This Research Exploratory Essay focuses on the effects that the English language has on minority groups. Speaking English as a second language shouldn’t be seen as a negative thing just because the person speaks another language and they may be more fluent in it. It should be seen as a strength that a person is able to communicate in different types of ways. Many people feel the need to forget their language to assimilate to the standards of this country however they don’t seem to realize that by doing this they are letting go of their own identity. I gathered different sources to from course readings to blog entries to peer reviewed articles to show the main idea of my essay which is how Standard English affects the lives of those who are considered minority groups.
Effects of Standardized English on Minority Groups
A linguistic minority is group that uses a different language from the dominant language spoken in that country. Linguistic minorities in the United States face many difficulties trying to do things people consider their everyday routine. Many people fail to realize that non-native English speakers are part of what makes the United States the country it is today. This is a topic that is prevalent to individuals who haven’t assimilated completely to the language and culture of this country, and just because we aren’t aware of it doesn’t mean it’s not happening elsewhere. Because of the influx of immigrants coming to this country, they have the right to be treated with respect and value and not looked down upon just because they aren’t speaking the same way we do. Regardless of their status in this country, nobody should be forced to assimilate to speaking Standard English, if there even is such a thing. The older you get, the harder it is for an individual to learn new things such as a whole other language, however majority of the time people do learn it on their own. As students, we are lucky to be in a position where we have teachers that educate and help us further our knowledge. Imagine how difficult it is for an individual who has come to this country to work and then not being able to find a job because most of them require them to speak English. So now they start to learn the language in any way possible to get ahead, but they start facing new difficulties, and they start to wonder when are they considered “enough” for societal standards? When an individual is unable to communicate in their native language freely, they are being forced to neglect the childhood language they grew up with, the language they speak to their family with, how they used to watch television and talk to their friends when they were younger. Language is not only a system of communication, it is an identity, it’s someone’s culture. In this essay, I will be discussing how Standard English and its variations affect minority groups and their way of life.
Amy Tan is a Chinese American novelist who published a personal essay in The Threepenny Reviewcalled “Mother Tongue” in 1990. In Tan’s personal essay, the main point is about how uncomfortable she feels switching back and forth between formal and non-formal English which is the one she would use with her mother. She is stuck between these two worlds because she realizes her mother has probably never heard her speak so eloquently before, so she doesn’t want her mother to feel out of place. She talks about this specific case in which her mother had gone into the hospital for an appointment for something very serious and she was genuinely concerned as a patient and wanted to find out more information. They told Tan’s mother that they had lost the CAT scans and she had come for nothing, and that they seemed to have no sympathy for her. The part that stood out to me the most was when Tan finally was able to speak with someone there over the phone and then it says, “… we had assurances the CAT scan would be found, promises that a conference call on Monday would be held, and apologies for any suffering my mother had gone through for a most regrettable mistake.” (Tan 12) All of the sudden, the reader notices the trend that goes on here and how unfair it is to have the disadvantage of not speaking “proper English” to be treated with compassion and respect. Many people feel the need to assimilate in order to fit in, whether it be their language or their culture. This connects with another article called, “Do We Really want Immigrants to Assimilate?” (2000) by Peter Skerry. He analyses that if you were to ask the average American person what “assimilation” means in this country, they would most likely say something about immigrants fitting into American society smoothly and accordingly (Skerry 20). But why is it that immigrants are the ones that have to fit in? Are we as a society pushing upon individuals to change who aren’t comfortable switching their whole lives in order to live peacefully in the United States? He states that there are three things that Americans would agree on adding to the whole idea of assimilation, and the first one he states is, “First, they had to accept English as the national language.” (Skerry 8) Personally, I understand why you would have to accept English as the national language of this country, but this goes back to the idea of just living here without having to assimilate completely. The article goes on to say that the linguistic assimilation sometimes creates a sense of curiosity and they seek for their own individuality because the person tries to regain touch with their roots once more. Essentially, minority groups don’t have much say sometimes in terms of rules and regulations, or even what society deems to be correct because their opinions may not be valued as much. This is what leads to assimilation because they are afraid of sticking out of the crowd, but people like Tan’s mother are the type of individual who won’t assimilate, she knows she has rights, but she has her daughter to help her express them. Not everyone in this country has the same experience though, and not everyone is fortunate enough to have someone defend them the way Tan defends her mother. This affects the way you view people, the way you do things and overall the way you live your quality of life. Both authors connect with one another because in “Mother Tongue” Tan’s mother is ridiculed for not being able to speak English even when she said that she “had spoken very good English, her best English, no mistakes.” (Tan 13). Skerry would say that this instance is completely reasonable, and Tan’s mother did everything in her power to try to make the best out of the situation she was in and shouldn’t be frowned upon for not speaking the “standard English” language. Skerry is ultimately fighting and defending the mother indirectly of course, but because minority groups shouldn’t be forced to assimilate at all to the standard language of this country if they don’t want too.
