Culture, and Change The United States is a melting pot of many different cultures. People from all over the world come to the United States because they have the freedom to practice their culture here; this includes using their native language. In Leslie Savan’s book Slam Dunks and No-Brainers: Language in Your Life, the Media, Business, Politics, and, Like, Whatever she included a section called “What’s Black, Then White, and Said All Over? ”. This section examines common way of speaking, which Savan claims has its origins in African American vernacular.
Julia Alvarez, author of the book Once Upon A Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA, also writes about other cultures accumulating themselves into the American lifestyle. The United States is proud to be home to many different types of people, but if all people don’t speak a common language then it is impossible to be a unified nation. The US needs to declare our nation with a common or “official” language, so that we can become closer as a country. Julia Alvarez’s book, Once Upon A Quinceanera, discussed how Latin Americans bring their traditions into the American culture.
Alvarez discusses retroculturation, reaching back and reconnecting with traditions that haven’t been celebrated in generations. She describes Latino retroculturation by saying the first generation tries to do everything possible to assimilate into the new culture. The second generation wants to grow up completely American; some even refuse to learn Spanish. The third generation feels completely American, but they feel like they want to reconnect with their Spanish roots. “They make a concerted effort to hold on to their traditions, to establish cultural ties with their past” (Alvarez 46).
The same can be said for blacks using “slang” language. The spelling, or misspelling, of words isn’t just a style; it has roots in history. Going back to the 1800’s “hip-hop misspellings don’t just reject select bits of standard white written style… writers ridiculed Negro speech with exaggerated misspelling” (Savan 373). For hundreds of years now we went through the retroculturation cycle with spelling of words. By misspelling words to make them appear cooler, people aren’t just being unique; they are following a past tradition.
A difficult task associated with declaring a national official language is keeping the freedom of individuals to have their own values, while forcing them to assimilate to our language. The United States is known and loved for its various cultures. Every culture is accepted and none are discriminated against. Many are concerned that with one official language the individuality will be lost. By making a common language everyone will be able to communicate with one another, and this would make the USA an even stronger nation. Many white people have picked up on the way that black people talk.
This is “part of a apparently universal phenomenon that sociolinguists call covert prestige” (Savan 377). Most other nations in the world have declared a universal language and they still have covert prestige. Margaret Lee was quoted by Leslie Savan saying that “speakers of a “standard” language (whatever the language) have favorable attitudes toward lower-class, nonstandard speech forms… when new forms enter the mainstream, in fact, they usually come fro nonstandard speech” (Savan 337). When new words are brought into everyday speech they normally originated from slang.
The word “bling” can now be found in the dictionary, meaning it is recognized as a word, but African American hip-hop artists first used it. This is just one example of how covert prestige is present in our society. If our nation recognized a common language then covert prestige would still apply to our society. The language would be constantly undated to conform with society. By selecting one language as our official language we aren’t getting rid of all originality, we are just making it so that everyone can communicate with each other. The way our society is now, your neighbor could speak Spanish and you could speak English.
If you loose your dog one day and you want to ask them if they’ve seen your puppy they wouldn’t be able to understand you and certainly wouldn’t know how to respond. By being able to communicate with our neighbors our nation would be able to function much more smoothly. Many foreigners visit the United States for a holiday break, to visit their family, or because they find it an interesting place to travel to. Whatever the reason may be, they don’t know what language to learn to be able to assimilate into our culture. Because we live here we know that parts of the United States use various languages.
Although English is used everywhere many residents use a different language as their primary. In New England many people speak French. In parts of California, Texas, and South Florida people speak Spanish. They don’t know what languages are used in different locations of our country. If foreigners who come to our country are willing to attempt to learn our language before their vacation, it isn’t fair to them that they don’t know what language to learn. In every country that you travel to, that has an official language, there will still be different dialects spoken.
Some areas of the country use different words to mean the same thing; pop, soda, coke, soft drinks, or fizzy drink all refer to the same product. Even after the United States declares a common language, people will still be able to add originality to their speech through their dialects. To say hi people can say hello, whaazzzaahhh, or give a wave; it all means the same thing. In black talk many people add a Z sound to the end of words in place of a S. It’s “a quick trick to convince children that they’re cool” (Savan 374).
This isn’t adding words to our language though, it is just a different dialect spoken by adolescents. Advertising has picked up on the fact that the Z sound catches children’s attention. Many products such as “the glitzoid Trollz dolls and cartoons…Bratz dolls…Nitro Battler…Kellogg’s Gripz…Hershey’s Koolerz… Snackbarz, and Twizzlers Sourz” (Savan 374) are all top selling products because they portray the “cool” look that children strive for. By purchasing these products the kids think they will be cool. The black language is not an original language. It is the English language with a twist.
Even if the United States declared English as the official American language people would still be able to use black talk in regular speech. It is nothing more then another dialect, or an abbreviated form of English. The country on a whole would benefit from having one prominent language because everyone would be able to communicate with each other. Declaring one language as prominent doesn’t mean that no other language could be used, it just means that people are expected to know it. It doesn’t take away any individuality that someone may value because they live in the United States.