Language and Cultural Comparison

In my studies of “Characteristics of Negro Expression,” Zora Neale Hurston’s discussion of dialect and her idea that the preservation of Black speech is essential to the expression of Black identity. This preservation of language is quite obvious in Hurston’s work, particularly in the dialogue of Mules and Men. Since I am particularly interested in the formation of identity through the Black and Green Atlantic, the effect speech has on identity was particularly fascinating, and left me wondering how the transatlantic affected speech, if there were changes and if these changes affected the identity of transnationalists. When discussing the power of speech, Hurston wrote that “there are so many quirks that belong only to certain localities that nothing less than a volume would be accurate” (Characteristics 31). I had not previously considered language as an individualized expression of self, but this lens led me to reconsider the way the characters speak in Mules and Men. The double negatives, nonstandard spellings and incorrect conjugations all contribute to the character’s expression of self. I realized that the dialect I had been viewing as “incorrect” in terms of grammar was not necessarily incorrect, but it rather simply did not align with the white-centric language I have known and learned throughout my life. It was interesting to consider a world in which I read the novel and did not find the dialogue confusing or difficult to understand, and the consideration of this alternative universe led me to wonder if any culture or identity is able to be defined without being compared to others. A vastly oversimplified version of this is found in someone who identifies as tall: they likely view themselves as such because, when they stand next to other people, they are significantly taller than them. If they had no one else to compare themselves to, they would not view themselves as tall. In fact, they might not consider their height at all. It is interesting to ponder how cultural comparison was changed or increased through the transatlantic, and how the effects are still observed today.