Language is the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way. Through migration of peoples from around the globe, languages have formed out of necessity. As languages were created over centuries, the tongues themselves also evolved based on the audiences and environments in which they were spoken. In Jamila Lysicott’s spoken word poem, “3 Ways to Speak English,” she says, “… I speak three tongues/ One for each:/ Home, school and friends…” Lysicott describes her personal experience of utilizing different dialects and styles of speaking within various associations. While my past with language is dissimilar to many of the occurrences described in Lysicott’s poem, like Lysicott, I speak many variations of English. Unlike Lysicott, my dialects of English are more closely related. The development of language and one’s identities can be guided by the environments to which they are exposed, including through family life, academic life, and in other communities.
The development of language and one’s identities can be guided by the environments in which they live, including through family life. I am very fortunate to have been raised by parents who were born in the United States. But my mother was born to Filipino immigrant parents, while my father’s ancestors immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s. I primarily identify with my Filipino heritage, yet I often experience a sense of confusion and loneliness because I do not know how to speak Tagalog. My grandmother can understand Tagalog but she cannot confidently speak or write in Tagalog because she immigrated to the United States from Manila, Philippines when she was a young girl. My grandma has been discriminated against within her Filipino community of Beacon Hill in Seattle, because of her slight inability to fluently speak Tagalog. For instance, when having her hair cut at a Filipino salon, my grandma understood comments made towards her in Tagalog; she heard the hairdressers laugh about the fact that my grandma is not fully Filipino. In Gloria Anzaldúa’s memoir titled, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Anzaldúa discusses the difficulty with finding your identity within a culture. Anzaldúa referenced a conversation where a Latino friend said, “Pocho, cultural traitor, you’re speaking the oppressor’s language by speaking English, you’re ruining the Spanish language.” My grandma has been living in Seattle, Washington for decades where English is needed outside of her community of Beacon Hill, yet Beacon Hill operates in a separate circle of majority Asian, elderly immigrants. The pressure my grandma has felt to fit in with different communities in Beacon Hill has been subconsciously laid on the shoulders of my mom and her brothers. My family emphasizes teaching my cousins and me other aspects of our Filipino culture, such as country history, and cooking traditional dishes. In my family, we use an educated form of English to delve into our Filipino roots. We cannot speak Tagalog like our ancestors, yet we can educate ourselves about our past.
The development of language and one’s identities can be guided by the environments to which we have been exposed, including through academic life. I attend New West Charter in West Los Angeles. While English is the main language spoken at my school, Spanish and Latin are offered to both new learners of the language and fluent speakers. Many students at my school speak another language, like Spanish, at home with their parents or guardians. My school tries to include every family with orientations and answering questions, so they offer classes with an emphasis on English-Spanish immersion. Language and heritage is celebrated inside the walls of my school. Student Government and the teachers hold grade level-appropriate assemblies and have students partake in cultural lessons and activities during cultural history months. My school uses its resources to try to provide for the many families attending its classes, allowing for the mixing of groups and cliques. English, both academic and slang, are heard through the hallways. In core academic, periods, formal language is used when a student converses with their teacher. During physical education and break periods, students are more relaxed with their friends, so their language and tone are casual and comfortable. Spanish can be heard within certain groups, yet it is not as commonly spoken during the school day. The difference between casual and formal language is demonstrated within just an hour of attending my school.
The development of language and one’s identities can be guided by the environments to which we have been exposed, including in other communities. In gatherings between friends and other acquaintances, many language variations are spoken. My friends and I speak with humor and sarcasm, intertwined with words of love. We are sincere and kind, as we know how to approach any situation with each other’s support. In Amy Tan’s memoir, “Mother Tongue,” Tan writes, “That was the language that helped shape the way I saw things, expressed things, made sense of the world.” Tan describes how experiences within families can influence our outlook of the world. I think that because I am very close with my friends, they have ultimately impacted the way I see the occurrences surrounding myself. We interlace warmth with inside jokes to create a tongue of our own; one in which we are fluent, but one that is unfamiliar to outside groups. When speaking with acquaintances, the mood of conversations shifts. Instead of sharing secrets, small talk is made with a hint of uncertainty and confusion. To open up to someone requires time and effort — effort that may be awkward because nothing is known. Conversations with strangers normally start with introductions and mentions of the weather. This is a topic that can be assumed in which a stranger has some sort of opinion. A subject that is accessible to any party is a frequent common ground for the beginning of a new language between strangers. The first step towards a relationship can evolve into a tongue to be spoken in the future.
The evolution of tongues and someone’s personal growth can be molded by the knowledge to which we have been exposed, through encounters with friends and acquaintances, family experiences, and school life. Our pasts as individuals form us into the people we will be in the future. From the languages our ancestors spoke, to the new languages we create with strangers, we are all multilingual. Our history as migrating peoples began the long road of family and friends. We are all from the same. We are all related if we search far enough. Our individuality is what makes us unique, but our ability to connect and communicate with others is what shapes our histories and personalities.