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Rifka Mutiara Syifa

Speech Communities and the Case in Chicago: Language and Literacy


in the Citys Neighborhoods

As both individual and social possession, it is no wonder that some people


would have similar linguistic behavior between one another. Similar here means
they would share whether the same language or the same dialect or variety of a
language which makes them a speech community. This speech community is a
group of more than two members formed by certain reasons such as social,
religions, political, cultural, familial, vocational, avocational, etc. Internally, a speech
community must have a certain social cohesiveness; externally its member must find
themselves cut off from other communities in certain ways. For example, Bahasa
Indonesia is used by people from all 34 provinces. However, each province has its
own way of speaking Bahasa Indonesia. Javanese people would be phonologically
different Bahasa Indonesia compared to Jakartanese people, because they are
medok. Certainly, Javanese people share the same Bahasa Indonesia with other
Javanese people, so do Jakartanese people, and of course, Javanese Indonesia is
different with Jakartanese Indonesia.
Though, one cannot judge a speech community by its shared linguistic
characteristics alone, but also through what is called speech markers (Giles and
Taylor, 1979). Speech markers can be categorized into sex, age, ethnicity, social
class, and so on. So, an individual may group with others because they possess a
set of characteristics or a single characteristic. For example, Padangnese people in
Jakarta will have a community with other Padangnese because they share the same
language variety and ethnicity. The characteristics which people share may be
positive or may be negative, as when the members lack some feature like AfroAmerican speech community because they lack in speaking Standard English.
This discussion will take Chicago as its main subject. As a global city with
transnational populations (Holli & Jones in Farr, 2004), Chicago has its own
characteristic with its linguistic and cultural diversity which allows many kinds of
ethnic to develop. As many outsiders come to Chicago, it is no wonder that many
languages are being used in almost every corners, as in government agencies,
courts, newspapers, schools, etc. To date, highly educated South and East Asians
also Africans are vital to the western suburban technology corridor while AfroAmerican middle class and Mexican working class continue to visit Chicago.
For these immigrants, using English is part of their survival in Chicago. They
have to frequently shift their language into English in a certain circumstances and
still use their first language in others. The function is to be attached to other people,
to indicate their solidarity as a member of a speech community. It does not occur
only to the immigrants, but also to other people who speak English but with different
dialect which to be continuously adapted according to the people they talk to.

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Being a member of a certain speech community describes who people are
and what background culture they hold, since language is an identity which defines
its speakers. The attempt to create identity can be seen in Gloria Nardinis Italian
Paterns in the American Collandia Ladies Club: How Do Women Make Bella
Figura?. First of all, bella figura is a phenomenon done by Italian women in showing
themselves to others, mostly to men, in order to create a good persona. By doing so,
it means that the women act powerless while man act otherwise. In the observation,
the subjects are all members which understand the rules of bella figura, except one
American woman called Jane. In the conversation, the ladies wanted to ask money
to the President of Mens Club, Ciro. In requesting the money, the ladies use overlap,
poetic-like repetition, and indirection. Even though they are speaking in English, but
their behavior is much of Italians. In contrast, Jane uses directness and act like a
real American, because she is. With this observation, it shows that the ladies still
maintain their identity as Italians by using bella figura, and let the men become the
brutta figura.
Most chapters of Marcia Farrs Ethnolinguistics Chicago: Language and
Literacy in the Citys Neighborhoods mainly describe the multigenerational
processes of adjustment, acculturation, accommodation, and assimilation for groups
which has long settled in Chicago. For they have long begun their lives in the city,
their literacy acquisition (ethnic newspapers, ethnic schools, and immigrant novels)
reflects to their new identity in the Old World (their origins) and New World (Chicago)
and not to mention, class formations. The example would be the case in Carl
Isaacsons chapter which discusses Swedish American writers living in Chicago.
Some Swedish use rural dialects, while some attempts to mix Swedish and American
in order to blend in American culture but still preserving its own language. However,
the users of Swedish Americans are seen as jokes, by both American people and
Sweden people and they are categorized as lower class people. Therefore, some of
the elite Swedish choose to teach people to use Standard Swedish in order to
preserve their language in English speaking country, despite the fact that its use
signals class prejudice back in Sweden. However, their attempt has met its failure as
most Sweden people finally shift to English.
Another preservation attempt is also done by the Lithuanians in Daiva
Markelis chapter who use both Lithuanian and English. Of course, they use English
mostly at work because they work in a polyglot neighborhood which lets them to
work with other immigrants from Russia, Mexico, and South Africa. However, the
Lithuanians still try to maintain the use of Lithuanian language by providing some
schools which use both Lithuanian and English not only in its delivery, but also in its
grammar, reading, and history lessons which also include Lithuanian language and
culture.
On the other hand, John S. Roshenows chapter develops historical
perspective on how ethnicity and language use in Chicago neighborhoods is also
influenced by the change in the homeland. It occurred to Chinese immigrants who

