Assignment: “Discourse on the Logic of Language” by M. NourbeSe Philip

Watch this video of poet M. NourbeSe Philip reading her poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language” and respond. Discuss what the poem says about language, familial connection, and how slavery destroys human connection. Responses should connect the poem to any aspect of Frederick Douglass’s A Narrative of a Life.

34 thoughts on “Assignment: “Discourse on the Logic of Language” by M. NourbeSe Philip

  1. In this poem, I noticed that Phillip stresses English as the father tongue many times. In other words, what I think she is referring to the oppression and displacement of the colonized. Phillip is also trying to express that she has no mother tongue and forced to speak in English, a foreign tongue. This is a way to silence the colonized. Speaking in English causes her anguish because this language is a representation of how it was forced into their culture. The practice of superiority disregards any cultural values and norms of the colonized.

    This poem reminds me of a scene In Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of a Life, where Sophia Auld teaches Douglass the alphabet and words. Hugh Auld see this and demands Sophia to stop. Douglass realizes that this is a way they tried to suppress slaves. It was also illegal to educate slaves during that period. The English language was forced into their cultures yet, they are not allowed to learn to read and write.

  2. Pain, anguish, and oppression are all the terms that cross my mind while reading, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” After reading this narration and then going on to watch the video of NourbeSe Philip reciting the poem, Discourse on the Language of Logic, these terms resonate in my mind throughout the duration of the video. I feel as though Philip is speaking about racism and sexism in order to express the subjectivity in the events of slavery. In addition, I believe Philip is expressing the enforcement of English as the “father tongue” or the language that slaves were forced to speak. This enforcement reflects back upon Frederick Douglas’s narration where he speaks about the accounts in which he witnesses women such as his aunt get whipped by a master for not obeying orders. Philip states that, “…every slave caught speaking its native language shall be severely punished.” This line instantaneously brings me back to Douglas’s witnessing of the whippings because I can only imagine what masters would do to their slaves if they were caught speaking their own native language. This oppresses those who are colonized and deprives them of at least being able to communicate in their own language. Reading the narrative and watching the poem gives me chills because of the graphic images I can picture in my head. The pain and anguish these men and women felt cannot be expressed in text as deeply as the emotions were felt by these people.

  3. In the poem Discourse on the Logic of Language, Philip mentions about how she has no mother tongue; instead, she has a father tongue and describes, “English is my father tongue, a father tongue is a foreign language, therefore English is a foreign language…” She goes on to say that she has no mother tongue, which leads her to be “dumb tongued.” When I first read the part about being dumb tongued, I was a bit confused but as I kept reading and relating it back to A Narrative of the Life by Frederick Douglass, I felt that it meant that she couldn’t quite find her actual origin and identity because English, a foreign language, has been made her father language and therefore silences the oppressed. This shows the oppression that slaves faced because English was forced upon them since their masters were English speakers. I was especially touched when she cleverly leads the readers to read about how this foreign language causes her anguish, a foreign anguish. It made me realize how besides the physical pain they had to endure, slaves also felt frustrated and painful because they were forced to speak a foreign language and many didn’t even know about their origins and past.
    This reminded me of A Narrative of the Life when Frederick Douglass describes how he was told that his father was his white master; therefore, his “father language” would be English. He goes on to describe how he has no mother because they were separated when he was very young. He hardly even remembers anything about his mother; because of their long separation and lack of time together, he doesn’t feel much sadness when she passes away. This reminds me of when Philip talks about having no mother tongue and being dumb tongued because he is now defined by his “father” who made him a slave. But, Douglass isn’t able to confirm about his past and whether his master was actually his father.

  4. I will talk about two points between this poem and this novel about communication and paternity.
    Firstly, I think this poem shows the discontinuity of the black’s sentence, which shows the lack of communication, let alone education. So this is a way to suppress black’s solidarity, which may lead to solution. And in the Narrative of a Life, Hugh Auld stops Sophia to educate Frederick clearly expresses the attitude of south’s farmers that they want to keep slaves in a ignorant condition.
    Secondly, there is a common image about paternity in this poem and novel. In Discourse on the logic of language, poet is seeking for mother tongue all the time, which is soft and reassuring. However, for father tongue, poet regards it as a foreign language, which is force on them. And in the Narrative of a Life, Frederick is educated by a woman, and this process is stopped by a man, who wants to control slaves thoroughly.

