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How Does Language Influence Our World?

Language is humanity’s district feature, a basis for the majority of human activities. People learn, work, entertain and express themselves, and cooperate using various languages existing in the world. Aside from those functions, a language also preserves a respective culture and its relevant meanings. They can be benign, malevolent, neutral, or controversial, but it is impossible to convey a message without them. Even though language carries so many different meanings to which people can respond differently, it is what makes human nature by connecting many individuals to their culture and helping them define who they are. Languages shape the way people think and act, and the world, both in general and as one’s surroundings, changes accordingly.

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Language can be powerful enough to reveal one’s identity without being seen and determine other people’s reactions. For instance, a person using Black English will be treated differently depending on their race, gender, and communicative partners (McWhorter 1172, 1183). A Black man is expected to speak that variety regardless of circumstances, and applying the so-called standard “white” version of the language will cause a reaction varying from mockery to confusion (McWhorter 1180). On the other hand, the attitude towards a Black woman not speaking African-American English will be more understanding, as she is supposed to be “sophisticated” (McWhorter 1183). Meanwhile, a White person speaking with blaccent is another issue entirely, and it is often subject to critique. Everyone has their circumstances explaining why they use languages in a certain way, but people tend to judge each other without nuance. Thus, language influences the world by shaping human relations and attitudes, although it is the users who attribute those qualities.

Language can be used to manipulate history and, by proxy, the present times. An egregious example is the US government’s vocabulary used to describe its actions towards Japanese-Americans during World War II (The Japanese American Citizen League 1192). Misleading words, such as “evacuation” instead of “forced removal” and “relocation center” replacing “concentration camp,” painted the event as beneficial for that demographic, although it was far from the truth (The Japanese American Citizen League 1198, 1201, 1202). The context also mattered as the vocabulary allowed the government to obfuscate the conditions under which American citizens had to live (The Japanese American Citizen League 1201, 1202). Thus, for that time, language constructed an alternative reality in which non-Japanese-American or even participants themselves could believe, and only a re-examination of the past events revealed the truth hidden between the lines.

People use language to demonstrate how a specific phenomenon is viewed and construct the discourse around it. For instance, the vocabulary for describing rape affects how the audience perceives the act (Gay 1228). Using euphemisms and officially sounding constructions can soften the blow produced by the word “rape,” whose meaning is straight-forward, unlike that of “sexual assault” (Gay 1227). A person can also manipulate a text to make the victims seems the perpetrators and vice-versa (Gay 1218, 1219). Fictional contexts in which language is used to depict the phenomenon may lead to desensitization towards the subject if they are not constructed carefully (Gay 1222, 1223). Perhaps, if the language to describe rape and similar atrocities changes, people’s attitudes will follow suit.

In the age of globalization, language becomes especially valuable due to its role in connecting nations and promoting cultural exchange. However, not all languages are equal in that aspect, which poses a challenge to speakers of those not deemed important (Encinas 1239). English is in a particularly advantageous position due to its role in all spheres of human activity and prominence on the Internet. Native speakers have significant influence and a big reach, meaning that people from non-English countries will still be impacted. English-speaking celebrities and politicians command the world’s attention, exemplified by the constantly discussed Twitter page of Donald Trump. However, the question remains if one should attribute all the influence to the language itself or the nations speaking it because the lines become blurry.

One may argue, especially after perusing the last example, that it is people who speak a certain language are influential rather than languages themselves. While it is true to some extent, one may always fall victim to the manipulations described previously within their native language. Such phenomena as misinformation, fake news, and propaganda are all products of language, and they led to devastating results throughout history, demonstrated by Nazi Germany and people’s reluctance to accept COVID-19’s existence. It matters who spreads those, the government or a small online blog, although people are willing to trust anonymous sources if the information aligns with their worldview. Thus, language by itself is influential, but it becomes even more so in the right person’s hands.

Language is an efficient tool, and it is difficult to say whether people control it or are controlled. Most of the provided examples are negative, demonstrating how language can dictate social attitudes, warp reality, diminish a phenomena’s significance, or figuratively rule the world. Unfortunately, the bad is always noticeable, while the good is more subdued. For instance, using the inclusive “they” for a person who wishes to be referred that way can probably make them feel valid (Smith 1159). Language has both creative and destructive potential, and it would be delightful to see it used in the former way more.

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References

Encinas, George. “How Latino Players Are Helping Major League Baseball Learn Spanish.” Everything’s an Argument with Readings, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 1231-1240.

Gay, Roxane. “The Careless Language of Sexual Violence.” Everything’s an Argument with Readings, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 1217-1228.

McWhorter, John. “Thick of Tongue.” Everything’s an Argument with Readings, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 1169-1188.

Smith, E. “They Should Stop: In Defense of the Singular They.” Everything’s an Argument with Readings, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 1155-1166.

The Japanese American Citizens League. “The Power of Words.” Everything’s an Argument with Readings, edited by Andrea A. Lunsford et al., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2019, pp. 1191-1207.

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