Week Three Blog Assignment: Speech Community Auto-Ethnography

For this assignment, I am interested in how you are applying the assigned readings to your own experiences and daily lives. This assignment is designed make you more aware of the varieties of language that you navigate every day and to help you to describe that linguistic diversity.
Most people are not aware of there own particular dialect of English, believing that they speak “standard” English. However you may, if you are from the Midwest, be part of the Northern Cities Shift. This emerging dialect is characterized by the fronting of the back vowels. so /o/ like in hot, becomes /a/ like in hat and hockey and sock sound like hakey and sack. There are varying degrees of this depending on where your from but in lower Michigan particularly in the southwest part of the state it can be fairly pronounced.
Watch the following clip, there are also other examples on YouTube you can check out.
Thinking about this form of English and using the articles as guides, describe the speech communities in which you participate and a brief discussion of your own linguistic repertoire. In other words, provide an ethnographic account of several experiences in which you personally move between speech communities or communicative cultures in a typical day or a week.  These “communities” may be characterized by different subcultures, dialects of English, languages (e.g. English and Spanish), and or styles of language (formal/informal). As many of you are soon to be teachers is there a dialect particular to them?
Be sure to note the context of when you use a particular code (when, where, and with whom) and what the actual code is that you use (what are the words, phrases, tone, tempo, etc.) In other words, do not just state that you use an informal code with friends, but what comprises that informal code.
Begin with the description of the communities and the repertoire and then conclude with your analysis.
In your analysis think about the following questions.  What is gained by their use? What would happen if you did not use them appropriately? Are you part of the Northern Cities Shift?

4 thoughts on “Week Three Blog Assignment: Speech Community Auto-Ethnography

  1. Before writing this post I thought I might write this as someone from Southern Michigan. Although this week’s lesson has let me explore part of my culture that I sometimes neglect, is of importance. After reading John Gumperz The Speech Community I realized that I identify with multiple speech communities. My family derive form the Caribbean, where language can reflect the diverse region. My parents come from two different islands, which have their own dialect as well an official language and a national language. Both nations share the official language English, but the national language is creole or patios. This due to the Britain’s English expansion in the Caribbean, as well as the influence of West African, Indian, Spanish, and Arawak descendants speech. This is a direct example of linguistic acculturation, which the English language can vary but continue to carry sociocultural connection. And based on James Baldwin theory on how French is understood globally, I find the same concept applies to my speech communities. Dialects of my parents have many features in common, but differ considerably through regional differences; between some dialects (comparing Southern Michigan- rural Jamaica) a mutual unintelligibility can form. As a first generation American there is an evident language shift, especially in regards to my birthplace and education. In America/Michigan there are cultural terms or phrases known to us, and that we are taught at a very young age. I note this because this has allowed me to maneuver through the American vernacular. I find myself speaking in a more formal English when speaking with fellow Americans. This stems from being taught by my parents, whom struggle with speech in U.S; that I must speak in way that can be clearly understood in order to succeed. So, although out primary school I would mimic my teacher’s annunciation and tone in their speech, to learn how to speak outside my home. Within the Caribbean community whether it may be a relative or stranger, our dialect can sometimes comprise of sounds rather then actually words. I began to notice that I would alter the way I speak to my family and to those who are not. There was not much issue in the formalities of the language but, more of a comprehension issue. I recall in one time when I was twelve, I was walking with my friends in my subdivision when we saw our neighbors dog running loose and I used the patios term “kiss me neck” which basically means “oh my god”. In that setting it didn’t dawn on me that they didn’t understand, until I got some weird stares and questions. I have learned to use certain verbal repeater or my verbal toolbox to appropriately use the right speech between the various speech communities I belong to. Also, being American as well as West Indian, I didn’t realize to very late that I had a dialect that people could recognize that. Visiting my parents’ home countries often and living in a Caribbean household, I didn’t recognize that I was picking up their dialect and accent. So, as I matured I have encountered countless of people who would ask me where I’m from, or make it known that I sound different.

