Language And Community

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A community is a social unit that shares various things in common such as religion, norms, values, identity and most importantly, the language. They also share a geographical location in terms of a village, or country or a virtual space through various communication platforms such as the social media. One of the most important identity of a community is the language used. Communication plays an essential role in the life of every human being. It does not only separate us from animals but also forms a basis through which culture is passed from one generation to another (Malinowski, Leach & Berry,1965).

The cultural and ethnic identity of a particular community is preserved through the language that the children are taught to speak and understand from birth Language forms one of the fastest and most effective ways of understanding a community of people, whether it is a huge nation or a small tribe of people(Ochs & Schieffelin, 1984). It is an unspeakable part of identifying a community. The relationship between language and community can be presented in two main views; One is that language is so powerful that it influences the way the community thinks and behaves and the second one is that language affects the way one sees the world.

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Linguistics and scientists have carried out research on how the language relates to the community in terms of affecting the way individuals think and behave. Language, being part of culture has an impact on the way an individual think thus initiating the behaviour. During a certain presentation, a Chinese behavioural economist and an associate professor at the Anderson School of Management, Prof. Keith Chen, raised a concern on whether a person’s ability to save is affected by the language he or she uses. To illustrate this, he presented some examples of the delivery the same message in different languages. In this case, he used English and Chinese. While Chinese translation is the same regardless of the time, the English language uses different tenses to indicate time difference. He therefore found out that speakers that do not strictly define time such as the Chinese, tend to have more savings than those who use languages that distinguish between past, present and future (Holliday, Kullman & Hyde, 2012). Another illustration is on the way colours are differently distinguished in different languages. The way in which a language defines a colour directly impacts on the way a speaker gives meaning in relation to colours (Spolaore & Wacziarg, 2016).

In some communities, there are no distinct names for the orange and yellow colour even though it is known to people that there is a significant difference between the two colours. In other communities such as Russia, the light blue colour is identified as 'goluboy while the darker blue is known as the ''siniy.'' In others like Japan, a range of colours from blue to green is just known by one term ''ao'' (青). It was only after the second world war that the Japanese adopted the word “midori” for colour green. Up to date, they still refer fruits and vegetables as “ao”. Their traffic lights have red yellow and blue to signify stop, caution and go respectively. The International standards for traffic lights should be red, yellow and green. Instead of these colours the Japanese vision test requires them to distinguish between blue red and yellow when applying for a driving license. The difference in the interpretations of colours by different languages therefore affects the community (Kasper & Omori, 2010).

According to a claim by Whorf, the language affects the way a community see the world such that it acts like a pair of glasses through which the community sees everything. He Developed the Whorfian hypothesis which was originally based on studies on Europeans and the Hopi Indians. He suggests that these two different communities, the Europeans and the Hopi Indians have different ways of talking about the world and thus this language influences the way they see the world (Haberland & Mortensen, 2012). He says that the European language treats things as discrete and countable while on the other hand, the Hopi language treats the world as full of things that are flowing and non-discrete. The European language, he suggests, treats time as something that can be divide up into separate seconds, minutes and days. The language makes distinctions on what can be counted and what cannot. For instance, plates and trees can be counted while water and hope cannot. On the other hand, in the Hopian language, time is indivisible. They do not talk of minutes, days and weeks. Trees and water are non-discrete items. The result here therefore is that the Hopi and the Europeans see the world differently due to the difference in their language structures (Yağiz & Izadpanah, 2013). This argument is pretty well and makes sense in many aspects.

The language we use in our communities dictate how we define our world. However, there are still some critics on Whorf’s theory. For instance, Whorf claims that we see the world according to the language we speak, the question here is, what happens to the bilinguals? Do they see the world in two different ways? Would their world view change according to the language they are speaking? However, there are still some businesses and politicians who believe that the language a community uses still affects the way they think about something. For instance, in the year 1976, the Government of Britain replaced the “The Official Secrets Act” with the “The official Information Act.” (Mufwene, 2010) Despite the change from the word secret to information, the laws were still unchanged.

