If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?

In James Baldwin’s essay he is trying to explain that even though people may speak the same language, it is going to be different based on where they come from, who they are, what they do, and the experiences they have gone through. In his essay, he brings up how when slaves came to America, the white people didn’t have any interest in educating them because they didn’t need an education. So for that reason, the blacks developed their own language that was not, “merely, the adoption of a foreign tongue, but an alchemy that transformed ancient elements into a new language.”(160) This language was used to connect blacks to one another and to identify who they were. Baldwin even says, “[Language] is the most vivid and crucial key to identity: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” (159)

I completely agree with Baldwin in that language identifies who you are and it connects you to a community of people that are similar to you. My dad was born in Bosnia, so my family speaks Bosnian. When we first moved to the United States, I had no idea that there were so many Bosnian people that lived in and around Charlotte. There was a whole network of us across North Carolina and although we were all different in a sense, it was our language that connected us to one another. And I know my parents will always introduce themselves to people when they hear them talking Bosnian. It’s not very common to see or hear a Bosnian around here and not know who they are because we all know each other. And it’s always easy to connect to them because we already have our language in common and we’re bound to have even more things in common with them because of that.

Overall, I believe that Baldwin was very angry in his essay because he believed that whites didn’t want to accept Black English and they felt threatened by it. I believe times have changed, greatly, since this essay was written and there is no more segregation like there was back then. Black English is just as widely accepted as Spanglish, and every other language that is similar to English. 

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20 thoughts on “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?

  1. This reading reminds me very much of the reading we did on dialects; everyone seems to have their own. However here, rather than individually, we have broad groups of people with their own languages. We all go about speaking them differently, but yet, the still connect us in so many ways that it’s unreal. Our world would be in great trouble if we didn’t have the means of communication that we do today. You made real life connections that made understanding the overall reading easier and simpler to relate to. Your response clarified what it means to be different in language but still have connections through them too, and that isn’t something that is simple to explain.

  2. I think what James Baldwin expresses is to “attack” people for not accepting Black English. However, there are thousands of different cultures and subculture languages and dialects that people may not accept. Although, it is not that they do do not accept it, it is because it is foreign to them. People these days and even back then, did not accept anything that was out of their comfort zone. There is no reason to be angry about it like Baldwin is, it is just merely the fact of accepting that other people have their ways of going about life. Some choose to enter in new and intriguing things such as learning and accepting language and/or dialect, and others stay away from it at any expense. We live in America where there are thousands of ways people communicate which, like you mentioned, shows how much we have changed from the past and are accepting things that are foreign to us.

  3. I loved how you put this into your blog because it sums up what Baldwin was trying to say “In James Baldwin’s essay he is trying to explain that even though people may speak the same language, it is going to be different based on where they come from, who they are, what they do, and the experiences they have gone through.” think the personal connection you made with being from Bosnia and how that connects you with other people from Bosnia that have moved to the United States as well. I agree that times have changed and we are more accepting as a culture.

  4. I really like how you started off your blog with what it is all about. I find that it sets the tone for the blog and starts us off in the right direction. I really enjoyed how you compared it to your experience moving here from Bosnia. People did not used to be as near as accepting as they are today with people who spoke with a foreign accent. Additionally, our nation as a whole, did not accept blacks as first class citizens until the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties so I can understand as to why Mr. Baldwin would be upset over this issue.

  5. I find it very interesting that you can connect to people so easily just by realizing they speak the same language as you. If only it were that simple for people who speak English. On another note, I also think Baldwin was angry in his essay simply because he spoke so passionately on the topic. Who knows? Maybe whites did feel intimidated by the thought of another language. Especially one that they might have seen as inferior.

  6. This boils down to what we said before about geography effecting our dialect. People from different areas use different words, just like the slaves did when they came to the US. I find it interesting that the language they made helped them connect to the other slaves. It is like having a taste of home, something little that reminds you of where you come from. I do not think there is anything wrong with “black english” but since it was made up and only used by slaves it is just like a sub category of english.

  7. I completely agree with you that language is one of the biggest factors in developing identity in a group of any size. I found it really interesting that you were able to connect and relate Baldwin’s experience of how blacks during his time were connected by language, to you and your family connected with other Bosnians with language. You definitely grasped the fact that Baldwin is saying that people in different groups may technically speak the same language but that from group to group, people do not speak exactly the same language in exactly the same way. And now that segregation is over Black English is very much accepted.

  8. I think your first sentence does a great job setting the tone for the reader. It really summarized what Baldwin’s article was all about. I found it very interesting how you compared the article to your own personal experiences. It is so neat that you were able to connect with other Bosnians in North Carolina. I’m sure that made you feel more comfortable. As for your last paragraph, I completely agree with you. People were very different back then and didn’t really know any better.Times have definitely changed and now a days different languages are much more common and accepted.

  9. “[Language] is the most vivid and crucial key to identity: It reveals the private identity, and connects one with, or divorces one from, the larger, public, or communal identity.” To me, this quote sums up dialect. I agree that everyone has their own dialects based on their personal backgrounds. Language is what brings people together as a community and makes them feel connected to one another. My parents are Pakistani. Like yours, my parents speak in a different language. My parents speak Urdu and we are able to communicate and relate to other Pakistanis in Charlotte through the use of our language. And although some of us come from different backgrounds and have different dialects, we all come together because we share the same language with a few variations here and there.