  5. The autobiography of Frederick Douglass “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass” is about an American slave who describes the cruel and barbaric acts he endure by his owners. Controlled and force to stay illiterate Frederick Douglass surpasses his difficult journey as a slave and demonstrate articulately and persuasively the challenges of succeeding freedom.

    The theme of keeping slaves ignorant or suppressing their language is mentioned throughout the book. This relates to the themes in the poem from M. NourbeSe Philip “Discourse on the logic of language” where the reader is presented with the same use of language as a form of control. The poem describes the frustration of being born into slavery and the confusion of having to learn to communicate in a language different than what your mother spoke. In the poem Philip says “English is my father tongue, a father tongue is a foreign language, therefore English is a foreign language, not a mother tongue, what is my mother tongue”. This quote from the poem relates to Frederick Douglass childhood as it was described in chapter one of the book in that he never got to know his mother and his father was a white men who spoke English. He struggled with his emotions for his mother and l got the same impression from the poem. There are several instances while listening to Phillip recite her poem where I felt as if she was describing Douglass’s interaction with his mother. The way in which she keeps repeating the “english is a foreign language” echoed the same sentiments that I think the slaves from the book would have felt. Just like in the poem, english is a form of anguish because it is the language of the slave owners who cause them so much pain and suffering and it is the tool by which the slave owners isolate the minds of the slaves to keep them ignorant. It is also the key to their salvation because through mastering the english language a slave can eventually acquire the knowledge necessary to set himself free whether its by peaceful or forceful means.

  6. I found this poem quite interesting and compelling because I have yet to stumble upon a piece similar to this. The repetition in this poem is not typical; it contorts and morphs words turning them from “language” to “anguish.” I found this play with words extremely powerful. Additionally, I was drawn in by the narrator’s struggle as she tried to grapple with the notion of whether English is a father tongue or mother language. She explains how a mother caresses, but English seems so off-putting and distant, so is it really a mom? It was also extremely poignant when she mentioned how slave owners preferred to have slaves who spoke different languages, “If they cannot speak to each other, they cannot then foment rebellion.” Overall, the piece displays how powerful a language can be, as it cradles a person and makes them feel comfortable, but these slaves all spoke different languages on purpose.
    In Frederick Douglas’ piece he details how complex, unfair and difficult life is as a slave. There are constant episodes of mistreatment and many instances where people are torn away from their families. Meanwhile, language can serve as a comfort, a common link; yet if all these slaves can’t understand each other, there can be no true connection. In this manner, slavery destroys human connection by seeing these people as sub-human, and denying them of this basic link with each other, instead imposing on them “anguish, language is a foreign anguish.” Additionally, as Frederick Douglas describes slavery, he writes about how a slave owner’s personality changes, “Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness.” Thus we realize the inhumanities of slavery, but we also see how powerful language is. The words help us conjure up images of a slave owner’s personality turning from a docile lamb into a more hostile tiger. The master, or tiger, drills into its head the notion that slaves are not quite people; they do not deserve the tenderness and care that words can provide, instead leaving them miserable. Overall, it is strange to think about how humans denied other people of a basic privilege: human understanding through language, one of the main keys to happiness.

