The Prohibition of The English Language: Final Draft

The Prohibition of The English Language

Behind every word there are limitless definitions, an indefinite number of ways that it can be used and even personalized meanings whose significance and profound exposition may never be perceived in its entirety. When people speak they are painting a reflection from the culmination of their experiences. It is in these experiences- the possibility of language, that humanity has thrived for centuries; at our core we are as human as we are orators. It can be argued that the greatest asset to society are the sciences or mathematics, that without those society would still be hunting and gathering. So much focus is put on them that the foundation has been completely overshadowed- it is language that gave birth to the blueprints of humanity’s greatest monuments. What if the infinite is tamed down, whittled away purposely? What if language is simplified while the application becomes increasingly complex? It may be found that this is no accident, that the prohibition of human interaction in it’s most organic form has turned into a very precise distillation process which marginalizes the population, turns education into a weapon and impedes the progress of mankind. Unity is not found in one but in many, it is this imposing of one language that ultimately dismantles society.

A single language holds numerous distinct dialects across regions and a multitude of localisms within precincts. On a broad scale this diversity can be seen in American and British vernacular. Both countries share one language yet the patterns and accents are so different many from each country would say they’re entirely individual akin to apples and oranges. This difference can then be dissected into as small a scale as separate towns and even families. Evolving into a modern nation as America has, since the 1820’s, helped foster the idea that a single language could unite its people which would streamline progress. Indeed this sounds reasonable as Robert Leamnson, author of Thinking About Teaching and Learning,  explains using college freshman as example: “[b]ut what is obvious…through familiarity, might be completely obscure to students…because they have their own private meaning for words” (Leamnson 76). If the applications of a word are narrowed to one and regional dialects and local accents are homogenized, assumption can be made that language becomes equal. The obstacle of adapting one’s vernacular to specific location, be it classroom or state, is seemingly eliminated along with the prejudice for specific accents. Theoretically, the population is allowed to be equal yet, this hasn’t become the case.

Standard English came forth, denoted as being the “correct” way to speak and write. Enforced judiciously in higher education, Standard English is typically associated with college essays and intellectual discussion. Placed on a pedestal it is not a unifying language but one that favors those who have the opportunity to afford it. The rift begins here. Ultimately, only a select few made the decision to create a standard English. This decision came not from benevolence but from an intent to gain control of the many, as bell hooks states simply: “[i]t is the language of conquest and domination” (hooks 56 ). No longer are books being burned as in Fahrenheit 451 but instead, words themselves have succumbed to the fire. If language is truly society’s greatest asset, then by eliminating its components, society as a whole is invalidated. Expression shifts to oppression, individuality is deemed an act of rebellion.

Many have no choice however but to fuel the fire, to abandon their experiences, to willingly be subjugated in favor of pursuing a suitable future. As shown in Perri Klass’ retelling of her account of medical school “…you must absorb not only the vocabulary but also the structure, the logic, the attitudes. At first you may notice these new and alien assumptions…but with increased fluency  you stop being aware of them at all…for better or for worse, you move closer and closer to being a doctor instead of just talking like one” (Klass 64). Seeking an education requires the adaption of one’s language to that of another; the process of learning simultaneously becomes a process of forgetting, of eliminating another portion of society in attempt to better serve it.

However, it is this exact procedure of forgetting that both Leamnson and Mezirow would argue are beneficial to the individual. The structure, logic, attitude and assumptions Klass talks about are what Mezirow would call “frames of reference”. By restructuring or complete omission of them, the argument is formed which opens the possibility of engaging in discourse. Through discourse Mezirow believes, independent thinking can be achieved as he states, “[d]iscourse is necessary to validate what and how one understands, or to arrive at a best judgement…in this case learning is a social process and discourse becomes central to making meaning” (91).  That is to say, to become independent, one must give in to Standard English in order to communicate on an intellectual level so that they can learn to think against the oppressive forces. Giving in to higher education doesn’t necessarily mean freedom or reconciliation with the disintegration of society, yet, it doesn’t necessarily mean slavery either. So what does it mean? What effect, if any does schooling actually have?

Education in its own right isn’t the direct perpetrator of prohibition, while many will perceive it as such. The intentions of teachers still largely remain morally and ethically just. Their goal of producing cultured pupils has not changed even if the language has. However, the classroom has become more uniform with Standard English being imposed upon professor and scholar. The inclusion of personal dialects can be seen as a battle of personal expression versus comprehension; surely there will be information lost as an individual speaks with their own voice–this isn’t however, entirely the case. Being comfortable is key for critical discussion, the ability to use one’s native tongue could perhaps negate the effect Leamnson describes “as a result of a long period of conditioning, [new students] will quickly begin to ‘behave classroom’ once they find themselves in that situation” (Leamnson 74). After all, the more comfortable people are, the more inclined they will be to speak, to expose and nurture one another. Still the fact prevails that an ideal education not based on blank memorization or test scores but on the genuine understanding of information and the ability to reflect upon it, cannot exist in the presence of an oppressive language.

An intelligent mind is useless in the absence of a rich, malleable vernacular as bell hooks explains “[w]hen I need to say words that do more than simply mirror or address dominant reality, I speak black vernacular. There, in that location, we make English do what we want it to do” (hooks 60). The strict rules of Standard English reflect the cumulative practice of a dominating government seeking to maintain an unmistakable divide, allowing no room for substantial meaning to permeate. Using one’s native tongue in an environment otherwise deemed to be a place for Standard English is a display of fierce reclamation of the individual, of society as a whole.

Society rests in the ability to communicate on multiple levels just as it has for thousands of years. To share ideas, and emotions beyond that of which one standard language can convey. The exposure of varying dialects leads to true culturization, where experience influences the immeasurable flow of knowledge. Education being the segue for knowledge while also being a key weapon of prohibition creates a distinct irony in the battle against oppression. A diverse language creates a unified civilization, a single entity cannot be created from the marginalization of its own pieces. There is limitless freedom in every word spoken thus meaning that the fate of humanity, truly, resides on the tip of one’s tongue.

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Author: Montana Svoboda

I'm a genderless poet currently living in Central Michigan where I attend college for Environmental Science and English. Nature's some cool shit, frisbee's a neat activity, fountain pens are best pens, Latakia for life, coffee and tea keep these gears turning.

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