“Teaching New Worlds/New Words” Worksheet Questions
- Adrienne Rich wrote, “This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you” (qtd in hooks 1). What might this line of poetry mean? What does it say to you?
According to Rich, language has turned into the main tool of communication used by the oppressor; for example, the usurper, slave master, and the colonist. In the line of the poetry, Rich illustrates that the oppressor’s language has become a prevailing tool for communication to the extent that if the oppressed use his language, he will be punished, rejected outright, derided, or even misunderstood.
Breaking down the Text
- Why does hooks find it “difficult not to hear in Standard English always the sound of slaughter and conquest” (1)?
Initially, he believes that Standard English is similar to the oppressor’s language which can disempower other people who are learning how to claim language through which they can make themselves subjects. In the US, Standard English is a language of domination and conquest. It is a mask that conceals the many tongues that are lost.
- How might English have been terrifying?
English was terrifying to Africans on board slave ships because it was a language they could not comprehend. Additionally, Africans were initially living in places with the deepest bonds such as shared speech. The abrupt transportation into a different world, besides listening to a language that had no meaning was obviously a terrifying experience (Wisker, 2017).
- How could bonding occur and a “culture of resistance” (hooks 1) be formed by learning the oppressor’s language?
Bonding occurs when people are forced to find ways to talk to each other in a completely new world because they are unable to use the oppressor’s language. The culture of resistance is formed when Africans learn that English, their oppressive language has to be taken and possessed.
- Hooks describes enslaved black Americans creating a “counter-language” (2). How did non-standard use of the English language make it “into more than the oppressor’s language” (2)?
The nonstandard use of the English language represented the oppressor’s language because their incorrect placement and usage of words showed a spirit of rebellion which explains language as a sign of resistance.
- How does hooks see contemporary black vernacular speech as a continuation of that new use of English, and why does she think it’s important to recognize its “revolutionary power” (2)?
The contemporary black vernacular speech is a continuation of the new use of English since it promotes resistance to white supremacy. Hooks recognizes that this speech allows for alternative epistemologies and alternative cultural production. It is important to recognize the revolutionary power in contemporary black vernacular culture because it can intervene in the limitations and boundaries of Standard English.
- Where do black vernacular speech and dominant mainstream culture connect (or collide)?
In the modern black popular culture, black vernacular speech has been applied in a way that provokes dominant mainstream to be transformed, hear and also listen.
- Why are we used to standard English being the medium of communication in our classrooms?
This is because they are simply not aware that they can say things in another way, through another language.
- Hooks encourages students to write in their first language (whatever form that takes) and to translate where necessary for other students. What reactions and dynamics did that create in her classes?
Hook explains that when she encouraged her students to use the first languages such as diverse speech and language, complains would arise from white students. It was disturbing since they could hear the words but not understand their meaning.
- Hooks quotes June Jordan, who writes that if we truly lived democratically, “We would make our language conform to the truth of our many selves” (3). What does that mean? What would this be like?
The quote creates a vision of the future where issues of democracy and language come together to create democratic worlds that are culturally diverse.
- How do we “act unconsciously, in complicity with a culture of domination” (hooks 3), even if we are the ones dominated?
People act unconsciously, in complicity with a culture of domination by repressing themselves to speak in different languages rather than Standard English without recognizing this repression as political.
- Hooks discusses the value of changing long-held thoughts about how language should be used and creating “spaces where diverse voices can speak in words other than English or in broken, vernacular speech” (4). What might this allow or encourage?
This will promote fragments of speech that could not be available to all people. By changing the way people think or use language, this ultimately also changes the way people know the things they know.
- What does hooks mean that maybe we don’t actually need to understand everything and can “learn from spaces of silence as well as spaces of speech” (4)? Why could that be valuable?
Hooks means that it is not necessary that people conquer or master a narrative as a whole. This could be valuable in stopping people from adopting the culture of consumption and capitalist frenzy that necessitates that all desires are instantly satisfied or even interrupt cultural imperialism.
- What does hooks mean that our society finds no “dignity in the experience of passion, that to feel deeply is to be inferior” (4) and that ideas are privileged over feelings?
This is because society feels that ideas have more significance in comparison to language.
- According to hooks, how and why is language important to marginalized and oppressed people, more so than just ideas?
Language is important to the oppressed and marginalized people because it assists in healing their split mind and bodies to recover themselves and their experiences.
- How can people liberate themselves through language?
People can liberate themselves by taking the oppressor’s language and turning it against itself. Through this, words become a counter-hegemonic speech that allows people to liberate themselves.
“Acting French” Worksheet Questions
- What is immersion learning?
Immersion learning is an experiential education which focuses on social work education.
2. Why should we learn other languages?
By learning other languages, people can learn about other cultures. Studying other languages also increases one’s creativity.
