Language

Style of writing

Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime reflects the narrator’s background and sociolect. His career as a comedian influences his writing, which tends to be humorous and easily accessible. At times, his language is informal and colloquial, like in the following example:

It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away. (Chapter 3, p. 48)

Here, the colloquial language associated with humor entertains readers and makes Trevor Noah appear down-to-earth.

Dialogue mainly reflects characters’ attitudes and helps readers get to know them better. For example, the dialogue between Trevor and the school counselor at H. A. Jack reflects the counselor’s prejudice regarding black people, whom she considers stupid and with no chance to build a future for themselves (Chapter 4, p. 65). Then, the dialogues between Trevor and Bongani and other people from Alexandra reflect the boys’ instinct for business (Chapter 16, p. 206). 

The book also highlights the importance of language as a means of survival. Trevor speaks English as a first language and learns that English is connected to status: “If you’re black in South Africa, speaking English is the one thing that can give you a leg up” (Chapter 4, p. 60). While English brings Trevor advantages, it also makes him the target of bullies, who resent his “white” education. 

Trevor also speaks several South African languages, which are a form of protection. For example, Trevor shows different groups that he speaks their language in an attempt to demonstrate that he is not dangerous. Knowing different languages also helps Trevor protect himself from attackers, like in the following example:

… a group of Zulu guys was walking behind me, closing in on me, and I ...

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