Social languages and their different practices I get all too well; working with the public for so many years, I recognized the different ways I spoke to different people from my early days in retail. Very quickly, I was made aware of the need to speak—to connect—with my present audience, in their “lingo” especially if they were complaining, venting, or simply irate over something that happened as they shopped. When I found myself transferred to the downtown Jersey City store I am presently working in, my vernacular adapted to my new area, just as it had in my previous stores.
When I was working in a highly Hispanic area, certain phrases, mannerisms, and types of body language were the precedent; one is usually unaware they acquire these, but it is simply a matter of association and immersion. In order to communicate with shoppers and co-workers, one needs to speak the same language. In the downtown store, we have many African-Americans, both on staff and as customers, so my mannerisms, body language, and speech have adapted again through these associations and friendships.
Since 9/11, the area has been flooded with an upper-class, business clientele because of many WTC companies relocating “walking distance” from our store, along the waterfront. These customers expect a different type of speech and treatment; such differentiation is not difficult, and my more formal speech can be heard when dealing with these shoppers. None of these habits are intentional, but a natural context of speaking to the many different people in our daily routine, on their terms. These are my peeps, below. Note we are many different types, and so are our speech patterns.
The example of “Jane” as she describes the story from class to both her parents and boyfriend, hoping to prove there is no change in her speech patterns, is classic. She quickly recognizes the vast differences in her social languages just as I have described the variations of my own. When I was younger, like Jane, I did not see all the adaptations of language I used but was aware of the obvious ones--talking “nicer” to parents, teachers, and clergy but being ourselves with friends. Jane’s claim that she did not ever speak differently was destined to fail when tested, and did.
The ability to read and grasp the essence of the author’s intent has a lot to do with a ready knowledge of what is going on around us. If a person is completely uninformed and reads an aspirin bottle, such as Gee’s example, they might be puzzled or misinterpret the warnings it carries. However, unless you live under a rock, on a deserted island, or in a remote cloister, you would be somewhat familiar with such information and able to discern, by the time you were an adult making this purchase, what the message intended its reader to ascertain. Understandably, in today’s ever-changing society, there may be many who use English as their second language, missing certain social cues. But because of social media, they would have an easier time adapting to mannerisms and speech patterns of average American conversations.
On the topic of social responsibility I can only say that if cigarette manufacturers should be held accountable, then what about liquor and prescription drug manufacturers, which are also highly addictive. I do not disagree BUT these are all very serious social issues and as long as they are readily available, there will be a higher incident rate which negatively affect families, and loved ones by ruining lives. Accountability needs to be addressed across many forums, deciding where freedom of choice ends and responsibility to each other begins.
Ebonics—why not? If children can take ESL classes to learn English, and others can learn a second language, such as Spanish, in school to accommodate the many Hispanic families living in the USA, why not Ebonics. If many children are more familiar with this vernacular, as long as they will also learn how to write and communicate in English, it seems as acceptable as the decision to include Spanish as a second, required language in schools. The factor of time and scheduling would, of course, be an issue, but if this would prove advantageous to students, particularly in certain areas, why not try and implement this form of expression? Yet, I wonder what will come of these changes and the absence of grammar at the same time…