What are words? A simple question such as this would in theory demand only a simple answer. Words, however, take such an abundance of forms that creating a truly inclusive definition for the notion of “words” is daunting. In its physical manifestation, a word is little more than air passing over taut tendons, forming sounds which are accented by flicks of the tongue against the teeth and roof of the mouth. These sounds are arranged in patterns that come to be recognized and accepted as words. But are these sounds all that words represent?—certainly not. Words command power. Although the defiant playground motto states that “sticks and stones may break bones, but words can never hurt,” we all know that words do have the power to hurt. They also have the power to heal, inspire, build reputations as well as destroy them, bring the purest of joys, and the deepest of sorrows. This power, however, cannot be credited to inflected patterns of sound, but rather to the thoughts, intentions, concepts, and emotions that such sounds come to represent. Indeed, the intrinsic power of a word is nothing, but the power of the ideas behind a word is limitless.
This distinction becomes important when considering the storm of controversy that surrounds the requirement of standard English. Although one viewpoint suggests that such a requirement is an agent of social imperialism (Smitherman 171), it cannot be forgotten that the true purpose of spoken and written language is to communicate ideas effectively. For adequate communication to take place, a speaker must use a medium that is understood by those with whom he wishes to communicate. Otherwise, both the ideas and the power they wield become...
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... in its ability to communicate an idea effectively to a target audience, not the sound of the word itself.
Baugh, John. Black Street Speech. 1983. Austin. University of Texas Press. p. 119.
Baugh, John. Out of the Mouths of Slaves. 1999. Austin. University of Texas Press. pp. 5, 19.
Hirsch, E.D. What Every American Needs to Know (an excerpt from Shaping Discourses: Readings for University Writers). 2002. Boston. Pearson Custom Publishing. p. 270.
Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin’ and Testifyin’: The Language of Black America. 1977. Detroit. Wayne State University Press. pp. 171, 186.Smitherman, Geneva. Talkin’ that Talk.
Gaquin, Deirdre A., DeBrandt, Katherine A. Education Statistics of the United States.Ed. 2. 2000. Lanham, MD. Bernan Press. pp. 165, 167, 169.
Delpit, Lisa. Other People’s Children. 1995. New York. New Press. pp. 26-27
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