When it comes to someone’s identity, various factors contribute to their identities, such as name, race, social class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sexuality. Google defines identity as ‘the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.’ (Google). Identity is the qualities, beliefs, or personality that makes a person. Therefore, identity consists of several other things, such as someone’s likes, hobbies, character, or expressions. When all of that comes together, it makes the person who they are; hence their identity. Furthermore, just as all these categories represent a part of someone’s identity, another major factor that contributes to an individual’s identity is language. The language that we are born into or learn expresses identities. The language that an individual speaks identifies them with a specific culture.
The way they speak that language can further identify them with a specific group. For example, if someone speaks English with a southern accent, they are likely to be associated with the southern states. Michelle Cliff was a Jamaican-American, poet, novelist, and short-story writer that valued and emphasized the importance of language when it comes to literature. In her short story, ‘Columba’ it focuses on the loss of innocence, changes, and transition of time and most importantly, around the search for identity. (COME BACK) Language has an impact on multiple levels: social, national, and linguistic. It is a primary means of communication, and it embodied the culture and traditions of its speaker. The short story ‘Columba’ by Michelle Cliff, is primarily related to the perspective of a twelve-year-old girl. In the short story, it shows how language emerges to how we identify ourselves. The short story reaffirms the Caribbean/Jamaican identity through elaborated figurative and descriptive language, along with symbols that play a massive part in the story. The moment that the protagonist Columba, speaks we hear his identity. The story takes place in Kingston, Jamaica, in a Jamaican Household. The setting of the story infers that Columba is not American and is further proved in the story when he starts to speak. When the narrator asked Columba where he found the doves, he replied: ‘Nuh find dem nestin’ all over de place…’ (Columba, Pg. 8). The language Columba uses can fall under broken English, slang, and code-switching. (COME BACK) As mentioned above, the language that Columba speaks can fall under slang.
Slang words are another way to form cultural identity and can present communication barriers. Slang can establish a sense of community within a group and is generally witter and more clever than formal speech. However, slang can also create a barrier to those outside or with little understanding of a language. Some other slang words that are used in the story by Columba are “dawg”, “chuh”, and “not’ing”. (COME BACK) Being born and raised in Haiti, I can attest that the languages that I speak are a huge part of who I am and my identity. When I was in Haiti, I used to speak French with Haitian Creole. However, when I came to America, I forgot to speak French since I mostly spoke Haitian Creole in my household and was also focused on learning English. I did not have anyone to speak French too since my family only spoke Haitian Creole. Even though I lost one language, I gained one in its place, and it became apart of me. Speaking, writing, and understanding Creole tells my background story along with my ethnicity. Moving to America and learning English tells a story of transformation and change. Similar to my story in the article “The Beauty of Being Bilingual” by Natalia Sylvester, it expresses the beauty behind being bilingual. I also believe that being bilingual is a beautiful thing that provides you with identity development. Sylvester starts the article by stating that “[her] parents refused to let [her] sister and [her] forget how to speak Spanish by pretending they did not understand when [they]spoke English. “ (Sylvester). This sets the idea that her family valued their native language and did not want their children to lose sight of that. When we use language, we are exposing our identity, backgrounds, and stories to other people.
Our histories are defined in part by our membership in a range of social groups by which we are born into. Sylvester continues to talk about how it was a struggle having to speak Spanish without slipping up and speaking in English. She states, “my sister and I would let out exasperated sighs at having to repeat ourselves in Spanish, only to be interrupted by a correction of our grammar and vocabulary after every other word.” (Sylvester). I can relate to the frustration Sylvester went through keeping up with English and Spanish. Speaking two or more languages can put much pressure on an individual because often language has the power to create or break down communities. It is also a personal dilemma over a sense of belonging for individuals. Sometimes, we find ourselves pulling back from our native language or feeling pressured to speak both well. Language is not just black and white because they are so many ways to use language to identify yourself with a particular group. Like I mentioned before, there is slang, code-switching, and consists of arbitrary signs, symbols, or sounds constructed to make meaning. Language is not just a tool. It’s how we think.
People who speak two languages or more often find themselves code-switching. Code switching is defined in Intercultural Communication in Context as “a technical term in communication that refers to the phenomenon of changing languages, dialects, or even accents. Code switching happens for several reasons such as to accommodate the other speaker, to avoid accommodating others and to express another aspect of their cultural identity. Both the story “Columba” and the article “ The Beauty of Being Bilingual” shows code-switching. Columba includes English and Jamaican Patois when he is speaking to or responding to the narrator. Similarly, Syvelter also switched from Spanish to English when she was growing up. Sometimes, when we code switch, we are unaware of it as it is something that happens naturally. As Syveslter mentions sometimes you can just “slip” into code-switching without the intention to do so.