Zadie Smith 'Speaking in Tongues': Personal Opinion

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Zadie Smith is a phenomenal yet amusing intellectual who found a nebulous nook that she could fold herself into and write her unparalleled perspective on life with words that seem inevitably Deja Vu, or, meant to be just like that, and as for her essay, “Speaking in Tongues” it had been a tough read, yet enjoyable, as it uses an imaginative language. The premise of the essay is to show the contrast between the use of one voice and the use of various voices. In which people find themselves between “voices”, as she did back in her move from London to Cambridge. Smith thought she was able to hold on both voices, but she was erroneous. Then, she goes in and explains how people viewed her because she wasn’t conversing the same 'voice' as others. People spoke differently in that course of time, there was so much diversity, making it hard for her to fit in as she strives to match her peers by attempting to adjust to the new environment and designates them “the voice of lettered people,” (132). In the end, she just wanted to be accepted, and when she finally got in, it only made her think that her type of English represented everyone else and that no one spoke differently. It made me question in what ways I might be in between 'voices.' For example, when I first moved to Japan, I had trouble distinguishing myself for some time as I didn’t know whether to identify myself as a person from their country and only speaking Japanese; thereby completely forgetting the language of my former country. Smith points out as, “How persistent this horror of the middling spot is, this dread of the interim place!” (182). It shows how the “middle ground” of forgetting one’s previous language but not learning the new language can be quite frightening.

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In her piece, Smith states that she has already lost her multiple voices thereby left with a singular voice, which then praises others who have been successful in maintaining a multiplicity of voices despite any social pressures they might have encountered. Yet, I don't think she lost any of her voices. Proceeding back to the beginning of the story, she constantly informs the reader that she now possesses only one “voice,” but she has given numerous references to multiple examples shifting from voice to voice originating from London to Cambridge University. As she articulates about the American culture, and British culture and with that, it is confirmed that she still possesses her multiple voices.

To show the meaning of multiple voices Smith takes Barack Obama as an example and the different voices he has. Where the author points out, that “Obama has a double consciousness, is black and, at the same time, white” (187). This makes the readers wonder why Zadie Smith decides to dedicate this passage to Barack Obama’s way of speaking. “His enemies latched on to its imprecision, emphasizing the exotic, unamerican nature of Dream City … where you could jive talk like a hustler and orate like a senator” (Smith 184). In this particular part of the passage, many eloquent questions were used to show the interest that the author had about and how Obama can speak in two different voices to a particular crowd. The “black” and the “white” voices discussed in the passage meant the black and white people he was surrounded by since Obama’s mother was white, and his father was black. But this also brings out some problems as still to this day some people probe Obama for possessing multiple voices. Where they persist on, “One should speak one’s cultural allegiance first and the truth second” (185). For example, people from Jackson gaffe’s generation who just can’t wait for the mask to slip.

And just like Barack Obama, Zadie Smith was held within two “voices” as she deliberately tries to change her “voice” from old to new. She loses her old one and can’t go back. She was a black woman striving to achieve goals in life by rising from the bottom to the top just like how Barack Obama worked from the bottom to the top. They both looked at it in the same way. Changing voices may be difficult but, like Obama, Zadie understood that she needed to adjust her voice for a specific audience in order to be successful. Because Obama changed his voice whenever he was with a different audience, he was successful. As stated in the prior section, “Why should I have to choose between them?” (140). Why can’t they just accept them for who they were? Zadie Smith also had multiple voices just like Barack Obama. Because of all these methods used in her work such as rhetoric and imagery writing, it gives the audience a better perception and thought of all the details she is trying to create. The way she used the approaches made the passage entertaining and conveys us the message and gets the point across that people are not objects and should not be classified by categories just because of the voice their speaking.

However, there's one major understanding Zadie Smith does not address, which is bi- and multilingualism. I am a native in Mongolian, but as of today I live in an English-speaking city, and I speak English daily. I also speak Japanese and Russian but not as frequently. The multiple voices of such an atmosphere make the changes that Zadie explains as conceivably something everyone could encounter to some degree into something that everyone in the community experiences daily.

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