Sharing Englishes and Social Media

Dr. Florescu and I are currently working on our project titled, “Sharing Englishes and Social Media. Through our project, we aim to emphasize the need to recognize that there is more than one way for an individual to perform the English language, thus creating a series of “Englishes”. Furthermore, we seek to dispel the myth of “improper English” by acknowledging how language has been used to oppress and subdue minority communities by forcing them to adhere to monolinguistic English, rather than forming their own tongue and identity. By examining the factors in which language has been used to suppress, this research could be used to change our perceptions on English by allowing us to acknowledge a multitudinous array of “Englishes” as valid, question what we deem “proper English”, and create newfound understanding for those who do not perform their English in the same way that we do. I aim to do this by drawing from various media—literature, media, music, songs, and art—that comment on how one’s personal identity influences their own Englishes. I would like to go through scholarly journals to find articles in relation to race, gender, immigration status, and sexual identity to see the significants between these groups and the English language. Lastly, I would also like to conduct some informal interviews to gain insight on those who speak English as a second language, those who have stylized the English language in the black, female, and queer communities, and how social media has allowed them to enhance and control their own languages. If I could figure out a way to conduct a survey that could capture these thoughts, that would be phenomenal as well.

As an introduction to our topic, I have studied the 8-minute long audio track of  “Discourse on the Logic of Language” by Marlene Nourbese Philip, as well as Lenelle Moïse’s “the children of immigrants”, using them as points of comparison.

Philip’s audio track is spoken with a certain calmness, but there is a commanding presence about it. She repeats the message multiple times: “English is my mother tongue / a mother tongue is not a foreign lan lan language / l(anguish) / anguish / a foreign anguish / therefore, English is a foreign language / not a mother tongue.” Immediately, Philip paints for us a picture of the conflict between herself and the English language. She claims English as her mother tongue and states that it is not a foreign language because it is a part of her, something as natural as breathing air. Yet still, despite the naturalness of English and her asserting her ownership of the language, she also recognizes that English is something that brings her great anguish; she does this through combining “language” and “anguish” to create “l(anguish)”. English is seemingly innate to Philip, but she cannot ignore that the language has been imposed on her,  making her natural tongue seem foreign to her simultaneously. It is both her own and not her own, as a colonial and postcolonial lens would identify English as being a Eurocentric standard forced upon minorities. This idea of conflict may appear confusing to the listener during the first listen, as Philip states contradicting ideas on English being a mother tongue/not a mother tongue as well as foreign/not foreign. However, the confusion perfectly captures the way that Philip feels: something so natural to her—a language that she has spoken since birth—still feels foreign to her because it is of someone else.  As she repeats this internal struggle with herself and the language, booming clinical voices overpower her throughout the course of the audio track. They come without warning, drowning out her mantra with their own agendas.These voices do succeed in overpowering her at several points, giving historical snippets of ways that language has been used to oppress minorities: slave owners buying slaves that spoke different languages so they would not be able to communicate and form a rebellion,  parts of the brain related to speech being named/connected to scientists that tried to prove that white males’ brains were larger (and proved superiority to blacks, women, and other groups), etc. As a black woman, her voice is overpowered by the white voices and we can no longer hear her. She must repeat her message multiple times and fight in order for her message to be heard, as other voices attempt to silence her. 

On the other hand, Moïse’s “the children of immigrants” does not directly address language, but the implication that the study of language is crucial for the children of immigrants is absolutely present. The children of immigrants are gazed upon with great scrutiny: by their parents, teachers, and other individuals in their lives. Their parents force them to grow up quickly by leaving behind their childhood and launching them through adulthood at a young age, in hopes that this will grant them a better opportunity at life once they have grown. As the child of immigrants, they are not expected to have mastered the language at such a young age. A teacher bewilderedly questions Moïse,  “How do you know? How do you already know?” Yet as children of immigrants, the children are held to an entirely different standard within their households. They must assimilate into this culture and perfect it in every way possible, including through their mastery of the English language. They must enunciate, spell, and speak properly, and once they have done it, they are forced to be the “bridge, cultural interpreter, [and] spokesperson” for two different cultures.  Through their parents expecting better lives for the children and by the children witnessing the hardships their parents endure for them to have an opportunity, their children are not allowed to be children. Instead, they take on the adult-like responsibility of reaching ‘the standard’, then go beyond the standard by perfecting it. The bar is set the highest for them and in a sense, they must speak English even better than native speakers with non-immigrant parents. In return, they are commended for their fluency in English. However, it must be questioned at what cost to the child’s emotional wellbeing and growth is this praise gained. 

“Discourse on the Logic of Language” by Marlene Nourbese Philip
http://www.nourbese.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Discourse-She-Tries-01.mp3

Lenelle Moïse’s “the children of immigrants”
https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/91753

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *