Identity and Language
Belongingness is not just a simple word to imply being in a crowd or with the crowd, instead it also tackles that the individual fit in and feel right with the people, the environment and the situation he is in. A person, as a social being, naturally would want to create bond and belong to a certain group or society. Yet, there is also a deep emphasis that is connected with the expression of oneself or identity. Identity refers to a person’s background generally. It is not simply limited to one’s name, social status and age but it also includes ethnicity, capabilities and attainments.
To express identity is to stress on the difference between the person and the group where he belongs. Thus, belongingness and identity somehow shares a paradoxical relationship as indicated by Rodriguez in his essay ‘Public and Private Language’ (1982). Rodriguez tries presents his experience being a bilingual in the American Society. Rodriguez discusses the difference between the private and the public spheres focusing on the role of language to produce an identity, which promotes public access to university, jobs and society.
In Rodriguez work, he undermines the importance of having a private individuality, which is designated by the use of native language at home. Since private language is something that the whole family understands and a way by which the entire family express, it becomes the family individuality. To this end, it creates a wall around the person that blocks the way to understand and appreciate the words and sounds he hear in school, on the streets and even in the television. It somehow deprived the individual an access to the public sphere, which results to ignorance of the society.
Being able to speak a public language enables the person to communicate his thoughts to another person. It gives the person the power to express himself more effectively and interact with the whole society. To this end, it is a disadvantage if a person will confine himself within the private language inside the family. As Rodriguez noted, the lack of the capability to express one-self and to assert one’s thought in the public language makes a person shy, silent and scared to be laugh at or be considered as a fool.
It therefore takes away some access to public societies such as making friends, engaging in civic groups. Every word utter by the person in private language is considered as an indiscernible codes for those who find the language as a foreign language. Often times, this results to stereotypes and marginalized view placed by the society. If one will not be able to set up a public individuality, chances are that the public would give the person a public identity instead. Meaning, a person is not forced to recognize a public identity yet using private language delineate him from participating in the public sphere.
This gives the public a change to marginalize the person along with those people with the same ethnic background. Therefore, a language can affect or even shape a person’s identity. Take for example what Rodriguez pointed out when he tries to emphasize how the teachers try their best to get him to speak in the class. Having different private and public languages keep the person away from other people. Since he could not fully understand what people around him speak about, he could not make friends. He develops fear or inferiority when speaking with other people.
Although he has a positive private identity at home, his relationship with the people in the English-speaking world is known to demonstrate public isolation. He could not feel a sense of belongingness from the outside of his family’s home. A great gap undermines societal productivity and involvement exists. Rodriguez further emphasized that the private language used at home is designed to express personal thoughts and opinion while the public language is a way to make other people know how you understand things.
In school or the university, the public language serves as a standard to which discussions and information are conveyed. It makes a child ‘socially disadvantage’, as illustrated by Rodriguez, if he cannot communicate his thoughts well in school. A public silence engulfs the child making him feel ‘alien’ in the public world. The child will not be able to answer the questions in class. He would not be able to chat with other people. On the other hand, being able to speak the public language would yield to beneficial results.
It can improve the social interaction of the child with other kids. Moreover, it helps the child to understand the lessons more coherently. It might as well improve the child’s self-confidence. Since language affects a person’s identity, it is crucial in gaining access not only to universities but to a job and social status as well. Since the United States is considered as a melting pot, then it is inevitable that a certain universal language must be set in the society and the work place to help one culture communicate with another.
Despite the fact that personal and private identities served their importance in individualism, it cannot create understanding between two people speaking different language. Thus, it is important for people to posses a public identity which will transcend the ethnical and/or cultural diversity in the society. Rodriguez also elaborated how the ‘sounds and the words becomes tightly wedded’ as he successfully immerse to the English (public) language. Nonetheless, he also recognized the fact that being educated with the public language negatively affects the private identity that the family formerly holds.
Changes occur as the use of another language is being learned and the private language is kept in silence. On one hand, there seems to be a door, which opens to the public world. It is as if fences are cut down, to help the family look over, and enjoy the society. Therefore, the family becomes a part of the society and not anymore in the private sphere. On the other hand, the family becomes more absorbed in the society that they do not express themselves in the same way. There are also changes in the way that family members see the other members as apart of their family and of the society.
Indeed, despite all the benefits of engaging in the public language, there are still some pitfalls. The fact that the parents are not being able to adjust as fast and as well as their children in using the public language creates a fissure in the relationship inside the family. The dominant language marginalized or excludes the ethnic or foreign speakers at the time that the merge between different cultures starts. Certain groups might feel that they are not given enough opportunity and a language barrier might stem into different misunderstandings (in the public sphere such as university and work place).
The marginalized groups might feel oppressed and even more; they might want to have the opportunity to express themselves in their native tongue. With this in mind, they could either seclude themselves from the public or learn to speak the public language. Becoming bilingual indeed lessen the individuality of the person’s private association. Nonetheless, it also empowers the person’s public identity. As stated above, the United States is supposedly a melting pot. That is, assimilation of different cultures are greatly promoted or at least emphasized.
For assimilation to occur, a public language must be used especially when dealing with public matters. Private languages obstruct the absorption of culture and limit the person’s ability to communicate in the public. I agree with Rodriguez when he emphasized the importance of public language. It is indeed a tool that a person can use to communicate and create a public life. Indeed, it is something that determines a person’s access to various public institutions. Nonetheless, I disagree with how Rodriguez evaluates the importance of the private identity.
It seems, as though, Rodriguez does not see its importance in the person’s cultural identity. Becoming too much submerged in the process of assimilation, a person might as well loss his/her personal culture. Thus, if a person would grow up and adapts the public culture, most specifically language, he moves away from his own cultural identity. At the end, there will only be a dominant public culture and the assimilation and the presence of other culture would not be anymore visible.
The cultural identity of a group would diminish especially if children will not be able to be educated with the private language, identity and culture. The child would see himself as an American rather than a Spanish American. It takes him away from his origin/s deluding his history with that of the American history. It replaces his language as well as his identity as a whole. There is also the issue, as discussed by Rodriguez, of broken communication at home. Since parents are not as well adept with the English language, communication becomes a problem. Works Cited: Rodriguez, R. Public and Private Language. (1982).