  7. We live in a democratic country where we exercise a number of rights such as right to expression, family, freedom, information etc daily, without even realizing their value. Only those who are deprived of these rights can truly understand their significance. M.N Philip’s “Discourse on the Logic of Language” is a soul-touching poetry written from a perspective of a daughter who expresses pain, distress and despair on being born in the shackles of slavery. Slavery has curtailed her right of language, broken down her family connections and emotionally put her in distraught.
    Philip uses repetitive and rhyming words like “lang lang lang language, languish, anguish, a foreign anguish” that show her struggle with the foreign language that is forced upon her by the slave owners. By stammering with the above words she expresses her discomfort in speaking the foreign language that deprives her from using her own language. It limits her freedom of expression.
    She describes her familial connections using ‘Language’ as medium to express her relationships .Since the role of a father in her life never existed, she addresses her father tongue as foreign; a language that is alien to her. However, her relationship with her mother is dearest of all. In fact, it is the only familial connection she ever felt as an infant. The phrase “What is my mother tongue my mammy tongue, mummy tongue, my momsy tongue, my modder tongue, my ma tongue (Philip)”, shows her inquisitiveness to learn more about her native language that gives her a sense of comfort and belonging.
    Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, “A Narrative of Life” and Philip’s “Discourse on the Logic of Language” bear similarities as they are written from a slave’s perspective expressing anguish about their lost identity and family. Both, Douglass and Philip’s main character are clueless about their parents. All they know is that they were loved by their mothers- a feeling that they cherish the most. Both go through the pain losing their mothers during early childhood. The name of the father is kept as secret. “The opinion was also whispered that my master was my father; but of the correctness of this opinion, I know nothing; the means of knowing was withheld from me” (Douglass, 810). This suggests that being born to a slave Douglass did not have any right to know, rather any need to know about his father. His identity was only through his mother- known as the son of a slave; and not son of his parents.
    Today, we are fortunate to have been born in a free society where we enjoy the right to information, speech, family etc. At the same time we must cherish our ‘Freedom’ for it was never free. It has come to us after paying an unimaginable price of innocent human sacrifices!

  8. I really enjoyed this poem. It reminded me of an article I was assigned to read last semester, “If Black Isn’t An English Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?” by James Baldwin. Both pieces stress the importance and power there is in language, but further, in communication. It of course also parallels with Frederick Douglass’ narrative as well regarding the exposure of how slaves were stripped of their “native” language and thus deemed helpless.

    Communication is the most direct link between human interactions. I think the most difficult thing about relating to poems such as this and the “Narrative of Frederick Douglass” (at least in my case) is being able to position myself as a reader and consumer of this information in the correct historical context. We live in such a completely different world, not only socio-economically but technologically that we must consider how communication as a whole was different. This is particularly stirring when I consider all those people who accused Frederick Douglass of lying, and how agonizingly frustrating that must have been for him as someone who was trying to do his work. I believe that we as consumers take for granted our accessibility to knowledge and widespread information. I think of how challenging it is to make it through a 24 hour day without my phone, being my main source of communication, and can only begin to imagine the ongoing frustration of a slave, who often was not able to communicate on even the most basic, humanistic level.

  9. Philips beings her poem by stating she has no mother tongue. She describes her mother tongue as her language that she is unaware of because she is imposed with the father tongue. She can only express herself through her foreign father tongue, which is a dumb tongue not knowing anything about it. She explains how the tongue can be used either as tasting or as a form of communication. Philips gets even deep and explains the tongue as an articulation of speech or a taste of foreign words that leads to oppression. Therefore, with her father tongue her is oppressed.
    Similar to A Narrative of a Life, Douglass’s realized that white slave owners were afraid that if slaves learned how to read or write they could no longer be oppressed and even become “unmanageable.” The tongue-ties into education it is powerful and will lead to freedom.

    Philip tries to explore her mother tongue but is unable too because all connections and ties are cut. Philips only know what her mother and all her mothers before has blow onto her. When Douglass left to Baltimore he felt like he wasn’t leaving anything behind although his brother and sisters lived there; there was no family connection with them. In the poem Philip explains if their were more diverse the groups the greater the chances of differences and inability to communicate with one another. Douglass explains how it was typically for families to be apart from one another and frequently moving around farms. Which did not allow connections within slaves and rebellion to form.

  10. In the poem, Philip expresses the struggle of being born into slavery. She says “English is my father tongue, a father tongue is a foreign language, therefore English is a foreign language, not a mother tongue, what is my mother tongue”. I believe this relates to Frederick Douglass because he had no real connection with his mother and his father was a white man who spoke English. When his mother died, he was hardly affected by the news. Just like in the poem, English is also a form of anguish in the narrative because slaves were deprived of it resulting in their ignorance. Slaves were not allowed to read or write because literacy among the slaves was considered dangerous to the owners. Being able to read or write would make it a lot easier for the slaves to escape or rebel. The slaves did not speak to one another, and therefore had no chances of having a real connection.

