In “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction” by James Paul Gee we get the first introduction to how different discourses define who you are. Lisa Delpit another well-known writer feels that Gee’s ideas are “far-reaching and politically sensitive”. The media is very good at showing these ideas of living with Discourses. One of the better-known movies that we see this happen is in the film Legally Blonde, where the spunky sorority sister becomes a Harvard lawyer. Through this movie we see that Gee’s ideas can be proven wrong.
James Paul Gee and Lisa Delpit both argue that the acquisition of a Discourse has to be done a certain way. In “Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics: Introduction,” Gee introduces us to the idea of a “big “D” discourse”(2). Discourse can be defined as the way one lives out their lives including how they act, speak, and dress. According to Gee, the only way to get these Discourses is, “true acquisition of many mainstream [dominant] Discourses involves, at least while being in them, active complicity with values that conflict with one’s home- and community-based Discourses, especially for many women and minorities” (13). What Gee means by this is that you can get these Discourses from being completely submerged in the culture of your home and community. On the other hand Delpit feels that one can gain their Discourse by other means. In Delpit’s eyes this can be done by, “acquiring the ability to function in a dominant discourse need not mean that one must reject one’s home identity and values, for discourses are not static, but shaped, however reluctantly, by those who participate within them and the form of their participation” (552). What Delpit means is that one learns Discourses from their experiences. While Gee writes the idea that the only way to gain a Discourse is from ones community and home life, Delpit comes in with the notion that Discourses are free flowing like ones life. Both feel that Discourses are important. I personally believe in Delpit’s ideas more than Gee because their experiences shape the person.
Gee states that, “Two Discourses can interfere with one another,”(9) meaning that when you have one set Discourse and try to add another it tends to get out of control. For example, one of the places that we see this happen is in the movie Legally Blonde. A sorority sister turned Harvard lawyer shows how different Discourses can clash at times but end up helping in others. In one of the parts of the movie we see our main character walking across the Harvard campus in a hot pink suit where as everyone else is in darker more neutral colors. Delpit sees this moment as, “That is, to learn the “rules” required for admission into a particular dominant discourse, individuals must already have access to the social institutions connected to that discourse —- if you’re not already in, don’t expect to get in.”(546) What Delpit means by this is that Elle Woods was in a set Discourse but over time had to change to fit a new Discourse. That by completely putting yourself into a new culture you then can learn from it. Both Delpit and Gee make interesting cases about how one can gain a new Discourse and the issues that can arise when trying to fit it in with the old Discourse of ones life.
Later on Gee proposes the controversial idea that old primary Discourses have a hard time transitioning into new primary Discourse whereas Delpit disagrees with this. Over time people get primary Discourse from their experiences and interactions. Gee writes that people are born into one primary Discourse and it can be challenging to have another primary Discourse come into your life. He explains this by saying, “Two Discourses can interfere with one another, like two languages; aspects of one Discourse can be transferred to another Discourse.”(9) What Gee means by this is that growing up one is placed into their primary Discourse and it can be nearly impossible to transition into a new one. Delpit argues that one can’t gain a new primary Discourse; they can simply change it as they grow. She explains this by saying; “The second aspect of Gee’s work that I find troubling suggests that an individual who is born into one discourse with one set of values may experience major conflicts when attempting to acquire another discourse.”(546) What Delpit means by this is that one isn’t stuck in the Discourse that they were either raised around or were born into one can change it. Gee and Delpit have very different viewpoints on these ideas. Gee argues that you are set in this singular way of life and no matter what you can’t do anything to change it. Delpit responds that it can be changed by outside forces coming into play.
Both Delpit and Gee have these ideas about how different Discourses tend to interfere with each other. One of the places that we see this is the moment Elle Woods and teaches her new found friend Paulette the “Bend and Snap”. Elle does this by building a bridge between her old way of life and her new one. She takes the opportunity to do this by taking her old Discourse and helping someone in need with it. Once she finally takes the time to show her old Discourse, she continues to revert back to it to help her move forward in achieving her new Discourse.
Gee poses the idea that people can use their primary Discourses in different situations to help them. Delpit argues that everything over time leads up to help you in the situations that arise. One example that we see this happen is when Elle Woods is in the final courtroom scene. In this moment we see that Elle has changed her look to be more professional, but when the daughter gets on the stand she calls her out saying that you wouldn’t want to get in the shower after getting a fresh hair treatment. By doing this she is taking her old primary Discourse to help her with her new primary Discourse. Gee writes this, “One can fall back on one’s primary Discourse, adjusting it in various ways to try to fit it to the needed functions.” What he means about this is that, when finding a new Discourse you can always fall back onto the old primary Discourse of your life but you can’t stay with it. Delpit’s problem with this idea is that you gain Discourses through experience and it can be challenging to stay in the same Discourse.
Gee and Delpit throughout their papers have ideas that conflict. After looking at both it can be seen that Delpit has the more reasonable ideas involving how a primary Discourse can be obtained. Gee makes us settle for the idea that one can’t change the primary Discourse that they get born into. Where as Delpit refuses to let that idea slide by, she does this by saying that the primary Discourse that defines a person is created through their life achievements. In Legally Blonde we see Elle take her old primary Discourse to help her make alterations to her new Discourse. Without the old Discourse she wouldn’t be able to solve some of the problems that she has to face throughout the course of the film. In my personal opinion I agreed with Delpit more then Gee because of the fact that you really can’t get stuck in one primary Discourse. I know this from personal experience because where I come from in Colorado we have a very different primary Discourses compared to those of people that grew up in the New England area. Due to the fact that I can use my old primary Discourse it has helped me start to create my new Discourse.