Breaking Down the Text
1. Why might “child like amazement” be less possible for adults (Coates 1)? What lets Coates access it again?
This is because children live in constant fear. Coates access it through observation of things around him.
2. What did “scholastic achievers” have that Coates didn’t (2)?
Coales did not have a culture of scholastic high accomplishment around him like the other scholar achievers children in the country.
3. How does Coates describe his own learning experiences?
Coates explains how he has been able to learn in different environments where the race was the main order of the day.
Coates shows elements of the American dream by exposing the desire to be white.
4. When Coates writes that “it has been national policy to plunder the capital accumulated by black people—social or otherwise” (3), what does he mean and how does he illustrate this point?
Coates explains how Blacks are under oppression because they cannot own a thing on their own. He illustrates this by the way people have been prohibited against reading (Hansen Löfstrand & Uhnoo, 2014). This is also manifested through the way people have accepted segregation.
5. How do the environment and the “critical mass” of people we are surrounded by influence our potentials and options (Coates 3)?
The environment and the ‘critical mass’ of people harbor many factors that dictate how people think.
6. Who are the “fence-patrollers” (Coates 3) and what are the fences/borders they patrol?
Fence-patrollers refers to the act of people trying to adopt a culture that is different from them. The fence or borders they patrol include music activities.
7. How is education “a profound act of auto-liberation” (Coates 4)?
This was because it created his childhood culture. Also, through education, he developed his youth thrills.
8. Coates claims his culture failed to make him a good student, but did make him a writer (4). How?
He explains that the culture was strong that it became a social capital. This made him become a writer because he had to take a few credentials and autodidact.
How does formal education create a kind of culture? Why does Coates regret missing out on that?
Formal education promotes a profound act of auto-liberation. Coates feels that by missing to become an academic achiever, he has ignored the knowledge of many things.
10. Coates writes that he had to “be a nationalist before I could be a humanist” (5). What does he mean by this? What did he have to do?
Coates explains how he had to support the interests of the black people to understand what they were going through. He describes that he had to understand that black people are architects of the West rather than victims.
11. Coates discusses Daniel Walker Howe’s point that the efforts of the government to “civilize the Indians” by persuading the Cherokee Nation to accept missionary schools backfired (6). What was the intent of the schools? What actually happened?
The main intent of schools was to make Indians adopt civilized ways that would help in dividing the land sales. Nonetheless, as the Cherokees became more politically organized, prosperous, and literate, they developed an interest in what was in their land and what they could do to use it effectively.
12. What comparison does Coates make between educating young black children and what happened with Native Americans?
Coates explains that during his time, it was common to find children being urged to go to school to become respectable people and also impress the right individuals. Native Americans established that America’s discussion of exchanging culture for rights was only a cover.
- In the last paragraph, Coates states, “I came in ignorance, and found I was more ignorant than I knew” (7). He then writes that he was still more comfortable teaching himself in the library than learning in the classroom: “It was not enough. It will never be enough” (7). Why?
Coates feels that there is much to be done than just thinking about the common things that happen in life.
14. What does the last line of his essay mean? What are those tools? What is the house to be dismantled?
The last line means that people can use the master’s methods to beat him at his own game. The tools refer to the methods used to preserve power by those who have it. The house to be dismantled is the community’s definition of women who have so many differences.
Summary of Language Teaching New Worlds/New Words
Rich explains that language has become the main tool of communication used by the oppressor. The oppressor’s language is a dominating communication tool to the extent that when oppressors use it, they will be punished, rejected outright, derided or misunderstood. Hooks reflects on the ideologies, thoughts, and images portrayed by the language in Rich’s poem. In the poem, the line ‘This is the oppressor’s language, yet I need it to talk to you’ reflects on the hegemony theory which talks about Black American slaves and how they struggled to apply English as their first language together with other slaves who spoke African languages. The slaves used the English, the oppressor’s, by manipulating it to their needs to explain their realities (Wisker, 2017). This eventually made them to develop a language of resistance. Hooks also discusses some of her personal struggles as she tries to balance her linguistic roots with the academia discourse.
Summary of “Acting French” Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates narrates his story concerning the drivers of oppression to advance his fight for mutual understanding and equality. While at Middlebury College, he efficiently uses his time to develop parallels between his college experience and his lack of understanding of other people’s culture. Coates illustrates how ignorance has been institutionalized which has helped in keeping the majority in power (Hansen Löfstrand & Uhnoo, 2014). Similar to the Native Americans at the time of colonization, the majority were aware that if minorities obtained the majority culture, they could apply against them to maintain their freedom and powers.
Hansen Löfstrand, C., & Uhnoo, S. (2014). Diversity Policing–Policing Diversity: Performing Ethnicity in Police and Private-Security Work in Sweden. Social Inclusion, 2(3), 075. doi: 10.17645/si.v2i3.40
Wisker, G. (2017). Post-colonial and African American women’s writing: a critical introduction. New York: St. Martin’s Press.