  10. I very much agree that people say in America would mostly speak English, but some of it could be different based on their age, where they are from, etc… I actually did not know that the blacks created their own language. l thought they were actually taught english. I think it is cool that you are from Bosnia. I didn’t know that there were so many Bosnians around here. I think it is sad how whites didn’t accept black english. I absolutely agree with what you said about there being no more segregation today like there was way back then.

  11. I feel like this essay was used to express his anger in whites not accepting the black language. Even from the beginning of America we have been a “melting pot” and trying to diminish different cultures, languages, and dialects. When someone is opposed to the “American perfection.” I am one who knows and have had an personal life event with the non acceptance of language. I felt bad for the man from an all hispanic neighborhood, who could not speak english and was applying for an EMT job I had received. He could not speak but a little english and the chief and officers came up with an excuse but it was because he could not speak English well enough but was fluent in Spanish.

  12. I found it interesting how your parents linked up with Bosnia people when your family moved to the United States. I thinks it’s pretty awesome how you have this network of Bosnian’s across North Carolina. To be honest, I envy that. I wish there were more South Africans that I could communicate with. Language is an identity of sorts, it tells people what you’re all about, the same way employers do when you come in for an interview. They listen to the way you talk and communicate, which tells them a lot about the person you are. I also agree that James Baldwin was angry when he wrote this piece. You could see the emotion in his sentences and the way this piece was structured.

  13. I thought it to be very interesting how you said you and your family could connect to the Bosnian people solely because you guys shared the same language. I wish it was that easy for everyone that spoke English. However, through my experience in international travel I know that if you recognize someone to be American you are most likely to share a few words with them, so I can see where you are coming from. I also found it intriguing that during the era of slavery how the African-American slaves developed their own sense of language and it was used nationwide. It allowed them to be apart of a group separate from those of the white owners. I think that even within our friend group that we develop our own sense of language in how we speak with each other, and that some of things I would say to my friends some of my family wouldn’t understand.

  14. When reading this passage I cant help but recollect the reading that we did on dialect. I also feel as if this essay was subconsciously used to release built up frustration towards white people not accepting the black language. I also find it very interesting that you are from Bosnia. I am a huge fan of traveling and interacting with foreign concepts and ideas; therefore, I strongly support you view on equality and how segregation still occurs.

  15. From a personal view, black English has always been around me. Coming from fayetteville, it was pretty ghetto, so the language used in some parts was very hard to understand even difficult for me to accept and use in my own language. But I never looked at it as if I was ignoring it’s existence, I picked up some slang when i moved here from Korea, but i could never fully “speak” like some of my peers. I believe this separation was because of where we grew up. My friend’s family speaks a different way from my family and the region where we both grew up was completely opposite. So the fact that geographical locations might influence our way of speech is definitely true and can be seen all around us.

  16. I completely agree with you when you said that language identifies who you are and it connects you to a community of people that are similar to you. With your example of you dad and his language dialect, we as people have identifiers to who we are and how we speak is just one example. I agree that people speak differently based on their upbringing as well, and as for Black American slaves, they sort of made their own language that identified them. And even now there are still differences in language even in a classroom.

  17. I find it really interesting that you and your family are a part of the Bosnian network through out NC. One of my great friends is from Sri Lanka and he and his family attend a lot of Sri Lankan parties. Its a totally different culture when they have the social gatherings. Its like they’re back in Sri Lanka. I guess we all have our own networks of language that would depend on your hobbies, job, or nationality. These language networks help us separate ourselves from others and gives us a sense of belonging to something. The slaves that came to America that made their own language did so because they wanted to separate themselves from the whites.

  18. Really good blog post. Like everyone else said it summed up the essay well and your personal connection was very interesting. As far as a few comments people made above about how James Baldwin’s anger in his essay was a little unnecessary, I disagree. From what I’ve studied about slavery, white slave owners goal was to dehumanize slaves by basically treating them as animals, sometimes even counting them in with their animal inventory. I think slaves created their own black english because they wanted to fight back against the white slave owners and have at least something of a human characteristic to claim and cling to. I do believe the white slave owners became threatened by this and tried to put a stop to it. So yes, I completely understand James Baldwin’s passion and anger behind this essay.

  19. After reading this I found it very interesting that you found comfort when you hear Bosnian speaking around you. Baldwin is angry in this and it is very understandable, there are many types of languages in the world and it changes very often from border to border, so why does it matter if a certain race uses different english than you. To be flat out it shouldn’t, the whites back then just wanted to have a grasp on the colored people so they could easily restrict them. With this black english it provided safe zone or words that could be said around the whites so they couldn’t understand.

  20. I find it very interesting that you and your family connect to the Bosnian people solely on the fact that you speak Bosnian. I think language should be different fro border to border… Language defines the culture of an area. Without culture, well, the world would be boring. Great job.

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