Exploring The Relationship Of Language With Society
What is a language to you? While many people think of languages as communication tools, the truth is they are far more than that. Languages are embroiled in so much history, which imbues them with culture, identity, and so much more.
That is why people say that language is a window to culture. For example, if you want to immerse yourself in Korean culture, one of the best ways is to sign up for one of the Korean classes in Singapore and learn the language for yourself.
In fact, language plays such a critical role in society that we often don’t realise until we actually think about it. To give you a better idea of what we mean, below are some ways in which language intertwines with society.
Language embeds culture
Language and culture are closely related. Which one affects which? – This is a chicken and egg question that even scholars can’t answer.
Some of these cultural nuances are embedded in language. For example, many languages have respect and politeness intertwined in language. In French, there are different words for ‘you’ depending on the closeness of relationship you have with the person you are speaking to. Similarly, in Korean, there are multiple levels of politeness that are marked with different honorifics.
Then, you have things like proverbs and idioms in every language that stem from very specific historical and cultural roots.
Language shapes perception
Language has the ability to change how people think about things. For example, in some languages, they don’t have a word to describe the colour blue. Instead, blue is perceived as a type of green colour. This is true of Chinese and Japanese in the past. And Russians have the opposite ‘problem’ – rather than one word for ‘blue’, they have two distinct words for ‘light blue’ and ‘dark blue’, thus they are better able to notice differences in varying shades of blue.
Today, word choice is also gaining attention for its influence on society’s perception. For example, would you call someone in a wheelchair a ‘disabled person’, ‘differently-abled person’, or ‘handicapped’? Some would argue that these words have different connotations, and some are preferred over others.
Language is power
Language is not just a tool – it is power. Some languages are more influential than others, because they are widely used, or used by influential nations.
Language has political power in the sense that it can bring communities together, or split nations apart. This is why some countries find there a need to distinguish their languages after demarcating their boundaries – even if the language was one and the same in the past. This is true of languages like Danish and Norwegian, and Urdu and Hindi.
The language also empowers people because it is being seen as something like a commodity. With more languages under your belt, you become an asset for companies that need translations, interpretations, diplomatic liaisons, and so on.
As you can see, language is more than a communication tool. It has such a profound effect on people and society. But this is also what makes each language so unique and interesting. Learning a new language offers you so much more than just a skill – it opens up new avenues of thought and understanding of the world. So, if you are contemplating whether you should pick up a new language, the answer is yes!