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[Detail] Experience and personal narrative of Uncle Tom Jones...1858

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: Language and Culture

The opportunity to explore the relationship between language and culture is available in Reverend Alex Crummell’s 1860 address, “The English Language in Liberia.” Crummell notes that English is not the native language of Liberian colonists. Rather, Crummell says, English is representative of the colonist’s history as victims of political conquest: “No people lose entirely their native tongue without the bitter trial of hopeless struggles, bloody strife, heart-breaking despair, agony and death!”
(page 10).

  • How was the English language introduced to African slaves?
  • What is the relationship between a group’s use of the English language and their political power?

Although Crummell discusses the negative effects of the English language upon African-American slaves, he later characterizes it as “a language of unusual force and power” and “the language of freedom” (page 13). The strengths of English are exemplified in the education of African natives:

Christianity is using the English language on our coast as a main and mighty lever for Anglicising our native population, as well as for their evangelization . . . Hundreds of native youth have acquired a knowledge of English in Mission Schools, and then in their manhood have carried this acquisition forth, with its wealth and elevation, to numerous heathen homes.

page 21

  • Why might missionaries have been interested in the colonizing of Africa?
  • What was the purpose of teaching the English language in mission schools in Africa?
  • How did Crummell imagine students using this language outside of the schools?
  • Is it possible to reconcile the idea of the English language as a dominant force that stripped African Americans of their native culture and the idea of it as a valuable acquisition to be shared in “numerous heathen homes”?
  • Do you think that a language really conveys and even imposes characteristics of a culture? If so, how?
  • What happens to the native language of students who are taught a second, foreign language?
  • Is it necessary to prohibit their native language to ensure that the English language will take hold?
  • Are there situations in which a native language is still necessary for these students?
  • Are there limitations to which such students can understand this second language?
  • Do you think two languages and cultures can peacefully co-exist without one dominating the other? What types of cultural and political concessions would need to be made?
  • What leads to a “creolization,” or blending, of two languages and cultures into a unique third possibility?
  • Do you think that the English language should be the official language in America? What are the implications of that decision on non-English speakers?