In this literary piece, Zong!, language is a subject that is brought up quite often. In school we are taught how to write and read. We must not use run ons, fragments, must have proper grammar and punctuation, but most of all, we must make sense. If we do not follow these rules, then we might appear uneducated.
Zong M. NourbeSe Philip challenges our ideas of language. He states that, “I deeply distrust this tool I work with— language.” (197) and goes on to explain that historical events are often changed or portrayed in a way that is not true, as with the case of Zong. The African slaves on the ship were not even written as people, but objects, chattel, property. Philip stresses the importance of grammar— how it can change a topic so drastically if used in the right way. If we were to look at the argument the captain made in his case, we can see that the murders of the slaves on Zong were discussed, but not in a way that was right. Language here has power.
The way that Philip talks about language makes it come alive. In the beginning of Zong! the words do not really make sense and we find out later that this was purposeful. Philip explains that he wrote the text in a way that he literally cut words up, used violence against them as was done to the slaves. They are strewn about the page, making the reader feel disoriented. To me, this was a beautiful point in this literary piece. Language is alive. It can be used in so many ways and even just a few words can represent a larger picture. The way the words were acting as the African slaves is a work of art. Sometimes it is a stronger statement to stray from formal ideals of writing. Instead of forming a poem in a typical line-by-line format, Philip manipulated the structure and therefore made his language so much more powerful.
- How did the way Philip set up his poem make you feel? (What thoughts went through your head as you read it?)
- Do you feel that language can have its own mind or do we (humans) give it one?