception of the world, and the worlds perception of us. We are always judged by our language; by our word choice and by our accents. We can be, and sometimes are, thrust into a brand new world, completely different than our own, because of language, whether it be the language we use or the language that is forced upon us. All of this, however, contributes to our personality and our person as a whole. Without these influences, the course we take in life would be remarkably different. Every single one of these factors, from the vocabulary we choose to use, to the languages we speak, to the way the world perceives because of the languages we speak, helps define us as a person.
Works Cited Rodriguez, Richard. Aria: A Memoir of a Bilingual Childhood. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. 922-28. Print. Thiongo, Ngugi W. Decolonising the Mind. The Language of Composition: Reading, Writing, Rhetoric. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. 922-28. Print.