About the power of human language

Human language is what makes us human, in my view. It’s what shows the amazing power of our human minds to create, not only imagined worlds, but above all, realities. The 20th century, with its astounding development of human knowledge thanks to the development of a more observant and empathetic way to see the world (in social and natural sciences, in art — which started to look inwards and outwards in new ways –, in social movements, that flourished as a result of grasping the idea of human rights) gave us the precious idea that language is intimately connected to thought (we can’t think fully without words)  and to human relationships (society). However, we still connect violence to specific realizations of violence, and continue to be blind about the power of language in the construction of nonviolent answers to problems and about the role of language in the construction of violence in our human worlds. This does not mean we are actually incapable of seeing all of this — we do, when we look, and meditate, when we communicate, too, at times.

Identity is a key issue for humans, and the world we have created is always judging and condemning identities, creating exaggerated images of the identity we support (myths, heroes, martyrs), which leads us away from a more realistic human world. We learn that people whose identity is different are a threat and not a source of curiosity, communication and negociation. It is as if we were not able to build our identity without comparing everything to another identity group and making it clear we are better, we are right, and others are wrong. As if life were that simple! In this way, “the Other” is a threat, and the less violent action we undertake is not a true nonviolent answer: we choose to ignore all about that group, we refuse to know and learn, to communicate and negociate. Violent answers take less time.

So we have to do a lot of thinking, a lot of learning about how we use violence through language in our everyday lives.

The other day stand-up comedians came up, and I mentioned Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues (and how she managed to bring up a taboo topic which unleashed a universe of topics that were silenced just because they related to women’s experiences and in patriarchy women’s issues are second-class interest topic for knowledge, politics, history!) and Lenny Bruce’s monologue on the viciousness of words. Here is the link to that monologue. The audio is just of the first part. Unfortunately we can’t listen to him saying the final part, which is — in my view — very powerful, deeply moving. See what you think.

How can we word our views to facilitate communication with people who have different views? And coexistence! Why and when do people feel offended and justified to exert which kind of violence in “self-defence”? When people’s reaction is a problem people have with listening to different views and when is it because our wording is violent? Why refuting somebody’s ideas is felt as violence? Is there a difference between refuting ideas and using verbal violence, or conceptual violence? How can we be violent in our use of language and how can we solve problems through a nonviolent use of language? Why don’t we pay attention to the positive power of language in our everyday lives and in how we organize coexisten, society, and allow instead the negative power of language to operate at all times (but we seldom want to see/realize that)?

If you wish to explore this topic, The Power of Language, you could attempt a reasoned opinion, if you like! ❤

Last, my position against what the Real Academia de la Lengua’s role (a prescriptivist institution) in our society parts from my criticism to its cruelty — a terrible kind of cruelty because it tells people something cruel and inaccurate about language and their language, which is to say, their identity, their status in society — because traditionally it has used language in classist ways, which is not something Modern Linguistics sets to do, in contrast! That’s why I included in the pack some notions about What’s correct, functional translation and functional grammar, all of which comes from Modern Linguistics, not RAE, of course.

An interesting book to read, by linguists, and perhaps you could choose a chapter/topic, is Language Myths. Check it out (I even recorded one of its chapters) and if you want to read one of its chapters, let us know. Perhaps we can design an activity.

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