  11. The repetition and strong use of metaphors left feeling speechless overall and made an impact on my beliefs in terms of language and how slavery destroys human connection.

    The poem starts by highlighting language through visualization of a mother and her child. She states that she has no mother tongue so must speak with her father tongue. However, her father tongue is her foreign tongue. She expresses her pain of being silenced, saying she felt “dumb-tongued” and “tongue, dumb.” At this point in the poem, I felt saddened and sympathy for all those who couldn’t speak up and convey their thoughts because they were oppressed. We can make this connection to Frederick Douglass being separated from his mother and forced into slavery- no voice, no opinion. Douglass writes in his narrative, in the same tone of the poem, how the slaves were tortured and that slavery would not stop because the slaves were uninformed and language-less. We know this destruction of human connection is true because the poem also expresses it when she says, “if they cannot speak to each other, they cannot then ferment rebellion and revolution.”

    By the end of the poem, the speaker becomes more liberated. I love that she quizzes us in multiple-choice style and also doesn’t provide an answer to her questions. It gives the speaker authority and we can see that she is entitled to speak- and to speak without reason. We, as the reader, are left with the ambiguity of the answer to her questions. This is important because it makes a crucial connection to Frederick Douglass. In the end, he escapes, but we are left with the more challenging question of what freedom is. He finds his voice, or what we can substitute as “language,” and is able to freely be himself.

    Language is crucial for human connection because it is the only way we are able to make connection. This human connection was completely eliminated by taking away the slaves rights to language. Through both poems, we are able to learn the pains and struggle in the slave’s attempts to express themselves.

  12. This is a very beautiful poem. I liked how M. NourbeSe Philip reads the poem with so much emotion and meaning both at once. In the poem Philip analyses colonialism and racism. Expressing herself in English is painful for her because of its foreignness. English is the language spoken by the colonial masters who cut out the tongues of the slaves. Because of that she refers to the English language as a father tongue and states that she has no mother tongue. The Speaker is looking for her mother tongue to express herself and it’s also represent her cultures search for her own history which were destroyed by colonials.

  13. Both the poem and Fredrick Douglass’ autobiography have a few similarities. They both speak of a story of when there was a time that colonialism, sexism and racism was at its peak. The poem tries to emphasize that this language that is forced upon to Philip’s culture to speak is foreign and symbolizes the oppression onto her culture. It pains her to speak the language that strips away her identity. She does not feel it is her native father tongue, so she questions what her native mother tongue is. Fredrick’s autobiography symbolizes the same idea. He mentions different experiences where he’s seen his people forced to live or die a certain way due to oppression. When Douglass’ explains what he felt when he saw his Aunt Hester being whipped and couldn’t stop it, he felt disgusted with himself that these superior figures or superior “tongues” had the power to restrain Douglass from protecting the ones he loves and pursuing his normal identity. A person identifies himself/herself through their own language, culture, nationality and etc. In the case of Philip’s character and Douglass, they only know the language that oppresses them, strips their identity and only brings pain and suffering. That is why Philip describes her “father tongue” as a “foreign anguish” because it is a dis-empowering oppression. Douglass did not know who his father was but he had heard a few rumors that his master was. This “father figure” was also a symbol of “foreign anguish”. He was a mystery to Douglass but on top of all that he was the one to inflict pain onto him. This poem was very beautiful and symbolic. It is disappointing to see that humanity can inflict such chaos.