Moreover, after the second world war, the ministry of defence replaced the initially known as the ministry of war. This therefore means that although language may not, in some aspects affect the way we see the world, it may however affect the way a community thinks about a particular thing. Besides, according to George Steiner, a scholar and prominent literary critic, the way people view and understand the world usually dies when the language disappears. He suggests that different cultures and communities have different ideologies and perspectives on their view about the world (Barker, 2012). He attributes this to the difference in language structure and, the syntax and logical rules that come along with it affects how an individual view the world. In his research he used different communities one of which is the Kuuk Thaayorre, an Aboriginal tribe in Australia. In the community, members navigate the surrounding with cardinal directions, the north, south, east and west. Therefore, if one asks them where they are heading to, they reply with a specific direction, for instance south west or north.

Another example is that German Speakers usually correlate an action with its end goal. Take an example of a picture of a woman walking in a parking lot. Whilst English speakers would just say that the woman is walking, the German speakers would say that the woman is walking towards her. The language affects the community, but the vice versa can also be true, the community can affect the language. Different people in different social groups or communities use language differently. For instance, old people sign differently from the young people. Different communities might use language differently according to the number of people in the community and the influence they have on the language. For instance, the number of deaf people in the society affects the language use. In Britain, the British Sign Language has survived because around 15% of deaf people are from the deaf families (Perniss, Özyürek, & Morgan, 2015). This has affected language use in the country since the children from hearing families learn from these deaf families and the language is passed on from one generation to another. In other nations, the deaf community does not exist hence the language used is different from the one in Britain.

For instance, in Nicaragua, there is no genetic deafness which suggests that the children cannot learn the sign language from their parents. In other communities such as the Old Martha’s Vineyard in Mexico or Bali in Indonesia, there is a significant number of deaf people and the use of this language is therefore stronger (Johnson, 2011). In Mexico City, there is shanty town with a very high number of deaf people who are very poor and do not go to school and neither do they go to a deaf club but they still have their own dialect of the Mexican Sign Language. The other type of influence that a community can have on language is for example when one has power to manipulate the language so that it suits his or har needs and concerns. An example here is that of De L'Epee and the influence he has over the French Sign language due to his power (Meir,Israel, Sandler, Padden & Aronoff, 2012). Therefore, the number of deaf people in a community affects the social situation and the language used by the community. The language used by the community also dictates the roles and positions of individuals in the community.

An example on how the sexist language affects the community. According to (Oriyama, 2010), language affects the way a particular community views men and women since the language treats men and women differently. For instance, if one uses a word like chairman or salesman, it suggests that this kind of job is only for men and therefore women are left out. Besides if one hears the word “farmer, “he or she would most probably picture a man although there is no concrete reason as to why it should not be a woman. Besides, the word actress immediately pictures the image of a woman due to the form of the word. Another aspect of language, especially English, is the use of the word him to refer to him or her. In this way, language creates sexism in the community (Rajadurai, 2010). It is the community that makes the language sexist by for instance using words like birds and chicks to refer to women. Initially, the word bird used to refer both men and women but it is now completely used on women. This puts down women in the community.

Thus, in this way the language does not only affect the way a community views people but also dictates their roles in the community. A community, being a social setting has several identifiers one of which is the language used. Language is an inseparable part of the community since it defines every aspect of the community including the norms, beliefs and cultural practices (White, 2012). It is through the language that the community interacts with each other. The relationship between language and community is presented in two main ways. First is that the language affects the way individuals in the community think and behave. From the above illustrations, it can be seen that to some extent, the language used by an individual makes a significant difference on the way the individual views himself and the way the community and the whole society in general views the individual (Halliday & Hasan,1989).

It also influences the way we relate to the community. Secondly, individuals may have an influence on the type of language used. An example used in this document is that of the effect of the number of deaf people and the influence they have in the language used in the community around. Individuals can also manipulate the language used to suit their own needs and specifications. This is mainly when they are given power, for instance during the translation an article or book from one language to another, one may later some words to suit his or her needs. Besides influencing the thinking and behaviour of individuals in the society, language may also be used to illustrate the roles and positions of different members of the community. For instance, the use of the word chairman suggests that that particular position in question is particularly meant for men in that community. Generally, community and language go hand in hand, one cannot be separated from the other.

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Language And Community. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from
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