May 19, 2006
The U.S. Senate voted yesterday by an overwhelming majority to make English the United States’ national language. While proponents of a national language may point out obvious merits in the legislation of a national language, it represents further homogenization of our world culture and a step closer to the horrific notion of a language that speaks for its state, akin to the Newspeak language in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Now, do not think I am suggesting that this is another conspiracy concocted by Big Brother himself to gain more control over all of us puny commoners. There are distinct economic and diplomatic advantages to language homogenization. It allows us to better understand both our trade partners and avoid misrepresentation within our communities. However, we must acknowledge the consequences of such legislation. While language is a conduit of thought, it also emphasizes a culture’s world view and heritage. It is this diversity that creates culture itself. Likewise, we must evaluate the original intentions and motivations of the English language. English evolved from a predominantly Christian society with a particular metaphysics and understanding of the world. Words like ‘goodbye’ in English have their roots in these religious doctrines. Other cultures do not admit such polar concepts into their everyday vocabulary.
English has also skewed the meaning of several of its “borrowed” words. Take the word ‘karma,’ as borrowed from Sanskrit and Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Many English speakers use ‘karma’ incorrectly. According to its original definition, karma roughly translates to ‘deed’ or ‘destiny.’ How many times have you heard a fellow English speaker say “that’s not good for your karma” or “this will increase my karma” as if karma is some kind of commodity that has a quantifyable value? It is our Western understanding of the world that prevents us from properly conceptualizing such terms.
Perhaps the most dangerous consequence of language homogenization is the degree of control it places in the hands of those in power. Ask an average American what communists believe and you’re bound to get an answer that strays distant from the truth. Likewise, ask an average American to identify their notion of Islam and they will almost undoubtedly include terrorism in their response. These examples do not suggest Americans are ignorant (okay, maybe a bit), but it does show the effect the generalization of these concepts has had on our world view. However, ask a dedicated Marxist their notion of communism or a Muslim their notion of their faith and culture and you will receive quite a contrary response. Language is an instrument of control that states will use to their advantage if given the opportunity.
There’s some goodthink for you.