Language and Identity

9 September 2016

How has my experiences with language shaped my current identity? I have always defined myself as a West Indian woman, an Island girl, the way I speak, the way I dress, to me that is my identity, this is who I am. I have never thought of it like this before, that my language would determine my cultural identity. Language plays a crucial role in personal identity.

My first memories began when I was four, I can remember hearing my great grandmothers’ voice as she would rouse me from my sleep, “wake up chile, its morning,” her voice sounded like soft, light waves caressing the sand as it gently hit the shore, or when she would admonish me for being naughty could change to an angry wind whooshing through the trees. Within my immediate surroundings everyone sounded the same, my family, my neighbors, my friends, myself.

Language and Identity Essay Example

In Grenada, at secondary school it was another experience for me, where its all mixed with students from all over the island, based on my dialect, others could often tell which parish I was from. I am from the southern parish called St. George’s, which is the capital where I was expected to speak ‘proper’ with excellent grammar and also often times perceived as being cultured and well educated whereas compared to students from the northern parish (St. Patrick’s), they were labeled as speaking ‘bad,’ poorly or uneducated which may not be the case.

For example, I remember my first year at secondary school, our teacher came into the classroom and was recording attendance, she asked for another student named Shirley Mc Intyre, someone said “she doh dey today,” whereas grammatically speaking its suppose to be “she is not here today. ” Right away based on her dialect it was known that she wasn’t from St. George’s. Moving to America from my homeland Grenada, learning to pronounce my words properly in order to be understood was very important. I felt alienated being thrust into a new place and culture.

Listening to everyone else sounded to me like a sea of different voices, dialects, tongues, I could hear the different vibrations and hums, there was African, Spanish, America, Haitian, Jamaican all in one place. I had to learn the American ways of communicating effectively. I couldn’t identify with myself because I didn’t sound the same as everyone else except for when around close friends and family. I had to slow my speech and formulate my words and sentences in a way in which I could be understood.

For example, being taught new ways of pronouncing words, the word which I knew as status, I would say “stay- tus” whereas in the U. S. its “sta-tus” and route, I would say “root” as opposed to “rh- out” even the spelling of some words like “behaviour” now became “behavior. ” Once I started speaking people could sometimes tell where I’m from, for example, they would often ask if I’m from the Islands. I had to act American and try and sound American in order to fit in. I would often ask myself how could I speak to fit in an American culture without losing my true Grenadian identity?

So it depends on the setting I would adjust my speech to suit, if speaking on the phone to my friends in Grenada, I would speak Grenadian, if I’m at a store, I would speak my best ‘American. ’ In some cultures, women are taught to speak quietly and discreetly, in others they cannot speak unless they were spoken to. In my cultural experience, growing up as a young girl I was taught by my great grandmother and teachers at school to speak discreetly amongst my friends, family, and in public, “ladies should be seen and not heard” was sort of like a mantra in my home.

It was sort of a culture shock for me moving here i. e. America and hearing people speaking loudly and freely whether you wanted to listen to what they were saying or not. To conclude, I would say I love and appreciate my speech; it reminds me of where I came from, and in helping to shape my identity, I wouldn’t change anything about it. Although it may seem that my language and identity is forever changing, learning to adapt and communicate, its all a learning process.

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