  14. After reading the two works, I am thinking about how I come to a conclusion of where a stranger come from. Then I find out that it’s mostly based on what kind of language he or she is speaking. Language brings a nation together. It’s the elite of the culture which it represents. While, in the poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language”, the narrator doesn’t have a mother tongue but only a father tongue which is a foreign language. She started from “language” then to “languish” and “anguish” to describe this kind of feeling. She was forced to speak a foreign language because of slavery thus was isolated from her own culture and land. Slavery destroys human connection not by physically but mentally. Slaves grow up being away from knowledge and freedom. They don’t speak native language so that they can’t be united because they can’t communicate with each other. They even have no connections with family. Once mentally slaved, they will feel confused when they have the chance to change what they have already used to for many years.
    Related to A Narrative of a Life, it’s similar that the slaves owner kept slaves away from learning language as well. Douglass has ever had the chance to learn language but then Mr. Alud, the slave owner said “if you teach that nigger how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave.” Luckily Douglass tried to learn knowledge by all means thus his story was known by the world.
    In my country, there was a time when people believed “it’s moral for women to be ignorant.” Women were banned to learn knowledge and take exams to get a job. If found, they would be killed. Women had lower social status and they were dependent to man almost like slaves. After bunch of revolutions, this situation change finally. Still today, some old generations hold the idea that there is no need for women to study, just find a wonderful husband. This also proves being isolated from knowledge is being slaved mentally.

  15. Right from the start of the poem, the viewer can realize a few things. The reader of the poem is African American, and she starts before the poem saying that the poem is different; that the listeners will hear new things. The poem starts and immediately, an almost purposeful slur comes into play. As the poem goes on, the listener hears about slavery and America. America has hurt the slaves. American has imposed a father language, but not a mother tongue on the slaves. In Douglass’s Narrative of a Life, he talks about slavery. Slavery was not just an occupation held by the people in the Narrative, it was something they lived in. The connection between the slurring poem (listen at 1:15) and the Narrative is the education. Throughout the whole book, the slaves tried to become educated and education was the main point of the fight wherever they went. The slaves wanted to learn new trades, to read, to write; while the masters wanted them illiterate and on the fields. Both the Narrative and the Discourse both allude to slavery and education, one in the form of written language and the other in the physical spoken language (in the video).

  16. In the Discourse on Logic of Language the poet critiques colonialism, racism, and sexism. The structure of the poem is extremely unconventional. Through her various phrases and statements of tongue she is able to expose the ways in which language, through the enforcement of English as the father tongue, oppresses the African American’s. Tongue is constantly mentioned and is the focus of this poem, through various definitions. The poem also articulates the pain of the subject who, through the constant struggle and silencing has no mother tongue with which to speak with. The poem consists of a stuttering verse flanked by a narrative about a mother and her baby and edicts, the italicized passages that make proclamations about the treatment of salves.
    In Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of a Life he discusses slavery as a way of life. This connects to the poem from above in such a way that she describes the suffocation and lack of freedom in tongue they experienced. The owners of the slaves, alike keep them from knowing language as well. In this novel they describe how the white people didn’t want them to become knowledgable of reading, writing or educating themselves because they would pose as a threat.
    Language is an imperative part of life and without it we feel suffocated and like we’re being denied a basic human right, and both passages express the angst and sadness they feel.

  17. I believe that the Discourse on the Logic of Language represents how language is important; not only is it an element of identity, but also a powerful tool of communication. In the poem, Philip goes from saying that English is her mother tongue to saying it is her father tongue. In my opinion, this is to represent that a slave is being forced to learn how to speak English in order to communicate to each other; hence forgetting the culture of his or her native country. This relates a lot to Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave because many aspects of Douglass’s identity were not known to him, like his father’s identity and his age, for example. Besides that, the poem and the narrative share another point in common: the power of communication. In the narrative, Douglass says he “understood the pathway from slavery to freedom” when he saw his owner scolding his wife for teaching him how to read. The owner knew that the power of communication would be a tool for rebellion; therefore, a threat to him. Similarly, in the poem, Philip says “If they (slaves) cannot speak to each other, they cannot then ferment rebellion and revolution.” In conclusion, I believe that the poem and the autobiography share points on how language is used to form a person’s identity and is also a powerful tool to break patterns.

