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ENG 101

7 November 2013
June Jordans Nobody Mean More to Me Than You: An Analytical Response
In June Jordans Nobody Mean More to Me Than You, Jordan suggests that Black
English is an endangered dialect, while Standard English is the correct way to speak.
She discusses her students reactions after reading parts of Alice Walkers The Color
Purple, along with her own response to the issue. Being so accustomed to reading and
writing in Standard English, Jordans students have trouble recognizing their own dialect
in writing.
Jordan details how Black English differs from Standard English, and she and her
students promulgate rules on how to speak using the dialect. Willie Jordan is one of her
students who faces difficulty writing in Standard English. Toward the end of the essay, he
discovers that his brother Reggie was shot and killed by a white policeman for no
apparent reason. When Willie Jordan and his classmates decide to write letters to the local
police force, they struggle over whether to use Black English or Standard English. In the
end, they settle on Black English; to abandon the dialect is to abandon Reggie, along with
everything they learned in class.
Black English is far more complicated than one might think. While it sounds as if
random words are dropped when spoken, detailed guidelines instruct which words to
leave out, and when. In this essay, Jordan explores those guidelines, emphasizing the
complexity of the dialect in the process.
After reading June Jordans essay, I concluded that some of her claims have value,
while others lack supporting details. For example, Jordan states, compulsory education

in America compels accommodation to exclusively white forms of English. White


English, in America, is Standard English. It is true that the American educational
system teaches a standard form of English, which rejects slang in favor of set rules of
grammar, spelling and punctuation. But by framing the issue in racial terms, I think
Jordan overlooks the value to these standards. Educators teach children basic rules as a
foundation upon which those students may build. If a student lacks basic grammatical
knowledge, she cannot build on it with her own brand of creativity and personality.
When Jordan discusses speech patterns as they relate to whether her students should
write letters to the police in Black English or Standard English, she asks, Should we use
the language of the killersStandard Englishin order to make our ideas acceptable to
those controlling the killers? When they decide to use Black English, both Jordan and
her class admit that they have doomed their writings. It was heartbreaking to proceed,
from that point, Jordan reveals. This is problematic on several levels. First, in the time
period that this event took place, white-on-black police brutality was commonplace. It is
highly unlikely that letters from schoolchildren would have remedied the situation,
whether they were written in Standard English or not. So it seems unlikely that anyone
could have brought justice to the unnecessary killing, regardless of educational level. And
while it is true that using Black English is often considered a symptom of poor education,
that is the case regardless of race. Improper grammar is just thatimproper. So while I
support the classs decision to stand up for Reggie in a way that represented Black
English, I do not believe that writing the letters in Black English hindered their efforts.
Jordan goes on to argue that blacks lose their identity by complying with rules of
Standard English. As we learn our way around this environment, either we hide our

original word habits, or we completely surrender our own voice, hoping to please those
who will never respect anyone different from themselves, she says. While it is true that
individuals may lose a degree of personal expression by using proper grammar,
compliance with grammatical rules has its benefits. Standard English teaches consistency,
and consistency of grammar, spelling and other language rules fosters effective
communication among large groups of people, regardless of race or upbringing. It seems,
too, that Jordan believes language makes up ones entire identity. To lose it is to lose
ones self, she argues. But there are many different forms of personal expression that
make up ones identity, including standards of dress and personal grooming, political
opinions and religious beliefs, among others. It seems unlikely, then, that ones identity is
controlled entirely, or even mostly by speech patterns.
When Jordan suggests that society looks down upon blacks because of how they
speak, she leaves out important context. In fact, Standard English has evolved
considerably through the years, losing and gaining certain words, phrases and standards
along the way. It seems likely that the average 19th century American would face
difficulty understanding the English language in its present form. Regardless of race,
everyone who eschews Standard English for improper grammar risks marginalizing
themselves professionally and personally. And while Jordan implies that only blacks
speak Black English, that seems unlikely given the overlap of various forms of the
English language among all races. Black English is not restricted to one particular race; it
is a dialect spoken by those who were reared speaking that way. And so the issue
becomes less about race and identity, and more about standards.

A persons identity is multi-faceted. It is not composed strictly of ones dialect, just as


it is not composed only of religious beliefs, patterns of dress or any other single form of
expression. So it seems difficult to lose it simply because Standard English is the norm.
In fact, gaining a solid grasp on Standard English can help to foster creativity and
develop identity by removing the need to focus so closely on how to speak or write. Once
a person learns the basic rules, they become second nature, thus freeing one to focus on
other pursuits, while also ensuring that a majority of people understand each other
clearly. Standard English, then, can help to encourage personal expression and effective
communication, thereby developing identity in the process.