Language and Identity

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D. Ferguson
March 22, 2013

How has my experiences with language shaped my current identity?

I have always defined myself as a West Indian woman, an Island girl, the way I speak, the way I dress, to me that is my identity, this is who I am. I have never thought of it like this before, that my language would determine my cultural identity. Language plays a crucial role in personal identity. My first memories began when I was four, I can remember hearing my great grandmothers’ voice as she would rouse me from my sleep, “wake up chile, its morning,” her voice sounded like soft, light waves caressing the sand as it gently hit the shore, or when she would admonish me for being naughty could change to an angry wind whooshing through the trees. Within my immediate surroundings everyone sounded the same, my family, my neighbors, my friends, myself. In Grenada, at secondary school it was another experience for me, where its all mixed with students from all over the island, based on my dialect, others could often tell which parish I was from. I am from the southern parish called St. George’s, which is the capital where I was expected to speak ‘proper’ with excellent grammar and also often times perceived as being cultured and well educated whereas compared to students from the northern parish (St. Patrick’s), they were labeled as speaking ‘bad,’ poorly or uneducated which may not be the case. For example, I remember my first year at secondary school, our teacher came into the classroom and was recording attendance, she asked for another student named Shirley Mc Intyre, someone said “she doh dey today,” whereas grammatically speaking its suppose to be “she is not here today.” Right away based on her dialect it was known that she wasn’t from St. George’s. Moving to America from my homeland Grenada, learning to pronounce my words properly in order to be understood was very important. I felt alienated being thrust into a new place and culture....
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