400 words response, journal about Rob Jenkins and Barbara Mellix pieces, what thoughts do you have about the process(es) of language acquisition.

timer Asked: Jan 23rd, 2021

Question Description

Your response should be ~400 words. Discuss some of the interesting ideas the authors bring to our attention, share your agreement and/or a challenge to some of their views. Remember to note in your 1/25 Journal response how the two authors (Jenkins and Mellix) agree and/or disagree -- how they relate. That will add some depth to your response. Feel free to use a couple of quotes to strengthen the writing. Please try to articulate, as well, how these authors agree on certain points and/or disagree. How would a conversation go between these two? The Mellix piece involves her journey as a southern black girl who struggled with her own use of the language; this is an interesting personal narrative of her struggles and success in using both her black English and what she refers to as "standard" or "proper" English.

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From Outside, In Author(s): Barbara Mellix Source: The Georgia Review , Summer 1987, Vol. 41, No. 2, FOCUS ON AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL ESSAYS (Summer 1987), pp. 258-267 Published by: Georgia Review Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41399284 JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at https://about.jstor.org/terms is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Georgia Review This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms Barbara Mellix From Outside y In TWO order years order out ofof chaos, ago, chaos, my ten-year-old when my daughter I started was ten-year-old suffering from writing daughter this paper, was trying suffering to bring from an acute attack of boredom. She drifted in and out of the room complaining that she had nothing to do, no one to "be with" because none of her friends were at home. Patiently I explained that I was working on something special and needed peace and quiet, and I suggested that she paint, read, or work with her computer. None of these interested her. Finally, she pulled up a chair to my desk and watched me, now and then heaving long, loud sighs. After two or three minutes (nine or ten sighs), I lost my patience. "Looka here, Allie," I said, "you too old for this kinda carryin' on. I done told you this is important. You wronger than dirt to be in here haggin' me like this and you know it. Now git on outta here and leave me off before I put my foot all the way down." I was at home, alone with my family, and my daughter understood that this way of speaking was appropriate in that context. She knew, as a matter of fact, that it was almost inevitable; when I get angry at home, I speak some of my finest, most cherished black English. Had I been speaking to my daughter in this manner in certain other environments, she would have been shocked and probably worried that I had taken leave of my sense of propriety. Like my children, I grew up speaking what I considered two distinctly different languages- black English and standard English (or as I thought of them then, the ordinary everyday speech of "country" coloreds and "proper" English)- and in the process of acquiring these languages, I developed an understanding of when, where, and how to use them. But unlike my children, I grew up in a world that was primarily black. My friends, neighbors, minister, teachers- almost everybody I associated with every day- were black. And we spoke to one another in our own special language: That sho is a pretty dress you got on. If she [258] This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms BARBARA MELLIX 259 don' soon leave me off Ym gon tell her hea pissed a blue nail. He all the time trying to just about the nastiest thing you ever set ea Then there were the "others," the "prop tives and one-time friends who came home funerals, and vacations. And the whites English. "Ain't?" my mother would yell the presence of "others." "You know be hang my head in shame and say the "prope I remember one summer sitting in my g leyville, South Carolina, when it was full o who were home on vacation. My parents volunteering a comment or answering a qu on a strained expression when she spoke careful to say just the right words in just t thick, muffled. And when she finished spe lence, her proper smile on her face. My fa aggressive. He spoke quickly, his words s proud head higher, a signal that he, too, and brothers and I stared at our aunts, unc when prompted. Even then, we hesitated minds, then spoke softly, shyly. My parents looked small and anxious d waited impatiently for our leave-taking tives the moment we were out of their h to one another, flexing our wrists and r stan' this heat? Chile, it just too hyooo-mid made us feel "country," and this was our w selves while getting a little revenge in the our throats and rolled across our tongues, As a child I felt this same doubleness i the whites lived. "Ain't that a pretty dr town policeman, said to me one day when I much," I replied, my voice barely audible i wrong in my mouth, rigid, foreign. It w that phrase before- it was common in bl tremely conscious that this was an occa taken out my English and put it on as I did as if I were wearing my Sunday best in th matter that Toby had not spoken grammat This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 2Ó0 THE GEORGIA REVIEW white and could speak as he wished. I had s did not. Speaking standard English to whites was our way of demonstrating that we knew their language and could use it. Speaking it to standardEnglish-speaking blacks was our way of showing them that we, as well as they, could "put on airs." But when we spoke standard English, we acknowledged (to ourselves and to others- but primarily to ourselves) that our customary way of speaking was inferior. We felt foolish, embarrassed, somehow diminished because we were ashamed to be our real selves. We were reserved, shy in the presence of those who owned and/or spoke the language. My parents never set aside time to drill us in standard English. Their forms of instruction were less formal. When my father was feeling par- ticularly expansive, he would regale us with tales of his exploits in the outside world. In almost flawless English, complete with dialogue and flavored with gestures and embellishment, he told us about his attempt to get a haircut at a white barbershop; his refusal to acknowledge one of the town merchants until the man addressed him as "Mister"; the time he refused to step off the sidewalk uptown to let some whites pass; his air- plane trip