  18. The poem “Discourse on the Logic of Language” M. NourbeSe Philip is the strong expression of suffering of black people in the years of slavery. Especially when the author reads her own thoughts showing her soul touching emotion. As I understand Philip uses the words “mother tongue” to show a role of native language, in which mother talks to her child, the first words that child hears form its mother. In this poem Philip contrast the difference between the native and foreign languages by using the words “fathers tongue” meaning English language that all slaves were forced to speak. Why Philip uses the word “tongue” instead of language? Maybe it is another symbol of suffer and “anguish” of slaves, and it reflects the fact that masters after hearing that slaves speak their native language, punished them by cutting tongues?
    “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.” is another poem that shows us suffer, anguish, and harassment of slaves. In this book author combines authentic dates, names, geographical names with vivid details of the life of slaves and dramatic episodes, with individualized social and psychological portraits of the slave-owners and overseers. On a huge factual materials collected from life experiences and expose the crimes of slave owners and overseers, on the material of his own search for freedom and his “I” Douglas puts American national issues: slavery in all its inhumanity shown from the inside, through the eyes of his victims – a black slave.

  19. The poem “Discourse On The Logic Of Language,” by NourbeSe Philip has many different topics that it touches upon, including sexism, the importance of language, and the “foreign anguish.” This is very much connected to Fredrick Douglass’ “A Narrative of a Life” through all those aspects as well.

    The poem starts with talking about mother tongue as something not “foreign”, and then fades into the describing the father tongue which is “foreign.” This shows that the mother tongue is more closer and native to the child where as the father tongue is some thing that was imposed. This is similar to Douglass’ life because he was separated from his mother who is Black as well (and hence native to him,) whereas his father was someone who he had no connection with emotionally, or have any physical resonance.

    The other point that’s emphasize on the poem is the importance of language as an instrument of human connection. Philip writes,”Every owner of slaves shall wherever possible shall ensure that the slaves belong to as many ethno-linguistic groups as possible. If they cannot speak to each other, they cannot then ferment rebellion and revolution.” This shows that language is an instrument which will allow the oppressed to understand the human connection and revolt for their freedom or rights. This is similar to Fredrick Douglass’ story where Hugh tells his wife not to teach him how to read, since that would make him unmanageable as slave. This also shows that one way the oppressors are dehumanized by the oppressed is by letting them not learn a language and communicate.

  20. Language is an inherent quality of being human. It’s how we communicate, express ourselves, form bonds with others. The institution of slavery destroys human connections and an individual’s humanity by stripping the person of rights, family, free will, and a voice. As M. NourbeSe Philip states in her poem, “Discourse on the Logic of Language”, slaves were purposefully divided into as many ethno-linguistic groups as possible in order to divide them, prevent communication and rebellion. Families were separated for similar reasons; taking away one’s relatives takes away a sense of identity and heritage, limits self-knowledge and awareness of one’s own humanity. This is exactly what happened to Frederick Douglas, who only saw his mother “four or five times” in his life and experienced “very little communication” with her, while his master had a multi-generational family with whom he “lived in one house”. In Philip’s poem, the organ of the tongue itself is described as “the principal organ of oppression and rebellion” such as when used by the slave owner. Douglas, too, writes of one of his owners, “He was a profane swearer. It was enough to chill the blood and stiffen the hair to hear him talk.” On the other hand, the slaves are sometimes punished by having their tongues removed, an act that tortures physically, but more importantly it dehumanizes the victim psychologically. It is this dehumanization that is a central theme of Frederick Douglass’ A Narrative of a Life. He is enslaved, oppressed and forced to stay illiterate, but upon gaining freedom he claims his humanity back by eloquently sharing his story. Writing and publishing the narrative of his life and journey from slavery to freedom gives him a very loud, clear voice that says “I am human”.