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settled in Chinatown, Chicago. At first, they migrated to Chicago because of an
economic meltdown in China. However, the natives response was bad, so they were
forced to limit their use of Chinese, which was only in Chinatown. So, they had to
learn English in order to communicate outside the Chinatown. However, today,
Chinese has been widely use all over Chicago, as in the rest of the worlds Chinese
communities due to Chinese diaspora, the term which defines that Chinese are no
longer linguistically and culturally isolated from ongoing participation in mainstream
Chinese culture.
In Illinois, English and non-English speakers are blended in one
neighborhoods. Therefore, Illinois has become a multilingual state with a language
policy to rule the use of non-English languages. In that policy, the non-English
languages can be used in private schools, media (press, newspapers, radio, and
television), religious worship, private commerce, and obviously, in daily
conversations. Meanwhile, English (American English) has consistently been
dominant in Illinois so that it becomes the prime language of schools and
governmental institutions. Today, English has become the official language of the
states. Though, it does not mean that the role of non-English language is unsecured,
because they are spread in certain areas in Illinois.
Hard effort to survive the bilingual and bicultural surrounding is also seen in
the chapter by Sharon Raldroff. This chapter talks about Arabics activites at work. In
this chapter, it is seen that the Arabic accountants do not have much problem
blending in with the native people, as they have a business providing bookkeeping,
pay-roll record keeping, and financial, sales, and income tax reporting. However, the
work is not simply to file tax returns, but also to be a language mediator: to mediate
between their clients who are mostly Arabic with government agencies at the federal,
state, and local levels. In short, they need to be expert in using both Arabic and
English, and understand both U.S. culture and Arab culture. However, there are
many problems faced by these Arabic accountants in transliterating written Arabic
which only use diacritics to indicate vowels into English. Also, the difference in
writing system creates another problem, which is found in the spelling of Arabic
names translated into English. Because the role of these Arabic accountants is as
language mediator, it is important to note that any speech community needs to have
competence not only in being bilingual, but also bicultural.
Chicago is now a multicultural city with bigger acceptance to outsiders.
However, it was not back then. This can be found within Afro-American immigrant
communities. Some chapters are talking about these, such as Marcyliena Morgans
Signifying Laughter and the Subtleties of Loud-Talking: Memory and Meaning in
African American Womens Discourse and Grace E. Cho and Peggy J. Millers
Personal Storytelling: Working-Class and Middle-Class Mothers in Comparative
Perspective. Before discussing the chapter, one should know the interesting fact
about Chicago. It was founded by a Black man named Jean Baptiste de Sable
(DuSable). Most Black people know this story, but it did not prevent them from

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racism. Famously known as Black Exodus or Great Migration, Chicagos Black
population from South to North U.S. was through slavery, caused by the social,
economic, and political conditions in that era. However, it was terrible for AfroAmerican until they were freed from slavery and they were united by a common
experience and shared attitudes and beliefs. There are four groups of Afro-American,
those who were ex-slaves from both urban and rural southern areas, those men and
women born in urban and rural area, who had been free before emancipation, those
who were ex-slaves who had lived in northern rural and urban areas before
emancipation, and those who were free men and women who were born in rural and
urban northern areas. By the mid of 20 th century, they lived together in Chicago. For
these Afro-Americans, their community was not all about being Black, but also
because of shared values, norms, expectations, reality, and way of perceiving the
world around them.
Because of those painful experiences in the past, it influences the way they
think and speak in the present. E.Cho and Millers chapter tries to tell us that there
are hidden messages behind what the women says; whether it is verbally or nonverbally shown. Take laughter for an example. Morgan (2002) calls it the Black
womans laugh, which often occurs within narratives and discussions talking about
bigotry, patriarchy, paternalism, social class privilege, sexism, and other situations
that may also be responded to with anger. The way they laugh is not solely under the
reason that they find something is funny, but it is more to indicate an indirect critique
about a situation which they think unfair. Not only laughter signifying critique, but also
loud-talking. For example, the Black woman is asked about women abuse before
liberation movement. Commonly, they will laugh and answer with loud voice in some
parts, not because they find it funny, but because they do not agree with women
abuse.
Past experience can influence peoples way of thinking and behaving,
whether it is a good and not to mention, bad experience. Experiencing such
heartbreaking painful memories, Afro-American mothers has been influenced in the
way they do personal storytelling. As Afro-Americans are famous with their oral
capability, their storytelling skill is also great. Storytelling occurs in almost all
discussions by Afro-American working class mothers and also to American middle
class mothers. In a comparative study done by E.Cho and Miller, they interview the
mothers and it results on the positive effect felt by the mothers about storytelling
because it is entertaining and bonding the family. According to Daly Park mothers
(Afro-American working class), discussion with the children should be very open and
cover everything, excluding certain topics like sex which should be limited. Though,
they do not avoid the possibility of talking about it when the children grow up. In
contrast, Longwood mothers (American middle class) confesses that they do not talk
about heavy topics like death and sex to the children because those kinds of topics
will frighten them and the mothers do not think that the children understand. In short,
working class mothers tell more about negative experience, child rearing challenges,

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and family difficulties in order to make the children prepared with the harsh of reality,
while middle class mothers tend to put positive side upon negative topic because the
children should not be given adult things yet. This comparative study also shows
that storytelling allows human beings to organize experience, using local resources
and viewpoints (ususally, related to class) in order to perceive the world.
A kind of storytelling strategies is also used by the priests in the sermon,
speech given by the priest based on something written in Bible. There are two kinds
of priests in the research done by Beverly J. Moss; the first is called Manuscript
Minister. This priest is an educated priest which had received several degrees, so
he writes the sermon concepts before preach. This is aimed to establish a
communitys sense, communicating ideas, and attitudes about Afro-American
people, and also, to promote particular community values. Meanwhile, the second
priest is called Non-Manuscript Minister, who does not have a concept before
giving his sermon. His strategy to get the congregations attention is by using the
pronoun we and us which help him to be humble, though he is a respected
person in society. Both of the strategies used by the priests are effective to gain
church members and also to assist in establishing community values of AfroAmerican people.
In short, Chicago is rich because of its great number of immigrants from all
over the world. Coming from different countries with different languages and cultures,
these immigrants have created a great phenomenon of speech communities. A note
to remember, speech communities is not only about having shared languages,
dialects, or language varieties, but also age, sex, ethnicity, etc. Obviously,
multiculturalism city, Chicago, has various speech communities which its own
feature.