to New York City (to visit a sick relative) during which the stewardesses and porters- recognizing that he was a "gentleman"- addressed him as "Sir." I did not realize then- nor, I think, did my father- that he was teaching us, among other things, standard English and the relationship between language and power. My mother's approach was different. Often, when one of us said, "I'm gon wash off my feet," she would say, "And what will you walk on if you wash them off?" Everyone would laugh at the victim of my mother's "proper" mood. But it was different when one of us children was in a proper mood. "You think you are so superior," I said to my oldest sister one day when we were arguing and she was winning. "Superior!" my sister mocked. "You mean I'm acting 'biggidy'?" My sisters and brothers sniggered, then joined in teasing me. Finally, my mother said, "Leave your sister alone. There's nothing wrong with using proper English." There was a half-smile on her face. I had gotten "uppity," had "put on airs" for no good reason. I was at home, alone with the family, and I hadn't been prompted by one of my mother's proper moods. But there was also a proud light in my mother's eyes; her children were learning English very well. Not until years later, as a college student, did I begin to understand our ambivalence toward English, our scorn of it, our need to master it, to This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms BARBARA MELLIX 2ÓI own and be owned by it- an ambivalen school classroom. In our school, where th taught standard English but used black E mar-school teachers wanted us to write something like, "I want y'all to write five Anybody git done before the rest can co exact words that led me to write these the second grade: The white clouds are pretty. There are only 15 people in our r We will go to gym. We have a new poster. We may go out doors. Second grade came after "Little First" an the implied rules that accompanied all wr an occasion for proper English. I was n to one another: The white clouds pret our room; We going to gym; We got a the yard. Rather I was to use the langu are , we will, we have, we may. My sentences were short, rigid, perf mother wrote to relatives: Dear Papa, How are you? How is Mattie? Fine I hope. We are fine. We will come to see you Sunday. Cousin Ned will give us a ride. Love, Daughter The language was not ours. It was something from outside us, something we used for special occasions. But my coloring on the other side of that second-grade paper is different. I drew three hearts and a sun. The sun has a smiling face that radi- ates and envelops everything it touches. And although the sun and its world are enclosed in a circle, the colors I used- red, blue, green, purple, orange, yellow, black- indicate that I was less restricted with drawing and coloring than I was with writing standard English, My valentines were not just red. My sun was not just a yellow ball in the sky. By the time I reached the twelfth grade, speaking and writing stand- ard English had taken on new importance. Each year, about half of the newly graduated seniors of our school moved to large cities- particularly This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 2Ó2 THE GEORGIA REVIEW in the North- to live with relatives and find constantly corrected our grammar: "Not 'ain wrote papers, and even those few were usuall stories. When our teacher returned the pape the importance of using standard English: "I am she would say, writing on the chalkboard as she a job talking about 'I is,' or 'I isn't' or 'I ain't'?" In Pittsburgh, where I moved after gradua and uncle- who had always spoken standard ville- switch from black English to standard En two, according to where they were or who they with certain close relatives, friends, and ne English. With those less close, they spoke a m strangers, they generally spoke standard Englis In time, I learned to speak standard English smoothly from black to standard or a mixtu matter where I was, no matter what the situati to write as I had in school: Dear Mommie, How are you? How is everybody else? Fine I So are Aunt and Uncle. Tell everyone I said h again soon. Love, Barbara At work, at a health insurance company, I learned to write letters to customers. I studied form letters and letters written by co-workers, memorizing the phrases and the ways in which they were used. I dictated: Thank you for your letter of January 5. We have made the changes in your coverage you requested. Your new premium will be $150 every three months. We are pleased to have been of service to you. In a sense, I was proud of the letters I wrote for the company: they were proof of my ability to survive in the city, the outside world- an indication of my growing mastery of English. But they also indicate that writing was still mechanical for me, something that didn't require much thought. Reading also became a more significant part of my life during those early years in Pittsburgh. I had always liked reading, but now I devoted more and more of my spare time to it. I read romances, mysteries, popular novels. Looking back, I realize that the books I liked best were simple, This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms BARBARA MELLIX 263 unambiguous: good versus bad and right versus w warded and wrong punished, mysteries unraveled an end. It was how I remembered life in Greeleyville. Of course I was romanticizing. Life in Greeleyv very uncomplicated. Back there I had been- first young woman with limited experience in the outs relatively closed-in society. But there were implicit that guided our way of life and shaped our relations and the people outside- principles that a newcome and baffling. In Pittsburgh, I had matured, becom I had worked at three different jobs, associated w people, married, had children. This new environment scripts for living required that I speak standard Eng and slowly, imperceptibly, I had ceased seeing a shar myself and "others." Reading romances and myste dichotomy, was a way of shying away from chang was becoming. But that other part of me- that part which took ability to hold a job writing business letters- was the new developments in my life and the attendin tunities for even greater change. If I could write let known business, could I not also do something better more important? Could I not, perhaps, go to colleg teacher? For years, afraid and a little embarrassed imagine this different me, this possible me. But sixte north, when my youngest daughter entered kinderg unable- or unwilling- to resist the lure of possibi first college course: Basic Writing, at the University For the first time in my