Language is probably one of the major tools that contribute to the progress of human civilization and formation of humans as intelligent and social beings. As the matter of fact, language is one of the major distinguishable features that differs humans from other living beings in the entire planet. In the course of the development of human civilization, language evolved respectively to the level of the development of civilization and was one of the major constituent elements of the socio-cultural progress of people. Nowadays, the role of language has become even more important because language is more than a means of communication but it is rather an essential part of human culture that produces a profound impact on individual’s perception of the surrounding world, his/her beliefs, ideas, traditions and culture. Moreover, it is even possible to estimate that language, to a significant extent shapes individual’s identity and distinguishes him/her from representatives of other socio-cultural groups.
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In such a context, the development of dialects or even a variety of languages, which seemingly originate from one and the same basis, is particularly noteworthy. In this respect, it is possible to refer to English which perfectly illustrates the extent to which the language may differ depending on the community that uses this language and socio-cultural as well as historical background in which this language is used.
First of all, it should be said that specialists (Baldwin) argue that different variants of English language should be defined either as dialects or even as separate languages. In this argument Baldwin, for instance, attempts to prove that African American English, being consistently different from Standard English, is not a dialect, but it is rather a different language, the language of African Americans, which he defines as “the creation of the black diaspora” (281). This is probably why June Jordan’s class chose to write their protest letter to the police in Black English rather than in Standard English. Obviously, they viewed the language as the one of the major acquisitions of their ethnic group. Moreover, they could view the language as the distinguishable feature of their own culture and their ethnic group. It was a symbol of their difference and the symbol of their cultural identity. This means that the language may be viewed as an essential element of national identity and, in such a context, the use of Black English is quite comprehensible and logical because students attempted to show that they are a different nation and their rights should be respected, while language was a kind of evidence that their culture and their ethnic group is really different and unique and, what is more important, it is culturally rich because it has managed to create its own language being under a permanent pressure of the dominating white group. In this regard, it is very important to remind that James Baldwin lays emphasis on the fact that “language, incontestably, reveals the speaker” (279). So, the letter and the language used just reveal the speakers, emphasizing their national identity and dignity.
In fact, it should be pointed out that language has always played a very important role as the means of self-expression and identification of an individual with a particular community or socio-cultural group. In this respect, it is possible to remind Irish people whose English was substantially different from British English and it was a subject of mockery from the part of Englishmen, but, on the other, hand it was a part of the culture and national identity of Irish people that clearly distinguished them from the rest of English-speaking world.
At the same time, it is worthy of mention that the language may be also viewed as a subject of racial discrimination because, returning to the US, it should be said that traditionally Black English was viewed as a dialect of Standard English, i.e. the dialect of the language of white Americans. In such a way, the latter apparently emphasized their superiority in relation to African Americans who were treated inferior and their language, or dialect, was a proof of their inferiority. This means that white community viewed the language of African Americans as inferior because they believed that the difference of this language is determined by their low educational level and their inability to speak correctly.
In such a situation, the letter discussed above may be viewed as a response to all these skeptics whose view on Black English is influenced by prejudices and racial biases. At the same time, James Baldwin rejects the idea that Black English is a dialect of Standard English, instead, he insists that it is a different language created by African American community, partially in response to racial discrimination. For instance, he refers to historical context, in which African Americans were forced to use their own specific language that was not comprehensible to white Americans because African Americans were oppressed by whites. In such a way, the language “comes into existence by means of brutal necessity, and the rules of the language are dictated by what the language must convey” (Baldwin 281).
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that Black English may be viewed as a language of African American people which should rather be viewed as a language and not a dialect of Standard English. In this respect, it should be said that Black English was created in a very specific historical context as a means of communication of African Americans and it did not count for other English-speaking people that may be viewed as a proof of the independence of this language from Standard English because it was a language a particular community. At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the concept of language should be viewed consistently larger than just an ordinary means of communication. In fact, it is the product of the historical development of the community which incorporates culture and traditions of this community. In actuality, language contributes to the formation of the particular cultural and national identity of speakers.
Baldwin, J. “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Than Tell Me, What Is?”
Jordan, J. “Nobody Mean More to Me Than You And the
Future Life of Willie Jordan”
Nunberg, G. “Languages Are Political Constructions.”
Webb, K. “Black English.”
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