The genius of languages.
In researching African American children's literature, the subject of language comes up over and over again. Poet June Jordan is proud of writing His Own Where (1971), which some consider the first young-adult novel written in black English. Poet Lucille Clifton, one of the pioneers of black children's literature, has spoken about being challenged for using black English in her books. Her response was that she was writing literature, not grammar books. At the other end of the spectrum, Carolivia Herron's controversial Nappy Hair has been criticized for a host of issues, among them the problematic nature of her comments about language: the main character is praised for speaking both the King's and Queen's English, as if this mastery compensates for her nappy hair. As teachers and writers, what do we teach? That speakers of black English must consider themselves bilingual and master both? Robert McNeil, of PBS's McNeil-Lehrer Report, suggests in his recent documentary "Do You Speak American?" that black English and standard American English are growing more widely apart in grammar, pronunciation, and more. What are the implications of this development?
In many ways, the relationship between standard American English and the Gullah language found in the South Carolina and Georgia sea islands is the case study most similar to the English/ Gikuyu relationship. The Gullah people have a relatively new sense of pride in their language, demonstrated not in a small (or uncomplicated) way by the monumental project of translating the Christian Bible into Gullah. Ngugi's insights are invaluable in helping writers, teachers, and observers of American culture interpret and understand the linguistic, artistic, socioeconomic, educational, and cultural issues surrounding Gullah as well as other forms of American English. His memories and musings clarify most poignantly the genius of language, a genius that many lose sight of all too often and easily.
University of South Carolina