Friday, January 16, 2015

Poetry Friday -- Languages



I'm between audio books right now, so I'm catching up on podcasts of the NPR TED Radio Hour. Earlier in the week, I was listening to the program, "Playing with Perceptions." One segment features academic activist and poet Jamila Lyiscott. She's a first-generation American. Her parents are from Trinidad and she grew up in Crown Heights in Brooklyn. She's working on her PhD in Literature and Race at Columbia and describes herself as a "tri-tongued orator."

When she was about 19, she was asked to be a guest on an academic panel. After participating in her very best, most polished Academic English, a woman came up to her and told her she was very "articulate."

This is the poem she wrote in response to that experience.



The transcript is here if you'd rather read the poem.

I'm thinking hard about checking my perceptions at the door, especially when it comes to the languages my students speak.


Irene has the Poetry Friday roundup this week at Live Your Poem.




17 comments:

  1. We must have been on the same wavelength this week! Today I'm sharing about honor all students' languages and encouraging multi-lingual poetry.

    I agree that the use of "articulate" has become an unfortunate way of demonstrating academic racism.

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  2. Interesting poem -- I get where she's coming from as someone who grew up speaking Hawaiian Creole English (pidgin) in conversation and formal English in the classroom. For many many years pidgin was looked down upon -- only recently has it become an "official language." The prejudices remain, however. I can tell that Jamila and I are from wholly different generations -- I would not take offense at being called "articulate," no matter what language I was speaking.

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    1. "Articulate" is a tricky compliment, isn't it? It comes wrapped with the assumption that the speaker was expected NOT to be articulate.

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  3. My 20 y.o. son's chief complaint about his childhood is that he is not bilingual! Ummm, sorry... I WISH I could have given him that, but I would need to be bilingual to do it! So now it's up to him. :) I so admire people who are multilingual and appreciate this poem and perspective. xo

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  4. Amazing poem! I love the line: "But I’m here to tell you that even “articulate” Americans sound foolish to the British" because my brother-in-law is a Brit and makes fun of our family all the time. Thanks for sharing this. =)

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  5. The whole topic of code-switching is fascinating. I grew up in a three-culture, two language home when I was small. We do adjust our speech to situations and cultures. And wow -- "articulate" can be an insult-infused compliment.

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    1. My concern is that she misinterpreted the compliment as an insult. She was 19 on an academic panel. I would compliment a 19 year old on their articulation - not many 19 year olds are very articulate. Obviously there are some, but when one is spectacular at 19, people notice.

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  6. Most people are multi-lingual but don't think of it that way. Have you never, as a northerner, gone down south and started to "speak the language" without realizing it - and vice versa? How many teachers stay in teacherese when they are speaking with a parent? Do parents always use the same articulation when speaking to their 1 year old...their dog...their bird? Do you appreciate it when your mechanic or doctor stick to the technical manual when they are explaining something to you? None of these "languages" is better or "smarter" than the other. They are just different. We all speak many languages and we need to appreciate them for what they are.

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    1. I totally agree, Donna!

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  7. This "linguistic celebration" is certainly thought-provoking Mary Lee! I agree with you and Donna, we all have different languages for our varied roles, but it's always hard to, as you say, check our perceptions about them at the door. Thanks for sharing this today!

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  8. This is wonderful! I think I will share it with my trilingual students!

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  9. The process of reflection upon our own perspectives is something we work to help students "do" & "see", not easy at all. The assumptions made within a group setting often gets people in hot water. My students and I have just been examining assumptions made in both the dress and the language of adolescents, assumptions they wish weren't made. Thanks for this!

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  10. I can't imagine how much pre-judgment Lyiscott is subjected to--she is a woman, a woman of color, from another culture, etc.. This is the perfect post for MLK Day weekend. Do you think there will ever come a day when children, to paraphrase Dr. King will live in a nation where they will not be PRE-judged by anything?

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    1. Oh, and I forgot to give you an audiobook recommendation. Us by David Nicholls. The reader is British and the book is a hoot!

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    2. Thanks for the audiobook recommendation, Diane! I put it on my wish list over at Audible.

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  11. This is wonderful, Mary Lee! In college, I took a linguistics class and learned that, although many "educated" people believe that certain dialects are incorrect, each dialect has specific rules of usage, just like "proper" English. It was very eye opening!

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  12. So much to contemplate here. Living in a community where there is much room for misunderstanding, this spoke to me.

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