Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Awareness of Language

In my class I read Coming to an Awareness of Language by Malcolm X to my students. Through frustrated attempts at communicating with others he realized he needed mental access to more words. So, he hand copied a whole dictionary and studied the pages, gaining access to people and knowledge in books and more freedom within those prison walls than he'd had in his whole life.

Here's a bit:

In the street, I had been the most articulate hustler out there. I had commanded attention when I said something. But now, trying to write simple English, I not only wasn't articulate, I wasn't even functional. How would I sound writing in slang, the way I would say it, something such as, "Look, daddy, let me pull your coat about a cat. Elijah Muhammad--"

Many who today hear me somewhere in person, or on television, or those who read something I've said, will think I went to school far beyond the eighth grade. This impression is due entirely to my prison studies.

So, he really had to learn a whole new language in order to communicate outside of his "street environment." He had to take on the commonly accepted version of English, he had to make rhetorical choices.

I'd like to examine the rhetoric he used in his speeches. He inspired and frightened people. White people and black. Enough to be assassinated by members of the Nation of Islam, the group he distanced himself from after discovering the man he thought to be a living prophet was really a scam.


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