Negotiation: Culture, Language, Core Values

For this week’s reading’s in CURRINS 547, we’ve read Jenkins’ (2006) section from “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” entitled “Negotiation” and a chapter from Lisa Delpit’s book The Skin that We Speak entitled “No Kinda Sense.” Our readings therefore interact with how culture, language, and even core values are affected as students (and everyone else) make make new connections by navigating the [cyber] world.

Delpit focuses more on the face-to-face, in-school implications of mixing cultures and dominant ways of speaking. It has been under heated debate for a long time now about whether Ebonics may be categorized as a dialect of English or its own language. It has been argued that Ebonics is a dialect because many of the words it contains are English, only perhaps pronounced differently. True though that may be, there is also the argument that although this type of speech does have borrowed words and unique pronunciation, it exhibits other traits of a language (such as systematic grammatical structure). See this link from the Linguistic Society of America about Ebonics for more information. Whether you think it is a language or not, however, should not affect your respect for the mother tongues of your students. If we expect our students to learn from us, they want to know that they (and their interests, experiences, language, culture, etc.) are valued.

Delpit also brings up another linguistic term, which is to “code switch” between languages. This is where, voluntarily or not, a person may switch between languages/dialects to fit the situation. Sometimes it’s because there’s just that one word/phrase that fits perfectly for the situation, so the speaker switches over to the new language to make the conIMG_0057nection. Other times, the code switch is more of a matter of identity. When you speak the languages of two different cultural groups, you may identify yourself as part of one group or the other by speaking one of those languages in specific situations. For example: LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY: BILINGUAL CODE-SWITCHING IN SPANISH-ENGLISH INTERVIEWS by Maria Cecilia Velásquez. Although this article is focused on Spanish/English code switches, the Ebonics/English code switch is relevant: “Do you speak white, or do you speak black?” You’ve probably heard something like that somewhere in your lifetime now. This phrase connects a language with an ethnicity, and your inclusion in that group depends heavily on whether you speak that language.

Similarly, Jenkins’ article speaks of the same cultural zoning but brings it to the internet world. Online, groups are brought together “who otherwise might have lived segregated lives” if not for the internet. How you conduct yourself online may identify you as a part of (or exclude you from) certain groups or social circles, even online. Perhaps, if you pick up on certain attitudes or characteristics, you may find yourself as part of the group. Or, as in Delpit’s example of her daughter, you may find that there’s a group out there for you which already shares your interest and values your input. But when there is trouble on the internet, Jenkins talks about striking a cultural/moral truce with those who disagree, and he advocates taking the time to learn from those differences.

In the end, respect each other (even if you disagree), learn from your differences, and build a better [world, curriculum, friendship, etc.] from there.



2 responses to “Negotiation: Culture, Language, Core Values

  1. Sarah,
    Delpit’s article and your post made me think of the power and power structures behind language and how that transfers to the classroom. The classic “may I” vs. “can I” corrections that teachers make comes to mind. How important is it that students use “proper English” in the (English) classroom, especially if we as teachers know what students are communicating? When does it become an issue of correcting language to exert power or enforce a dominant discourse vs. correcting to teach? The same goes for commenting online when picking apart someone’s grammar seems to be an insult more than any attempt to teach.


  2. Sarah, you do a nice job of connecting Jenkins focus on navigating cultures to Delpit’s code-switching. You further the point, Marcy, with your comment about the power structures of language and how they used to socially position people, often times under the guise of education. As an English teacher, I felt I was often positioned as a gatekeeper to decide who spoke/wrote well and who did not. Some of my colleagues liked being gatekeepers. I did not. I find it helpful to keep in check what my goals are when “correcting” others. Thanks for the provocative discussion.


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