  21. In the “Discourse on the Logic of Language” by M. NourbeSe Philip, Phillip is struggling with the idea of English being a father tongue or a mother tongue. The mother tongue is anguish and the father tongue is a foreign language. The poem focuses on the idea that men are more superior to women and blacks. Phillip, a woman, struggles in the beginning to say how she really feels and shows oppression, that she has a father tongue, a “dumb tongue.” However, by the end of the poem, Phillips is exercising her knowledge and logic by asking multiple-choice questions. The mother tongue is the tongue the writer wants but it is a foreign anguish of pain of suffering. However the mother tongue is more than just language. The mother tongue is also used as a maternal asset. The father tongue is still a foreign language. This poem is relatable to Frederick Douglass’s A Narrative of a Life, by the idea of language and human disconnection. In the book, the slaves are punished if they are caught speaking their own language and strategically detached from any attachment that can be formed. In the poem, the writer mentions if the slaves speak in their native language, the tongue is to be removed; “the offending organ.” If the slaves cannot speak with one another then they will not have the opportunity to rebel against their slaveholders.
    In Frederick Douglass’s A Narrative of a Life, the way slavery destroys human connection is shown in more than one-way. When a slave has a baby, the child is soon taken from the mother before they are able to bond with each other and grow an attachment. Most babies aren’t given the privilege to know who their father is as well, or their age. If they are caught speaking in their own native language they are punished. If a slave acts improper and/or out of control in their actions then the slave is sold to a slave trader with no warning. All of these examples are extreme ways that human connection is destroyed through slavery. The opportunity to create a connection with someone can be taken from you at any moment against your will. In the book, the narrator tells his readers that he is excited to leave the plantation for a better chance at life in Baltimore because he has no more connections left at the plantation. His mother was taken from him, he was taken from his grandmother and he has brothers and sister but with the slaveholders accomplishment of making sure there are no connections made they are not like brothers and sister and more just like any other person in the world and feels to them as a stranger would.

  22. I first want to state that this is a very powerful piece and I personally found it complimented Frederick Douglass’s, A Narrative of a Life, greatly. I found this poem states that language is what defines you. Language is the root of a person. She states how she does not know her mother’s tongue, which gives her language, but she knows her father’s tongue and his language. Her mother’s tongue is not her fathers tongue and she knows her father’s language is english, but this is not her mother’s. She is understanding that her roots and culture is not this foreign english of her father’s tongue, but that of her mother’s tongue. I made this connection to, A Narrative of a Life, on how Frederick Douglass did not know his mother or her language, but he knew his father. The connection, through fear of his father, was stronger then the connection, of love, from his mother. This also leads into how familial connections are what creates the emotional bond between mother and child and what develops them into becoming a person. Phillip talks about a mother giving birth to a child and how the mother comforts the baby and gives the baby language with her tongue. She nurtures the baby into who they are going to be. Frederick though says how he was stripped from his mother at birth, only meeting her a handful of times. He talks about how when she died he had no emotional connection to this tragedy, that to him, her death was that of a stranger’s. This familial connection was never present in Douglass’s life, almost preventing him from becoming an actual human. It truly is a scary thought when thinking how slavery did everything in its power to destroy human connection. By taking the nurture from a mother to her child away, preventing them from educating themselves, limiting communication, and constantly beating them to make sure they fear their owners, no slave had any possibility of human connection. It was a terror that no living thing should ever endure.

  23. Throughout this poem the author, M. Nourbese Philips, challenges the values and influences that the power of both human connection and intercommunication can have on society. She represents the values of communications through her use of metaphor and rhetoric as she falls deep into the poetic repetition of “The Tongue”. M. Nourbese Phillips uses this basic concept of the “tongue” and then proceeds to bring it through a dialectic from many different angles such as patriarchy, oppression, exploitation, and other social issues that can be related through the power of speech.
    The most impressionable line from the text can be found at the very end of the last stanza as she describes the English language and its values as a “foreign anguish”. It is a powerful message, as it brings together the entirety of her questioning and discourse. It is a line that acts as a representation for both the past and the present oppression that has plagued this country since its discovery. By taking this statement and bringing it through the dialectic once again where the author contextualizes the values of communication in the American societies’ social constructs and ideologies through both gender and race equality a greater understanding can be found within her use of literary parallels.
    One of the most important ideas that can be taken away from this questioning and criticism is that there is no price that can be put on the freedom of speech and language. In The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglas, this same idea can be found, however, in this case, it is a first person contextualization as these values can be seen within an actual real world situation. Throughout the text this idea of being restrained through the deprivation of both language and knowledge is held higher than the physical oppression that was experienced by the slaves themselves. With that said, this begins the foundations of the parallel between both the dialectic of M. Nourbese Phillips as she describes the challenges of many ideological norms within language, and, within the narrative of Frederick Douglas as we see a real world example of this metaphysical idea being applied and experimented with.

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