09-26-2011 Public and Private language: A review of the essay Private Language, Public Language by Richard Rodriquez In Richard Rodriguez’s article Private Language, Public Language Rodriguez uses his introduction to language to show the difference, to him, between his home language, of Spanish, and that of what he considers public, that of English. Language as he says is separated by “Just opening or closing the screen door,” it was the difference between being home in his own language and being in the world of the gringos, or white English speaking person.
Rodriquez had a very poetic way to describe what he was hearing. He describes his parents English as “high- whining vowels and guttural consonants” and so he didn’t see English as a beauty but as noise. A woman in the drug store saying something to him he describes this as “exotic polysyllabic sounds would bloom in the midst of their sentences. ” He also describes his encounters with the language by the tone of the person, “The man behind the counter…by being so firm and so clear,” and that because he was so firm and clear that marked him as gringo.
These Gringos weren’t speaking his home language, and so everything was unclear and so public. He says the “accent of los gringos was never pleasing nor was it hard to hear. ” Trips to the grocery store and bus stops would be noisy with sound as he says and he was uncomfortable around such noise. Many instances he heard his parents stuttered slow English and found it so different from how Gringos talked. He reflects that his childhood fears made no difference and that his family had managed to make them understood at important places such as the doctors and the government offices.
Gringo seeming to be an almost dirty word, he uses to describe the public. Contrary to how he spoke of his home life. In his home Rodriquez spoke Spanish, and so associated it with home and belonging. Although he would hear others speaking Spanish on the radio and in the Mexican Catholic church across town from his home he still referred to it as private. He refers to Spanish that his mother speaks as soft sounding, he was dependent upon these voices. He refers to his father arriving home some nights sounding relieved and calling for his wife and then his children.
At his joy hearing his father’s “light and free notes” when speaking Spanish, and that “he can never manage in English” Rodriquez was run and laugh with such pleasure because of the unity of their alienation in the outside society. Being spoken to in Spanish he feels “specially recognized. ” Feeling as if he belongs, because the words that he is hearing and the words that are used to address him are spoken with ease and is not heard by the gringos. Rodriquez also feels a distance from the barrio children. Although they also spoke Spanish they were not part of what he considered home.
He did not live in the Barrio but rather in a very white neighborhood, “only a block from the biggest, whitest houses,” of Sacramento in the fifties. Due to the location of his home he explains as “an accident of geography” that sent Rodriquez to a school of white children. It was there at school that he first heard his name pronounced in English, and this occurrence made the young child cry. The name Richard was as foreign to him as many other English words, it was the first time he truly understood the difference between home and public.
Richard Rodriguez talks about bilingual education and says how it is impossible for a child to speak his family’s language in school. His reasoning later in the essay being that the language at home is truly personal, little family jokes, and various made up words that only they understood. For a family does not simply speak a language, but with visual cues and the development of the way a family talks to each other dictates a family’s language. Listening in a family meal is a lesson in the differences between typical Spanish or English and the family versions of such.
Now as a bilingual man with degrees in English and having written 3 major books and many articles, Rodriquez is well accustomed to speaking English, but he still has times when hearing a new language will throw him into memories and he is again able to hear the “high sounds of American voices. ” But where Rodriquez once felt as an outsider he now feels pleasure, for it is the sound as he says “of my society- a reminder of home. ” No longer is English a language of outsiders but rather that of his own home now. Once a cared little boy confused by the bombardment of odd guttural noises, Richard Rodriquez is now a man; he is still comforted by his home language, but comfortable in the language of the “Public” as well. Russell, Tony, Allen Brizee, and Elizabeth Angeli. “MLA Formatting and Style Guide. ” The Purdue OWL. Purdue U Writing Lab, 4 Apr. 2010. Web. 20 July 2010. Rodriguez, Richard. “Private Language, Public Language. ” Strategies for Successful Writing: A Rhetoric, Research Guide, Reader, and Handbook. Ninth Edition. Brad Potthoff. Pearson Education Inc. 2011. 534-538. Print.
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