Language as a Symbol of Group Membership: Asserting the Right to Be Unique

People have always been experiencing the problems of understanding even in their own language. The language issues will probably never be solved, even if the mankind will finally come to speaking one and the same language.

In spite of the evident similarity between the American English and the Black English, people still experience certain problems in understanding the Black American dialect.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!

order now

Although this version of American English is widespread enough to be considered a dialect of its own, there are certain doubts if this version of American English can be considered a viable language.

In his gripping and incredibly insightful book, Keith Gilyard considers the Black American dialect, coming to the conclusion that what used to be a shape of the English language has finally come to be a self-sufficient language with the rules and the peculiarities of its own. After all, as the author claims, it is clear that as long as people speak a dialect, one has to admit its existence and its necessity (Gilyard).

With help of logically structured arguments and historical facts about the Black American English, the author drives the reader to the idea that the Black American English is as important and viable as the rest of the world languages, which means that the Black American English is not to be underestimated.

Black English: The Voices That Come from Within

Unfortunately, the acknowledgement of Black English has been quite a problem since the time the vernacular language emerged. Despite the numerous researches conducted on the topic, it still presents quite a doubtful issue for linguists.

Though there was a research admitting that the vernacular English does have the right to exist as a language of its own, as Gilyard claims (27), the debates building around the issue are growing increasingly long.

Despite the controversy and the complicacy of the problem raised, it is evident that Keith does have a point in his attempts to convince the reader in the necessity to acknowledge Black English. What makes the greatest impression in Gilyard’s chain of interferences is the idea that as long as there are people who speak certain dialect, the latter exists whatever linguists might think.

Thus, considering the idea that the Black English cannot exist as a self-sufficient version of the American English, Gilyard comes to the conclusion that such viewpoint denies the cultural specifics of the people who use the vernacular version of the American English:

Such writers as Geneva Smitherman (1977), Jim Haskins and Hugh Butts (1973), and J. L. Fillard (1973) have condemned the public school system’s traditional nonrecognition and nonacceptance of the separate and legitimate language variety, popularly labeled as Black English, spoken by the majority of inner-city black youth.

In their view, this implicit and explicit rejection of language communicates rejection of both Black children and the culture that has produced them. (Gilyard 9)

Therefore, the key idea which Giluyard is trying to convey is that as long as the language spoken by a group of people or a community is associated with certain culture and presupposes the existence of certain.

One of the most important issues which Gilyard emphasizes is that language is an integral part of people’s identity, both personal and cultural which means that without the language of their own, this culture will dissolve in the ocean of the dominating tastes. In this case, language is the matter that glues people together, helping them to keep their traditions and national peculiarities.

“You Speak My Language!”

In terms of the interconnection between the language and the national identity, Gilyard expresses a theory of paramount importance which determines the value of the vernacular English as the self-sufficient language.

Emphasizing that language is a symbol of group membership and the identity of an individual, the author clarifies the interrelation between a man and the society, which is quite logical, yet it seems that the theory is not as impeccable as it should be.

On the one hand, the chain of ideas creates an impression of a natural and logical argument. Indeed, claiming that the common language is the first criterion according to which people flock in ethnic groups; yet there are certain doubts that this is one of the key issues which predetermine the idea of personal identity. However, it must be admitted that the author drives strong arguments to support his viewpoint:

First, to make light of how bound up language is with identity represents a definite shortsightedness. That much should be clear by now. Second, one should know that despite attempts to “correct” children’s grammar, children themselves for the most part choose which language varieties they will speak. (Gilyard 114)

Thus, it still has to be admitted that the person who does not speak the language of the group will never get an access to the membership in the given group. Yet it should be kept in mind that the language is merely a component of the substance that makes the identity of a person.

Therefore, it cannot be considered that the absence of common language predetermines complete exclusion from certain group. Taking a more broad-minded approach, one will find out that cultural and national identity is a sum of numerous factors, among which there is also the language factor.

Accordingly, with the rest of the elements of the national identity present, one has the right to be accepted into the given national or cultural group even without knowing the language.

Still it is necessary to mention that in the situation above the language assimilation will finally take place, and the individual will either accept the language of the group, or grate the vernacular language similar to the one spoken in the group. Anyway, the process of cultural assimilation will finally take its toll even on the person with different language background.

Since the language makes one of the components of the identity of a person, there is no doubt that the Black English is to be accepted in schools as the language which has the right to exist.

Therefore, teachers have to allow children to use their language to convey their ideas better and to produce original ideas. Without their mother tongue, the students might feel frustrated and upset, which will hinder their school progress and have negative impact on their personal development.


There is no doubt that as long as there are people speaking certain language, no one can wipe the latter off the face of the Earth and off the hearts of the people. On the contrary, encouraging people to express their ideas in their native tongue will help them understand that their culture is appreciated and respected.

Only with help of mutual respect and the acknowledgement of each language, people will be able to keep every single cultural tradition in peace and harmony.

Works Cited

Gilyard, Keith R. Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence. Detroit, MI:

Wayne State University Press, 1991. Print.


I'm Barry!

Would you like to get a custom essay? How about receiving a customized one?

Check it out