My Language Memoir serves as my personal acknowledgment and appreciation for linguistic pluralism and documents my personal experiences with language. This memoir also serves as my counter narrative as I make attempts to demystify my and "other people's children's" heritage language. Growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, I spoke Gullah Geechee. I knew what it was because I was taught at home to have an appreciation for the Gullah Geechee Language. Home was always the most comfortable place to engage in the Gullah Geechee “talk.” Because of the language affirmation that took place at home, I had opportunities as a young child to visit areas where Gullah Geechee was heavily spoken—places such as Beaufort, S.C. and Savannah, Georgia. My mother always said, “Appreciate the language you bear because it is the very essence of who you are.” I never fully understood what she meant by that statement until I grew older. While helping my sister, brother, and me to have an appreciation for the language, she also helped us to understand that everyone would not appreciate the way we spoke at home. Therefore, it was necessary to speak “correct English,” as she called it.
My mother was absolutely right! People, in general, did not have any appreciation for the Gullah Geechee Language. This became evident as I experienced life within societal institutions. Although she warned me at home, I did not always listen to her warnings about how I should speak “correct English” (whatever that was). I spoke Gullah Geechee in other spaces. In schools, I, along with other Gullah Geechee speakers, were always forced to abandon the Gullah Geechee Language. Teachers insisted that Standard English was the norm and used every instructional practice in the word to ensure we (Gullah Geechee speakers) understood the basic rudiments of correct English.
As a result of constant rebuke, I started to abandon the Gullah Geechee Language because I realize that it did not come with many privileges/ benefits. To be honest, it came with more punishment than anything. To add insult to injury, I recall an incident that happened at USC when I was a freshmen in 1997. I met this young lady from Greenville, South Carolina, Her name escapes me at this juncture. I started to introduce myself as I normally would in what I thought was Standard English. She interrupted me in the heart of my introduction. She questioned and proceeded to comment, “I know you are from Charleston, aren’t you? I always know when someone is from Charleston. You all speak “Geechee” and it is so different than the way everyone else speaks. It just sounds ignorant to me!” I was stunned by her comment and I walked away feeling somewhat insulted. What she said did enough damage to affect me for the rest of my life. From that moment on, I was very cautious about how I spoke and what I said. I did not want anyone to think I was from Charleston—the place where everyone spoke the “Geechee talk.”