Language Grows Out of Life:Abduction, Juxtaposition, and Culture
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Language Grows Out of Life: Abduction, Juxtaposition, and Culture
Language grows out of life, out of its needs and experiences . . . Good work in language presupposes and depends on real knowledge of things. I never taught language for the purpose of teaching it; but invariably used language as a medium for communication of thought: thus the learning of language was coincident with the acquisition of knowledge (Thomas, 48).
For my students in the prison, and for many students in "regular" schools, English class seems removed from the "needs and experiences" of life. My students are confused by the isolated teaching of grammar rules that seem to have no impact on their "true" use of language on the streets, in their neighborhoods, or with their families. I am equally confused. Many schools insist that teachers "transmit" a pre-determined body of information to students as if they are receptacles. For my students, many of the works of literature in this body of information are "unrealistic," and they feel they are "fake" and unimportant to them. The schools also often ask instructors to ignore their students' cultures and social circumstances. This is an impossibility. Donald Thomas states this nicely when he writes: "We bequeath to words what we cannot ourselves decipher from the rush of daily being. Words are juxtaposed to the world just as we are" (2). Simply put, culture and language are interconnected. We strive to make sense of the world around us through language. There is no way to separate culture and language and no reason to do so.
I become more aware of how experience affects language and expression each day. Several months ago, I was working with my students on the use of setting in literary works. I tore pictures of different settings from National Geographic magazines. My students had a huge range of pictures to choose from and their assignment was to write a story that would logically take place in the setting of their picture. We had been discussing literature genres and I was sure that the student who chose the picture of the mist-surrounded castle on the rocky island would create a magical fairy tale complete with a king, knights, and a fire-breathing dragon. I was wrong. I have read many fairy tales in my lifetime. If I had received the picture of the castle, I would have written a "typical" fairy tale. My home culture has nurtured this type of story and appreciation for it.