Walt Wolfram is a sociolinguist who specializes in social and ethnic dialects of American English. He discusses in his article, “Sound Effects: Challenging Language Prejudice in the Classroom,” (2013) that early on in a kid’s childhood, there may have been already some prejudices installed within them that they may believe is right. But in fact, he says that teachers also play a huge role in this because they are able to incorporate different things into their curriculum such as expose their students regularly to language differences in cultural contexts so that they are aware of the prejudices being taught to them. “Even as multicultural education moves forward; the study of language diversity has lagged behind. Educating students about language diversity should be an essential component of language arts, history, and social studies…” (Wolfram 12) Wolfram discusses the importance of implementing the study of language diversity into the curriculum because this allows the children to be more open minded to what they are exposed to in this world. The more they learn inside the classroom; the less misconceptions would happen about individuals who struggle with learning the English language. In the paper by Andrew D. Cohen named, “Bilingual Schooling and Spanish Language Maintenance: An Experimental Analysis,” (1975) he studies the differences between bilingually schooled children and conventionally schooled Mexican children (meaning kids who were only taught in English). Findings show that Mexican American students in the bilingual program were found to be using Spanish more after several years than comparable children schooled conventionally (Cohen 7). What does this imply? That teaching kids something like two languages at the same time at a young age is something that can be done and won’t hinder their learning processes in fact it enhances it. How does this relate to language prejudices? You can teach a child the conventional ways of speaking and learning a language and in some cases, they can even learn that on their own, however when it comes to ideas as such as prejudices, those are a bit harder to teach yourself. A child shouldn’t be limited to what they’re learning and in fact it should be encouraged for teachers to step out of conventional teaching and explore something that can’t be taught in a classroom but rather by experiencing the world. It can help those minority groups not feel inferior to others because it’s teaching them about their roots and how they shouldn’t be ashamed of who they are. Cohen connects with Wolfram because they both advocate for exposing children early on to multiple cultures and languages. Many of those who are born in this country don’t have the chance to learn a second language because their parents never taught it to them and when they grow up and try to communicate with those who don’t speak the same language as them becomes extremely difficult. Both authors share that it doesn’t hurt for a child to learn a second language if they have the opportunity, in fact it only strengthens their knowledge about a different culture, a different tongue and much more.
Humans of New York is a photoblog of interviews that are taken place on the streets of New York City. Because most people choose to remain anonymous on this blog, we don’t know the person that said the following story, but Humans of New York puts out stories that people choose to share with them. There’s one story that particularly stood out to me because it had to do with the persons struggle with language and how they’ve felt their whole life living like this, and ultimately how this affected them as adults as well. She says, “People didn’t include me in things… All I did were solitary things: read, watch TV, look out the window. My grades suffered, and my parents were disappointed.” Because she’s always had a problem with language and on top of that she has dealt with being timid, it was most likely super difficult for her to reach out for help even if she is seeking therapy. But this goes to show how much learning a language in general is so detrimental to life itself because it’s the only way to communicate with another person, and this doesn’t have to do with a specific dialect or language but just communication itself. She also says, “I feel like I’m invisible. Like nobody sees me. I’m so scared of disappearing… Sometimes I want to scream. I want people to feel that I’m here.” This is such a huge issue not only with her dilemma but also in minority groups. They feel as if they are overlooked and not taken into consideration, almost as if they didn’t exist. Similar instances happen when a person looks or speaks differently they are treated poorly and people don’t have any regard to what they have to say. Tan’s “Mother Tongue” is a perfect example of how she gets treated unfairly due to the fact that the people in the hospital didn’t understand what she was saying up until her daughter was on the phone with the doctor and the situation was then resolved. If it wasn’t for her daughter to have been the one to stand up for her mother, she would’ve just been another patient that was overlooked, just as the girl in the blog was. It goes to show how much of an impact other’s being close minded and insensitive can be towards a person that can’t really do much to defend themselves.
There are so many different factors that can affect an individual’s life through the course of their lifetime. Discrimination against someone who can’t speak a language properly shouldn’t be one of those factors, sometimes these things are out of the persons reach. I feel as if not many people speak up about this topic because they feel like it’s true, they might feel as if they need to follow the conventional ways of speaking English and if that’s not good enough then you need to push yourself more to become someone you’re not. At the end of the day, this is your language and that plays a huge part in your identity and how you identify yourself. Linguistic minorities in this country are often overlooked because their issues aren’t right in front of our faces, they aren’t in news articles all over the world so people could be informed about it, we as a society have accepted that being different is not normal when it comes to language. At the end of the day, the way you live your life and the way you want to do things shouldn’t be a problem to anybody else. If you don’t want to accept the English language as the national language of this country, you shouldn’t be forced to believe that. If you think that there shouldn’t be a national language in the United States because of how diverse we’ve become over the centuries, that’s your own opinion and I believe that we’ve come to a time where it’s okay to think that. Centuries have passed that maybe ideologies were accepted then but aren’t as widely accepted now, and it’s because we progress with time. Imagine not being accepted as a person and getting treated with disrespect because you can’t control something that’s out of your reach, how crazy would that be?
Genzuk, Michael. “Bilingual Schooling: An Historical Perspective.” The Los Angeles Unified School District Office of Bilingual-ESL Instruction, (1988). Los Angeles, CA. https://www.academia.edu/3255988/BILINGUAL_SCHOOLING_AN_HISTORICAL_PERSPECTIVE.
@humansofny. “I’ve always had a problem with language. I didn’t even talk until the age of four…” https://twitter.com/humansofny/status/1153372122384928769?s=20
Skerry, Peter. “Do We Really Want Immigrants to Assimilate?” Brookings. March 2000. https://www.brookings.edu/articles/do-we-really-want-immigrants-to-assimilate/
Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Three Penny Review. 1990. http://theessayexperiencefall2013.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2013/09/Mother-Tongue-by-Amy-Tan.pdf
Wolfram, Walt. “Sound Effects: Challenging Language Prejudice in the Classroom.” Teaching Tolerance, vol. 43. September 2013. www.eddigest.com