The characters of The Magic Pencil communicate effectively with one another in standard English but also by using varying colloquialisms. Most are following what some would call ‘code-switching’. I believe this behavior occurs in all people and cultures and that many do so with little or no effort as the situation necessitates. Of course, this is also true for black/African Americans. As the story’s main characters are members of that group, the focus is on some of the group’s colloquialisms.
For some it may seem impossible to switch back and forth due to how the language was spoken in their homes or how well the speakers fared verbally in standard English studies. Other variables would be socialization, wealth, influence from regions of the country, and the world. However, difficulty in switching can have nothing to do with intelligence or ability.
The characters’ language styles are based on what I have experienced during my lifetime. Therefore, I am providing some examples and explanations: The reader will find more than one way to speak or use a word depending on which character is speaking. The reader will notice that the use of the suffix ‘-ing’ (i.e., ‘everything’) is at the end of some words but ending with ‘-in’ (i.e., cookin) on others. I chose to use the ‘-ing’ pronunciation as opposed to the pronunciation of ‘-ang’ (i.e., thing/thang) that some of the characters may have used in real life. I also chose to use apostrophes sparingly.
I grew up in a family where my sister, brothers and I all attended parochial schools, at least through the eighth grade. In them, we continued to learn to speak ‘proper’ English and it was enforced and exhibited at home. However, our way of speaking with friends and neighbors was heavily influenced by the casual nature of our surroundings. While in school, we very same students, who excelled in standard English, both spoken and written, changed our inflections and mannerisms once away from the teachers’ disapproving eyes and ears. Even then, before knowing of the term, we knew we were bi-lingual. Despite the attempts of others to cause such, we felt no stigma in speaking either way. Our world was widened by our ability to do so.
The method of communication is not a static thing. From cave paintings to hieroglyphics, Morse code to rap lyrics, all are legitimate in their own ways and times. The language of the people, not the editors, changes the entries in dictionaries.
Therefore, I thank a few of our literary warriors: James Baldwin, Amiri Baraka, Claude Brown, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Nikki Giovanni, Gloria Aneb House, Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Walter Mosley, Ntozake Shange, Geneva Smitherman, Alice Walker, and Richard Wright for portraying the many shades of speech black people use, and have used, which spice up our American melting pot.
“Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.”
— Madame Marie Curie
ADDENDUM: I have interesting conversations regarding the word "articulate". Most folk seem to think that one must be using standard English in order to be considered articulate. I disagree. Sojourner Truth (Isabella Baumfree) was the personification of the word in her speech where she used the refrain "An ain't I a woman?" And Mark Twain's (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) character Huckleberry Finn was just as able: "It was my watch below till twelve, but I wouldn't a turned in anyway if I'd had a bed, because a body don't see such a storm as that every day in the week, not by a long sight."
(of a person or a person's words) Having or showing the ability to speak fluently and coherently. Verb:
Express (an idea or feeling) fluently and coherently: "The Children need to see characters more like themselves in literature".