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Credence to the Tongue
by Karen Pecota

The films selected for the Sundance Film Festivals are impressive because the programmers have a sense of balance. Their expertise gives them a sixth sense for a few key components that make the annual film festival attractive. The programmers have a keen idea of what the general public will embrace. They are committed to supporting new filmmakers. They are open to showcase the developments of advanced technology in film, i.e. diverse art forms. They understand the industry and its desire to make distribution deals. And, with sincerity I think they enjoy pleasing the masses. There is so much talent waiting to be discovered and they take their job seriously to provide an awesome variety in the line-up of films year after year.

At the end of every screening I take a little time to jot down my first impressions. In particular there were two documentaries that caught my attention which approached the art of languages from two different perspectives. I noted that in one narrative the spoken word was trying to be preserved (The Linguists—see review) and the other attempting to destroy (Made in America—see review). Various forms of death and alienation contribute to each language and its culture being endangered. I was taken back by the irony.

The message of The Linguists is to save several world languages from extinction, as well as, to bring them into the world market of communication. An insurmountable task! On the other hand, the gang cultures seem to work just as hard to destroy being understood except by a select group of the world’s population in North America. Their action of alienation is by choice as opposed to the languages which die daily regrettably to be lost.  The message of Made in America is not about the languages used in the gangs. However, it is evident that part of their identity is wrapped up in the use of their own language—like a sub-culture. The language is often known as slang and a sense of pride hangs on every word spoken. Only an insider would or could identify the spoken jargon; therefore, by natural selection with words or phrases, an outsider is kept at a distance. Alienation from the outside culture occurs because they don’t communicate the same language. Therefore a lack of understanding can break down a society instead of being built up.

Since Made in America is the story about the LA street gangs the Bloods and Crips, primarily among the African Americans, it prompted me to research their Vernacular English further. I quickly found out that there are many websites devoted to the use of Black Slang defining it as an informal spoken language associated with African American teenagers and young adults. Some linguists say that the language is similar to various Creole dialects. This Black Slang is known as the African American Vernacular English and a few examples: Dis means Harass, Fitty means Fifty, Kicks means Shoes, Mc means More; Yayo means money, etc. and some with words like “cool” “hip” are now commonplace in the North American culture.

I recently took the New York Black Street Slang Exam which originally appeared on the Howard Stern Radio Show. I happened to see it in an article written by Janna Sweenie discussing the need for cultures to understand each other. She quotes, “the examination is a fascinating lesson in the culture of a language and a language as a culture.” Here is the website address in case you would like to test your knowledge with the African American Venacular English, ( There are those who would like it to be deemed improper English because according to what is “proper”, the usage would be wrong. Not to mention the association of appearing uneducated or naïve when verbally communicating in the English form. For example: The use of double negatives is common (“you don’t give me no milk”); or, “I axe you” instead of “I asked you”; or, “xprezzo” instead of “espresso”; or, the use of profanity becoming words of affection, i.e. bitch. This word used to be a derogatory name for a woman but today it is often used as terms of endearment, “hey, bitch, how’s it going?” or “you are such a bitch (sweetie)”, used among the Orange county girls of Southern California. As language continues to change, what effects or influence will it make with regard to human dignity? My European educated kids re-entered American life as University students, they often made fun of their peers for appearing below average in intelligence when listening to them communicate in slang jargon--which were intellectually above the lot. This topic made for some very intriguing family discussions.  One can not conclude that the use of this language/slang refers to an uneducated person. But, one can ask if the adaptation of the language is a credible influence to enhance its speakers and give credence to their tongue. That is the question!