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April 22, 2007

Why Can't We Be Speaking Good English?

Card, Ender's Game Finish -- Jerz: EL150 (Intro to Literary Study)

"The boys were outraged, complaining loudly in the slang that they usually avoided around the commander. What they doing to us? They be crazy, neh?" (192).

I noticed early on that the boys very rarely spoke proper English, especially when just causally speaking to each other, but I am wondering why Card made that choice. To me, their language is more than just slang, it is sometimes so awkward that it seems like it would take more effort for them to speak that way than to speak properly. And, these boys (and girls) are apparently some of the most brilliant young people from Earth, so why do they insist on speaking that way? Is is because they do have minimal training in language since their schooling consists of more math, science, and military strategy classes? Obviously, not all of them are American so they might be speaking English as a second language, which could be a factor. But, in general, it seems like they know how to speak with correct grammar, but choose not to. Why? Does anyone have any ideas? Is it some sort of rebellion, or does it make them seem tougher and more dangerous? Why would Card choose to have the boys speak in very obvious non-standard English? I know that is how most of us talk when in casual conversation, but I still don't think many of us say "They be crazy" even though we'd be likely to slur words together like "I'm gonna..." or "gimme." What do you think?

Posted by LorinSchumacher at April 22, 2007 3:23 PM


I definitely attributed it to the fact that almost none of them come from the same nation. You'll notice that some of the students use bad English more than others, like Bernard and Rose the Nose (I think). I'm pretty sure that this book assumes American is the standard language, but other countries choose to teach their native language even in the face of opposition, just like some people choose to practice religion even though it is frowned upon.

Posted by: HallieGeary at April 22, 2007 7:47 PM

I don't know. What I find strange is how much the slang is referenced, yet not at all explained. There is that one point when one of the adults uses it, I can't remember of it is Graff or someone else, but it seemed odd to me and then the other adult commented on his use of the boys' slang...like it was all of them who did it not just the ones who are from non-English speaking countries.

Posted by: Lorin at April 23, 2007 2:05 AM

At first, I just thought that the boys used the slang as a way to bond together. I think it might have more meaning behind it than that. I think that the boys' use of slang language is an attempt to both normalize themselves and separate themselves from their enemies, the teachers. In Ender's Game, all the boys are brilliantly intelligent, so we know they can speak proper English. I think they choose not to as a way of rebelling against this intelligence. Probably every boy in Battle School at some point or another desperately wishes to be normal. Thus, I view their slang language as an attempt to lower their intelligence and make them closer to normal. At the same time, however, this slang language simply highlights their genuis, because it is particular to their group. This is simply a good example of the Cathch 22 they face: Each boy wants to be normal, and yet, at the same time, with his very actions, he knowingly proves his genius, thus eliminating any chance of him ever achieving this goal of normalcy. The boys' slang also proves their genius by isolating them from the administrators. Both Ender and Dink knowingly assign the teachers the role of "the enemy" within the novel. This use of slang unites the boys in their stance against "the enemy."

Posted by: EllenEinsporn at April 23, 2007 9:55 AM

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