Taking My Language With Me

I grew up in the Deep South in a small town called Highland Home, Alabama. I’ve lived on dirt roads at times in my life. I know how to use the words “ain’t,” “y’all,” and “yonder” correctly, and I still use them today. In addition, I’m an English major.

The first time I experienced a kind of oppression to my own language, or at least the first time I gave it any notice, was when I was doing yard work for this older lady in Auburn. I threw out the word “ain’t” in a conversation we were having while cleaning her lawn chairs. She stopped me mid-sentence and told me I should be ashamed of myself for talking like that, especially since I am an English major. She said she had a friend from England who visited a week earlier that would be appalled at my abuse of the language. There I was, 21 years old, and a 65-year-old woman was teaching me how to talk.

I gave her opinion a lot of thought over the next few days, wondering if I needed to focus on how I spoke. Since I am an English major, shouldn’t I at least speak correctly? I finally decided my speech is part of who I am, part of my experiences, part of where I came from. Bell hooks mentions, “We are transformed, individually, collectively, as we make radical creative space which affirms and sustains our subjectivity, which gives us a new location from which to articulate our sense of the world” (242). Because my speech is part of me, to undo it would be to strip that part away. It would strip away where I grew up, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had. I would still like to say, “Me and Johnny went to the store,” as opposed to “Johnny and I.” I would still like to use “ain’t,” “y’all,” and “yonder” because of who I am. If I am to be a writer, one thing I do aspire to be in life, then I must carry my language with me. It is the voice of those places, people, and experiences, and that is what I will take with me.

And now I will do a spelling and grammar check to make sure this paper is not too out of line with the use of the English language because I wouldn’t want to start a sentence with “and” or use too many contractions. I’ve already added “ain’t” to my Microsoft Word dictionary this morning. I am resisting oppression.

Sources:
Readings In Contemporary Rhetoric – Karen A. Foss, Sonja K. Foss, Robert Trapp
“Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness” – bell hooks (no, she doesn’t capitalize her name)

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