Language is essential human life. Malinowski, father of social Anthropology says “It’s an indispensable instrument for creating the toes of the moment without which unified social action is impossible.” As man is a social animal, he lives in community, where misunderstandings are common. Language is that core which can eliminate this misunderstanding and let man evolve.
What is a language? A system of communication using sounds or signs to convey objects, ideas or actions. It is primarily spoken. It evolved as man evolved. Written language appeared much later, around ca. 3200 BC. Why language is important? According to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, man is a rational animal. This means, he has the ability to reason. And reasoning without language is not possible. The sounds which bear meaning use rational power of man, are constructed with the use of his physiological organs. This differentiates man from other animals.
Thus, the role of language is primordial for human life.
Language and its link to human perception
A man’s feelings and activities are tied to a language. It encompasses the feeling of self, bound by nationality and religion. It is used in every action of man, be it work, worship, play , argument etc. It is used by every man, both rich or poor, educated or illiterate, savage or civilized. Apart from reflecting the reality, language also helps man to perceive and understand the world. It creates a questioning mind. It develops critical thinking.
Critical Thinking enhances language and presentation skills. Thinking clearly and systematically can improve the way we express our ideas. Critical thinking skills can bring about a big positive change in one’s life, by improving the quality of one’s thoughts and ones decisions. Hence, it is impossible to envisage a society without language, as it is the basis to man’s progress.
Language is an acquired skill
Chomsky, an American linguist believes “Humans acquire language through an instinctive knowledge”. However, even though it is instinctive, man has to still learn to speak and write a language. In addition, reading and understanding are skills that have to be acquired. Walking and eating are instinctive skills. Language learning is not. For example, a child which is brought up isolated from society will learn to walk, run, eat, etc, but will never learn to talk. It will only learn when it will first hear the language around it and acquire the necessary skills to imbibe it. It can only happen in a community we live in.
The social structure may either influence or determine linguistic structure and/or behaviour . For example, a foreigner who is born and brought up let’s say in Karnataka, will eventually learn Kannada, as the environment he lives in facilitates such learning. The environment we live in is reflected in our language.
One of the evidences is that young children speak differently from older children and, in turn, children speak differently from mature adults. The varieties of language that speakers use reflect such matters as their regional, social or ethnic origin and possibly even their gender. It is also seen that particular ways of speaking, choice of words, and even rules for conversing are in fact highly determined by certain social requirements.
Language is the mirror of a society
The value system of a society, its beliefs are all reflected in its language. One way in which this happens is through taboo words. Taboo is concerned with behaviour which is forbidden, or regarded as immoral or improper. Every language has taboo words and if the particular
rules regarding the use of taboo words are not adhered to, it can lead to
punishment or public shame. However, these taboo words also evolve and what was considered taboo earlier, may no longer be considered so, as societies evolve. Social changes take place.
Through this mirror, one can see these social changes arriving from time to time. For example, in today’s times, the SMS and whatsApp language are a reflexion of this social change. Today’s generation has adapted aggressively to this new language, which has revolutionized the process of communication.
Language is evolutionary and the vocabulary and phrases which are used depend on a number of factors like place of residence, age, education level, social status etc. Through human interactions new words and phrases are picked up and integrated into human speech. Hence it is often seen that teenagers and young adults speak differently from their parents or elders.
However, for man’s evolution, understanding of man’s past is essential. Language contributes in a large way in forming ideas and storing them for future. Therefore, the basic function of language is to communicate information of some kind or other. In accordance with the different purposes it serves, language is used in different ways. For example, there is the language of science, journalism, advertising, political oratory, prayer and worship. In these instances language is used as a multipurpose tool and put to various uses as and when required.
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Language and Culture: inseparable entities
Stalin, leader of Soviet Union states thus about language “It arises and develops with the rise and development of a society. It dies when a society dies. There is no society without language”. Man is born in a society, where he is nurtured and he grows. And he is also born with an ability to speak a language. Because of language, man is called a social animal.
Language is a social product. It arrives with a community, where it develops according to the needs of culture and civilization, and disappears when that society disappears. Therefore, we can assume language to be the index of progress of a society. The longer a society exists, the richer the language. Thus, we can say that the role of language is much bigger than just been a means of communication.
Language is a social institution. It carries culture and culture carries language through art and literature, and all the body of values through which men perceive themselves and their space in this world. Duranti, an American Anthropologist defines culture as ‘something learned, transmitted, passed down from one generation to the next, through human action, often in the form of face-to-face interaction, and, of course, through linguistic communication’.
David Crystal, and English linguist says “ Language is the repository of the history of a people. It is their identity. Oral testimony, in form of epics, folktales, rituals, proverbs and many other practices, which provide us with a unique view of our world and a unique canon of literature.” It becomes evident from this that language plays a crucial role in culture transmission.
Culture preservation takes place through different forms too , like architecture, painting, music, etc. However language is the most dynamic of them all. Facts about language are handed down from person to person and from one generation to another through cultural transmission. The capacity of man helps him to master the unique features of a particular language.
Thus it is seen that language is the outcome of evolution and convention. Like most human institutions language also change and die, grow and expand. But, as language is acquired by human beings, it is believed that due to language man became man.
Social and cultural roles are assumed by man by the very act of talking. However these processes are so deeply rooted in men that they go almost unnoticed. One cannot separate culture and communication , because culture not only dictates who talks to whom, about what, and how the communication proceeds, it also helps to determine how people put in code the messages, the meanings that are derived from these messages, and the conditions and circumstances under which various messages may or may not be sent, noticed, or understood. In this perspective, culture becomes the foundation for communication.
Language and Indian society
India is a multilingual society, where one learns more than one language on an average from school level onwards. Protagoras, a Greek philosopher says “Were it not for a language, a civilization would not be possible”. India being one of the oldest civilizations in the world, has witnessed the growth of various languages. This is also due to the fact that India is a multicultural society. And it is believed that whoever controls language, controls the culture. Hence, the multilingual and multicultural nature of Indian society has helped Indians evolve and sustain over thousands of years.
Further, this multilingual and multicultural nature of Indian society adds to a large extent in developing global communication and helps promote tolerance and intercultural awareness. Today, India being a global player, the boundaries of language and culture have gone beyond geographical boundaries. Hence, knowledge of foreign languages becomes important, if we want to be globally competitive and contribute to the world as a global citizen.
However, there is the other side of the picture. The fear of homogenization is becoming evident especially with regard to local culture and customs. One of the serious consequence of globalization today is the rise of popular culture , which can potentially destroy the local culture in the long run, if controlled measures are not taken.
But, language or languages are essential to man, because, they have a major role to play in helping a multicultural society to evolve into an intercultural society. This is the only way which can ensure the survival and evolution of human species.
Language is a gift to mankind. It clearly shows the perseverance of man to survive and evolve. It is such a powerful tool which can either build or destroy societies. Today, man is empowered because of language. Without it, he would be unable to deal with decision-making, conflicts and arguments: Ills that can annihilate mankind
Language can have a persuasive effect on man. Persuasion can change attitudes, motivate, help to comply, behave and help to develop a different, positive outlook towards life. All this however requires critical thin king which only man possesses. Therefore, communication is more than just wants and needs. It is that powerful means through which development and subsistence of human societies is possible. And language gives us that power to communicate.
Just like air, water and food are required for man’s survival, communication also is vital for continuity of mankind. Thus, Language is the prerogative of man and distinguishes him from animals, without which he would not be able to evolve or move forward. He would be like apes, doing mimicry.