    • I really enjoyed reading your post. Your reflection was very insightful and detailed. I liked how you broke down all of the different aspects of where you live and how that impacts your language repertoire. While I can’t directly relate to most of your experiences, I do see your experiences mirrored in those of some of my summer school students. I teach in Southwest Detroit, which has a high Latino population, and most of my students grew up with English as their second language. With a lot of our summer school staff speaking primarily English, there is also this mutual unintelligibility that may form between the students and some of the teachers. A lot of the times, I find my students are reluctant to talk or just give up because they don’t know how to say a word in English or will pause to say a word in Spanish and ask their peers or myself for an English translation. It seems that a lot of the time, they feel pressured to get rid of the dialects used in their homes and switch to a primarily English one. I was wondering if you have ever experienced this in your schooling career, where you may have tried to put your other dialect to the side to speak what was more familiar and comfortable for the majority of people you were around?
      I have also seen one of my students try to resolve a conflict and on of the students asked the other to “say me” how something made sense to them instead of asking him to tell him how it made sense. I mention this because even though it wasn’t a statement that we usually use in English, my student didn’t really get any curious looks or questions. Reflecting on your story, I wonder if, under different circumstances, my student would have felt similar to how you felt when you saw the dog in your neighborhood and I’m also wondering what sort of impact that would have had on their English language acquisition.

  2. Coming from an ethnic Hungarian background, I am a part of quite a few distinct speech communities. Though I was born here in the U.S., Hungarian became my first language due to the fact that my parents moved to the U.S. only months before I was born, and, as a result, were not fluent enough to teach my English first. For the first ten years of my life, Hungarian was the primary language spoken in my household. I did learn English when I was five years old, but I received very little explicit language instruction during my first year in school (kindergarten). Ultimately, I ended up acquiring English as my second language through simply being exposed to the language at a young age in an environment that did not allow me to speak in my native language. As my parents became more fluent in English throughout my childhood years, Hungarian was used less and less in my household. Today, I am still able to fully understand the language; however, it is much harder for me to fluently speak Hungarian. I do manage to still get by during my monthly phone calls to my extended family who resides in Hungary, but I strongly regret not keeping up with my native language the way I should have. Part of the issue for why I lost touch with my native language was due to the fact that I attend a school with very little diversity. Because of this, I felt as though I had to conform to the norms of my school rather than embrace my native culture. Growing up, my friends would always make comments to me about my parents “funny accents,” and, as an adolescent, those comments caused me to shy away from speaking Hungarian much of the time.
    Aside from my Hungarian background, I, like many of us, are a part of many formal and informal speech communities. When I interact with my friends, I “code-switch” to informal English, where I use phrases such as “ain’t” and “sup” rather than “no/not” and “How are you?” Ultimately, I do not, for the most part, sensor myself around my friends as far speech is concerned because we are usually in a laid back environment where it is not necessary to do so. I also engage in the use of informal English at my job due to the fact that I am a server in a college sport’s bar. In this type of environment, I am supposed to engage with customers the way I would engage with my friends to make the atmosphere of the establishment relaxed and enjoyable. When I am in class and interacting with peers and professors, I engage in the use of formal English, and when I am student-teaching in the sense that I am in a position of authority, I engage even more so in using formal English.
    One reading that really stuck out to me during this week’s lesson was Joyce Hope Scott’s article titled, “Official Language, Unofficial Reality: Acquiring Bilingual/Bicultural Fluency in a Segregated Southern Community.” As I prepare to enter the next phase of my teaching trajectory, the internship year, I find myself consistently thinking about how I am going to incorporate and cater to the multiple literacies in my 10th grade English classroom while teaching the classics (Yes, I will be teaching Beowulf and The Canterbury Tales). I want to develop lesson and unit plans that allow my students to express their unique dialects and languages in order to not only promote diversity in the classroom, but also ensure that students remain in touch with, and nonetheless build upon their unique literacies.

    Here is a video that I came across last semester that I wanted to share with you guys. It is a great example of how teachers can successfully incorporate multiple literacies into the English classroom to promote meaningful learning:


  3. I think it’s amazing that this week’s reading and this class was able to help you connect with yourself the way you’ve described. As a nerd about geography, I also find it really cool that you and your family hail from the Caribbean. It’s amazing to learn about where you come from. I personally believe it connects you spiritually. You made a great connection to this week’s reading and lecture material when you say that the variations of English your family members and descendants speak is an example of language acculturation. I would absolutely agree with you. I find the best example from this week’s materials from the video in which a woman was telling a story to her friend regarding her ‘cah’. Her friend couldn’t understand her for the longest time until the woman changed her dialect and said ‘car’ as it would be known for most midwestern people. Even though there is a dialect difference, the friend is still able to understand the woman’s story. I am also a first generation American to Syrian immigrants, and also find great variations when I speak Arabic with my friends who are also first generation Americans but of Lebanese parents. We are still able to understand each other, but I find that Lebanese Arabic has a slightly variating dialect when it comes to words as simple as “yes” and as great as “car”. We can still understand each other and have a fluid conversation, but there is a slight language shift. Great post!

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