Today I thought a lot about language. Firstly, I had a tutorial for my history class. A tutorial is a smaller class than the lecture where we turn in assignments and also have discussions about additional readings we were assigned. I liked the readings. They were about historiography and how there were different camps of people who took different approaches to the writing of South African history. I think the point I derived from the whole thing was that the history changes a lot depending on who's telling it. The class would have been good but it was a little frustrating because nobody seemed to be engaging in the work. The seminar is basically all Americans (the class as a whole is, I guess because it's South African History). That's not necessarily a bad thing but they seemed to be afraid of getting the "wrong answer" or they just didn't read. Either way it was annoying. lol.
My next class we talked about this book The Palm Wine Drinkard. At the end of class we got into a conversation about how the author utilizes English in such a way that it seems almost like the book was not meant to be written in English. We also talked about how he uses words that don't exist. I brought up the point that with that author's language when he creates a word it's primitive literature but when Shakespeare does it, it's art. Just my thought at the time.
Third class wasn't too interesting. Just learning more about South African Youth Policy but all the work is pretty dry as of right now.
After that I went to my first volunteering project at LEAP School. Today we didn't do much, they just showed us around and then had a conversation about the type of work we would possibly be doing there. It was pretty cool. During the tour the student that was showing us around spoke to some of the other students we came across. He seemed much more confident and dexterous in his own language. Not that his English was bad by any means but you could definitely tell that he was more comfortable in his language.
This evening when I was doing laundry I also had a conversation with a girl in the laundry room. She told me that her first language was English but that she also knew Xhosa and Afrikaans. Her father speaks Afrikaans and her mother speaks Xhosa. Her parents speak Afrikaans to each other but their home languages to her. I couldn't imagine growing up in a house with so many simultaneous discourses but it definitely seems like a valuable skill. She said two things that stuck out to me. Firstly, she characterized English as the "language of education." That is definitely true in a South African context but even in an American context. Though we don't have as many languages that are dominant we definitely emphasize standard English over Spanish or the various levels of Black creole that are spoken (and yeah I'm including hood vernacular in that). The second thing she said was that language does NOT determine identity.
Her laundry was done so I didn't get to probe more on that idea but I wish I had. I actually disagree in some ways. I can understand that in an South African context where people where separated by language and assigned identities as a way to strip them of power that someone would be eager to dismiss the things that separate one from another but I don't think it's that simple. Even as a Chicagoan, when I hear someone say "Whaddown Jo?" or some reference to home I immediately identify with them and know something of their context. I think the challenge then becomes how do we embrace our personal and cultural identities while still valuing and being a valued member of the whole of society. The world would lose a great deal if it lost all the identities that people have and that I believe language is a key factor in. What has to happen is that we have to use identity as a positive factor not something to divide us.
I also had a conversation with that girl about music. We ended up having a conversation about the hip-hop show that happened the week before at school. We both kind of agreed that many of those guys, though talented, weren't trying to use hip-hop as a tool to create something specific to them. I think that is one of the beautiful things about hip-hop. The obsession to represent and the obsession of place in hip-hop has always been a big trope for me in all of my writing and I think it creates essential art that other people can't do. Love it or hate it, Gucci Mane couldn't exist in Chicago the way he is and Common couldn't exist in Colorado and Snoop couldn't exist in Hawaii. Though artists have movement and growth, most in hip-hop retain a posture and sense of language from the place/s they are from and that comes through in the music. I want to see what South Africa can do with the culture when they make it their own, not simply imitate their American favorites.
"put they don't give us our due, for providing you with slang for all of youth mouths"