Growing up, I always believed that the English language simply required learning the necessary vocabulary, spelling, and grammar to master the skill. However, after conducting an experiment by analyzing my language use during the day, as well as analyzing Gee’s essay, I realize that language requires an understanding of social culture as well. For example, Gee explains the combinations of all these abstract concepts through Discourses which are “ways of being in the world; they are forms of life which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes, and social identities as well as gestures, glances, body positions, and clothes”. It is simply not enough to speak, but you must communicate appropriately through subliminal behaviors and language choices. To apply this concept to my life, I noticed it best when out in public, specifically the Uber drivers. My first Uber driver was a college educated young gentleman, and thus I adapted my language to a heightened extent, my posture was straight, and I incorporated sophisticated vocabulary in our conversation. On the other hand, my second Uber driver was a more gruff older man where English was not his first language. My reaction was to be slouched, talk in basic simple sentences, and incorporate slang in my speech. Just like Gee’s identity kit, I had various behaviors, speech, and attitudes depending on the social context, and these “costumes” could be switched at any time.
I also was fascinated by Gee’s theory of primary vs secondary discourses. As interesting as it is to put on costumes depending on the surroundings, we all have an identity, and thus comes with it a primary discourse. “Our primary discourse constitutes our original and home-based sense of identity…it can be seen whenever we are interacting with intimates in totally casual social interaction” (485). For me, I completely relate to this idea, because when I am home or with very close friends, I feel free to say whatever comes to my mind without a necessary filter that runs through my mind in other contexts. For example, in the morning during breakfast with my mother, I was still slightly sleepy and thus was resting my head against my elbow and speaking in short sentences. However, during the family barbecue, despite it getting late, I made sure to appear attentive and energetic. The only question that arises for me is whether primary discourses are able to change or adapt if we develop new secondary discourses?
Gee, J. P. (n.d.). Literary, Discourse, and Linguistics.