If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? | Study Guide

James Baldwin

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Course Hero. "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Study Guide." Course Hero. 18 Feb. 2021. Web. 22 May 2022. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-Black-English-Isnt-a-Language-Then-Tell-Me-What-Is/>.

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Course Hero. (2021, February 18). If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved May 22, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-Black-English-Isnt-a-Language-Then-Tell-Me-What-Is/

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Course Hero. "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Study Guide." February 18, 2021. Accessed May 22, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-Black-English-Isnt-a-Language-Then-Tell-Me-What-Is/.

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Course Hero, "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? Study Guide," February 18, 2021, accessed May 22, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-Black-English-Isnt-a-Language-Then-Tell-Me-What-Is/.

If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is? | Main Ideas

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Language as a Means to Control Reality

Baldwin writes that language is a way for people to speak to and about their lives. He proceeds to give examples of how people all over the world "evolve a language." Languages are not static. Nature changes and the way people communicate about their experiences changes. Baldwin offers examples of how people in different countries who share a "common" language really aren't speaking the same language because their realities are so different.

The function of language is evident when Baldwin examines areas where a language is under some kind of threat. He points to the tensions in places where conquered people fight to retain their languages because these languages are central to their identities.

Language as Resistance

Baldwin writes that "language is also a political instrument, means, and proof of power." Conquered people resist erasure by fighting to keep their language alive. There is power in a person speaking the language that shaped the identity of his ancestors. It "reveals the speaker," as Baldwin observes. He also notes that language "is meant to define the other." The language a person speaks and the way they speak it offers clues about that person. A person's manner of speaking can irritate his enemies or endear him to friends.

The Evolution of Black English

Black people who came to America as part of the enslaved population were from different ethnic groups and did not speak the same language. Those people who could not use their ancestors' languages developed their own way of speaking to communicate with each other. But the way black people speak did not simply remain a way for them to talk to each other. English in America took on some characteristics of the language that black people evolved.

Baldwin alludes to criticism against black English. He argues against it because he says "... it is late in the day to attempt to penalize black people for having created a language ..." Black English is criticized and black people are not given credit for what they have endured and the language they have created. Instead, black English is "patronizingly called a 'dialect.'" Baldwin's central argument is that people who want to suppress a language also want to suppress the speakers of that language.

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