Power in Language and Culture
Power is considered to be the anthem of success-whoever holds power holds ascendancy over the society. However, whomever has ascendency over that society has to have means of communicating to the inferior. The way rulers communicate to their inferiors is a key part of society, and dictates the syntax of the language. Therefore power reflects on the flexibility and structure of the language. In Mrs.
Bradys class lectures describing “The History of the English language” she states that before Viking invasions the Pagan Anglo-Saxon language consisted mainly of religious, domestic and mundane words such as “fork, mile, table, alter, mass” and ” chool”. In 1066 A. D Norman Vikings overtook the society and added new words such as “scream, take” and “skull” these words allowed for aggression in the culture. Along with the aggressive word change the Vikings also degraded Anglo-Saxon words creating synonyms that now have a more powerful meaning for example the Anglo- Saxon word “wish” and the Norman word “want”.
Power in Language and Culture Essay Example
Customarily the Vikings were very hostile and aggressive people and their contributions to the English language reflect their virulent ways. The Vikings were able to harness their power to create a lasting nfluence on the language and culture of the inferior societies they overtook. Modern English is currently the connecting language used world-wide to communicate. It is described as dominate for many reasons in The Mother Tongue. A specific example given by Bill Bryson is “a… ited factor in setting English apart from other languages is flexibility’. In the United States, Americans give respect where it is needed; there is no hierarchy where respect or a certain dialect is required to talk to another person. The fact that American culture is not based around power allows the language to have versatility. The government is people-based; the power granted to Americans through the constitution allows for variety and freedom of speech. For example female rights activists are able to speak out against misogynist beliefs.
Though the power structure in America is composed of mostly men, women are unaffected by it, and are still able to speak out against the gender that makes up the majority of the government. American feminism is a prime example of how the power structure can have no effect on the language due to its basis on freedom and equality. In Outliers, chapter seven “The Ethnic Theory of Plane Crashes”, Malcom Gladwell describes the errible crash of Korean Airlines Flight 801 in 1997 caused by lack of communication through pilots. Unlike our American government Korea has different expectations for their language.
It demands that members of higher rank be addressed properly. Not allowing for casual non-specific terms such as “you”. Koreans are obliged to be deferential toward their elders and superiors in a way that would be unnecessary in the U. S. Koreans must show respect for the people that hold power therefore speaking monotone causing serious situations to sound less urgent then they actually are. Another example of powers influence on language and culture is the example of Chris Langan vs. Robert Oppenheimer: “Here we have two very brilliant young students, each of whom runs into a problem that imperils his college career.
Langan’s mother has missed a deadline for his financial aid. Oppenheimer has tried to poison his tutor. To continue on, they are required to lead their cases to authority. sent to a psychiatrists. Oppenheimer and Langan might both be geniuses, but in other ways, they could not be more different” (98). Oppenheimer grew up amongst a surplus of power, and so it affected the way that he spoke. He knew how to speak so hat he could get the most effect out of his words, and thus the power worked as an advantage to him and the way he uses language.
Langan, in contrast, grew up extremely impoverished. He only had one set of clothes, his mother knew nothing about the way the world worked outside of their small town in Montana, and his step- father was an alcoholic and abuser. There was no positive form of power surrounding him, and thus his language skills were insufficient when he tried to convince his superiors to renew his scholarship. In social class structures there is power that either works to the advantage or disadvantage of the language.
In George Orwell’s dystopian fiction novel “1984” the totalitarian government formats a society in which all members of the party are brain washed. In the appendix of the book Orwell discusses the importance the language, Newspeak, plays on the society. “Euphony outweighed every consideration other than exactitude of meaning,” (pg308) The language created by Ingsoc, called Newspeak, was used against the population in order to keep power. Newspeak was made up of doublethink words such as “blackwhite” and “goodthink” this made it impossible for the society to bond and connect with one another due to lack of cadence and meaning.
Using language as a tool to control the culture rid society of their independence to think freely, ultimately turning them into mindless slaves of the government. A real-world example of a totalitarian societies control over language is Hitler’s Nazi Germany. The Nazi regime aspired to inflict the same control over the people as Ingsoc did. In “Mein Kampf” Adolf Hitler states: “The chief function of propaganda is to convince the masses, who slowness of understanding needs to be given time in order that they may absorb information; and only constant repetition will finally succeed in imprinting an idea on heir mind…… .. the slogan must of course be illustrated in many ways and from several angles, but in the end one must always return to the assertion of the same formula. The one will be rewarded by the surprising and almost incredible results that such a personal policy secures. ” Culturally, the Nazi regime was anti-modern. Censorship and propaganda ensured that Germans could only see what the Nazi hierarchy wanted people to see, hear what they wanted them to hear and read only what the Nazis deemed acceptable. Ultimately giving the Nazis full control over the mindset of their people.
Forcing them to perceive that what they were doing was correct and thus socially acceptable. Moreover, whoever holds ascendancy over a culture has the ability to modify and manipulate the language however they want. Language can be used as a tool to gain power, or the people in power can use it as a tool to keep power. It can also be an effect rather than a cause; the way that power is exercised can have an indirect effect on the language. Whether direct or indirect, power has a lasting and critical impact on the language of any culture where a power structure is present.