life, I was required to wr myself. Using the most formal English at my com sentences near the beginning of the term: One of my duties as a homemaker is simply pick others. A day seldom passes that I don't search for a m book, or gym shoe, etc. I change the Ty-D-Bol around the collar," and keep our laundry smelling Occasionally, I settle arguments between my child gest things to do when they're bored. Taking tel sages for my oldest daughter is my newest (and som aggravating) chore. Hanging the toilet paper roll insignificant. This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 2Ó4 THE GEORGIA REVIEW My concern was to use "appropriate" language, to sound a in a college classroom. But I felt separate from the language- and could not belong to me. I couldn't think and feel gen language, couldn't make it express what I thought and fel housewife. A part of me resented, among other things, b such things as the appearance of my family's laundry and to in that language I could only imagine and write about a housewife. For the most part, the remainder of the term was a peri ment, a time of trying to find my bearings as a student in position class, to learn to shut out my black English whenev and to prevent it from creeping into my formulations; a tim grasp the language of the classroom and reproduce it in trying to talk about myself in that language, reach othe Each experience of writing was like standing naked and imperfection, my "otherness." And each new assignmen chance to make myself over in language, reshape myself "better" in my rapidly changing image of a student in a coll tion class. But writing became increasingly unmanageable as th gressed, and by the end of the semester, my sentences soun My excitement was soon dampened, however, by what s like a small voice in the back of my head saying that I sho careful with my long awaited opportunity. I felt frustrat this seemed to make it difficult to concentrate. There is a poverty of language in these sentences. By this that the clichéd language of my Housewife essay was una I generally recognized trite expressions. At the same tim mastered the language of the classroom, hadn't yet come longing to me. Most notable is the lifelessness of the prose, absence of a person behind the words. I wanted those sent rest of the essay- to convey the anguish of yearning to, at something more and yet remain the same. I had the sens split in two, part of me going into a future the other part possible. As that person, the student writer at that moment tially mute. I could not- in the process of composing- use th the old me, yet I couldn't imagine myself in the language of I found this particularly discouraging because at midse been writing in a much different way. Note the language of tion to an essay I had written then, near the middle of the te This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms BARBARA MELLIX 265 Pain is a constant companion to the people in "Footw jobs are physically damaging. Employers are insensi feelings and in many cases add to their problems. public wounds them further by treating them with cause of what they do for a living. Although the w diverse as they are similar, there is a definite link bet They suffer a great deal of abuse. The voice here is stronger, more confident, appr "physically damaging," "wounds them further," "in -terms I couldn't have imagined using when writin perience-and shaping them into sentences like, "A are as diverse as they are similar, there is a definite l And there is the sense of a personality behind the sympathizes with the workers: "The general public w by treating them with disgrace because of what th What caused these differences? I was, I believed people's thoughts and feelings, and I was free to m guage of "others" so long as I was speaking of others. I was transforming into my best classroom languag and feelings about people whose experiences and wa in many ways similar to mine. The following year, unable to turn back or to le become something of an obsession with language (a and hold the sense of control that had eluded me enrolled in a research writing course. I spent most of how to prepare for and write a research paper. I c my subject and spent hours in libraries, searching for ing, taking notes. Then (not without messinese and frustration) I organized my information into categ statement, and composed my paper- a series of par tions spaced between carefully constructed transiti results felt artificial, but as I would later come to through a necessary stage. My sentences sounded l This reserve becomes understandable with examinat the abusers are. In an overwhelming number of cas people the victims know and trust. Family member neighbors and close family friends commit seventyof all reported sex crimes against children, and par substitutes and relatives are the offenders in thirty to cent of all reported cases.12 While assault by strang cur, it is less common, and is usually a single episode.1 by family members, relatives and acquaintances m This content downloaded from on Thu, 14 Jan 2021 20:10:19 UTC All use subject to https://about.jstor.org/terms 2 66 THE GEORGIA REVIEW for an extended period of time. In cases of in children are abused repeatedly for an average of such cases, "the use of physical force is rarely of the child's trusting, dependent relationship w The child's cooperation is often facilitated b tion of dominance, an offer of material goods, a cal violence, or a misrepresentation of moral The completed paper gave me a sense of pr I read it often after my professor returned was pleased with was the language I used an helped me maintain. "Use better words," my one day after reading the notes I'd begun accum and slowly I began taking on the language of m of notes, I used the word "vacillating"; my p the time I composed the final draft, I felt at ea whelming number of cases," "single episode," them into sentences similar to those of my "ex If I were writing the paper today, I would of differently. Rather than open with an anecdote I would begin simply with a quotation that c researching my paper (and which I scribbled, margin of my notebook) : "Truth does not do s as the semblance of truth does evil." The quo captured what was for me the central idea o emerged gradually during the making of my p way I would like to have said it. The anecdote invented to conform to the information in t insincere because it represented- to a great d standing of the essay, her idea of what in it was upon my previous experiences with writing, I w feel in the language I used, to find my own voi one speaks i ...
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