Language is one of the most important tools of advancing oneself socially, emotionally, and intellectually. A great deal in humanity is achieved by the constant learning of language, not only as a medium of expression but also through the crisp articulation of one’s thoughts and feelings. The complexities of language are not inherent, nor are they easily acquired. The quintessential idea of this essay is both authors, Malcolm X and Hellen Keller were confined to their own dark bounded worlds with little to no knowledge of standard English, although they finally learned the language in different ways.
Malcolm X’s “Coming to Awareness of Language” narrates his struggle to expand his language skills to enhance his ability to communicate clearly in his letters. This motivated him by a realization that people were not responding to his letters because he was not articulate in his writing. His limited knowledge of language barred him from passing ideas which created a desire to learn.
“I never got a single reply. The average hustler and criminal were too uneducated to write a letter (67). Keller’s experience, as narrated in “The Day Language came into My Life, “on the other hand, shows how her curiosity to learn was aroused by her teacher who exposed her to language by first teaching her how to spell words. “Miss Sullivan slowly spelled into my hand the word do-l-l” (73). While the two writers displayed curiosity to learn a language, they differ in their motivation to learn, the approach used, and their reference to learning new words.
A huge number of words get to be learned in the process of trying to improve one’s language. Malcolm X was incarcerated and had a love for writing letters on important issues that affected his life. Having no formal education and no one to teach him, he solely depended on the dictionary to learn new words with an emphasis on writing words down and reading them aloud to himself. As Malcolm X states “In my slow, painstaking, ragged handwriting, I copied into my tablet everything printed on that first page, down to the punctuation marks” (69). Keller, on the other hand, was blind, young and deaf, and had no idea about words and while she had a desire to learn, she states that she had no “compass or sounding-line and had no way of knowing how near the harbor was” (73). Her curiosity was, however, aroused by her teacher who repeatedly spelled to her and she imitated what she was taught every now and then. There is an effort from both quarters on learning by oneself, but one is induced while the other is purely a case of personal effort. The intent and thirst for learning language come out quite clear where there is a feeling of wanting to discover what language feels like by practicing it.
The process of discovering language gives birth to the fact that everything has a name. Each and every object that exists has got a name attached to it. “I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name” (Keller 74). Learning of new words, therefore; be it through perusing the dictionary, be it through feeling, be it through spelling, boils down to the fact that there exists a name for everything. However, Malcolm X discovered that words are powerful in that the more vocabulary understood, the easier it is to form connections within the world and internally. To truly understand the meaning of each word or object will give mental clarity and freedom, enhancing all aspects of communication and life. “Anyone who has read a great deal can imagine the new world that opened” (69). The new world Malcolm emphasizes here is his new encounter with the freedom to read what was once inaccessible to him in prison.
Learning of language, learning of new words, broadens the thought process and mindset and goes on to give one a sense of fulfillment in life. Malcolm says, “By my reading of books, months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life” (69). Keller further adds, “I learned a great many new words that day. I do not remember what they all were; but I do know that mother, father, sister, teacher, were among them-words that were to make the world blossom for me(74). Through the power of perseverance, the incredible support, the thoughtful and enlightening education of her teacher Sullivan, who was trained to work with blind children, Keller bloomed in life.
Malcolm X and Keller’s essays are both incredible whereby Malcolm’s read tells the story of a man that came from nothing to become one of the most influential and controversial men in the history of our nation. Whereas Keller was too aware that her life could have been so different had it not been for the influence of the most positive people who surrounded her.
Malcolm, X. “Coming to an Awareness of Language.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers, 12th ed., edited by Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp. 67-71.
Keller, Helen. “The Day Language Came into My Life.” Language Awareness: Readings for College Writers, 12th ed., edited by Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Virginia Clark, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp.72-76.
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