Linguistic Reading Response

It is interesting to note that contrary to popular belief, more often than not different pronunciations are the result of different contexts – variances in social settings, the use of formal and informal pronunciations, etc. Unfortunately, Americans have long labored under the misguided assumption, especially where language is concerned, that there is one right way to do something, and all other ways are wrong (Callary 118). Sounds used in language are produced by the human vocal apparatus, thus the term ‘Articulatory phonetics’ to refer to sounds described by the ‘articulations’ (actions) of the vocal tract.

We produce speech sounds by modifying a stream of air as we push it by the lungs through the trachea and ultimately out of the oral or nasal cavities, or both (Callary 119). Stated this way the production of speech sounds seems trivial, obvious, and incredibly easy. But the facts of articulation prove otherwise, with the production of even the simplest sound the result of an amazingly complex activity involving coordination of muscles all working in precise timing.

Studying language scientifically is quite a challenging and difficult undertaking (as the assigned reading pages illustrate, with all the allophones, phonemes, morphemes, etc.), though people might generally take the nuances of language for granted. Aside from the technical aspects of language, one needs to also consider its other socio-linguistic components – origin, cultural factors, and regional variations, among others.

“A History of the Spanish Language” by Ralph Penny

Considering that it is already a ‘dead’ language, it is still pretty amazing that Latin is the ancestor of Spanish (and, by definition, of all other Romance languages), spread by soldiers, traders and farmers of the Western Roman Empire two thousand years ago to the present population of the Spanish-speaking world. Interestingly, Romance languages do not descend from Classical (i.e. literary) Latin, but non-literary varieties, often referred to collectively as ‘Vulgar Latin (Penny 5). ‘Vulgar’ Latin differs only in the sense that is spoken by the Latin-speaking population with little or no school education.

In the contemporary scene, there is a significant Spanish-speaking populace within the United States of America with the waves of human migration from Spanish-speaking countries, e.g. Mexico. To a certain extent, Spanish has influenced the development of the English language as it is being spoken in the USA, notably in states with notable Latino populations.

“The African Heritage of American English” by Joseph E. Holloway and Winifred K. Vass

In a similar vein to the Spanish-American experience is African-Americanism. Considering that at least 70 percent of the ancestors of Americans of African descent came from the Mande (West Aftican) and Bantu (Central African) ethnic groups (Holloway and Vass xix), it is not surprising that these two cultures contribute substantially to the diverse North American ethnic stock. This is evident in jazz closely associated with black musicians, whose history and origins can be traced to the Old Congo Square of New Orleans. Yet available dictionaries and related works on African-American culture, language and history do not provide comprehensive documentation of linguistic Americanisms, except perhaps for Turner’s Africanisms in the Gullah Dialect (Holloway and Vass xix).

Moreover, it would appear that the controversial debate over the survival of linguistic Africanisms in North American is still raging, led by the factions of E. Franklin Frazier and Herskovits. For Frazier, the institution of slavery completely destroyed any surviving African culture and consequently, African-American culture developed without any African antecedents. In this way he emphasized African discontinuity, advocating a deculturalization hypothesis. Herskovits on the other hand argued that African cultural influences survived in the New World, retained by process of acculturation and adaptation by the African slaves brought to the Americas (African continuum and continuity in African-American language).

List of Works Cited:

Callary, Edward. “Phonetics.” Eds. Clark, Virginia, Paul Eschholz and Alfred Rosa. Language: Introductory Readings. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. 113-133.

Penny, Ralph. A History of the Spanish Language. 2nd Ed. London: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Holloway, Joseph and Winifred Vass. The African Heritage of American English. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1997.