No Language is Neutral

Dionne Brand’s, “No Language is Neutral” serves as a narrative of the author’s “escape” from Trinidad to Canada. The poems details the variance between how language is used as a tool in the two respective countries. Through a definition of Trinidadian language and Canadian language, Brand effectively speaks of the identity present in each country. The point proven through the development of both identities is that a country’s identity is tethered with their history and culture.

Brand defines the language of Trinidad as being reflective of an unaddressed past, one heavily influenced by slavery. Brand writes, “When these barracks held slaves … talking was left for night and hush was idiom and hot core” through not addressing a past affected by slavery, the Trinidadian population are maintaining the hushed tones that were incepted during the country’s period of slavery. In the sense of the Trinidadian language, silence is representing a hot passion that has been oppressed; Brand defines the Canadian language as lacking this hot passion. Brand outlines Canadian silence through extending, “you can’t smile here, is a sin, you can’t play music, is too loud”. Canada is defined as a cold place (furthered by the definition of Canada’s cold weather), lacking of a hot passion. 

The title of “No Language is Neutral” insists that since a country’s identity is tied to their history and culture, no country’s language is void of influence from its past. In the case of Trinidad, they are unable to remove their identity from the influences of slavery in their country; in the case of Canada, an overtness to a more passionate and open culture is actively affecting their identity. Identity is spoken of as being holistic in its relationship with history and culture and that point is effectively asserted by Brand through a comparison of two varied languages. 

A alternative point to the one brought forward by Brand would be that a country’s identity is independent from their history. This argument would be backed by the notions of reconciliation through forgetting. Identity as an attribute would then feature the present character or attitude of a given individual or country. This alternative view puts more focus on the prospective view of the future, allowing individuals to not carry the weight of their country’s past on their back. In comparison to Brand’s view, this point differs in the benefit of identity being something that although reflective of a character, is able to be moulded and thus, evolve. 

Brand however would likely respond to this alternative view stating that an individual who does not carry the weight of their country’s past on their back, can not consider themselves to identify with that country. Brand would likely extend that although a prospective view of the future is ideally representative of a country, a retrospective analysis of culture is likely more accurate.

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