Language

We'll briefly examine language in the abstract. What is language? How does it work? Language is arguably the greatest tool that human beings have to use. Historians and archeologists use written language as one of the markers signifying the "birth of civilization." Language allows us to pass information from one person to another. It has allowed humans to make meaning out of our experience in life. We can do that with verbal symbols (spoken words), written symbols (written words), and nonverbal communication (sign language or other forms of nonverbal communication). When one has access to a language, they are able to use that language to convey meaning and develop understanding through the lens of that language. 

Not all languages are created equally. Some languages have hundreds of thousands of words and others a few hundred. Each word gives you a window to explore and understand the world. That window comes with a context that is embedded in the language that can enhance or limit the scope of experience one can have in the world. This is something people who have learned a language outside of their native tongue can attest to because they'll find that some words do not translate into other languages or certain languages do not have words for certain experiences. 

Who defines these words? People do, and at times modern people do because language is constantly evolving. We create meaning and new words all the time, be they slang, or terms that are influenced by social media and technology, or pop culture references. Thus, language is alive and evolves over time. Most of us inherited our language from our ancestors. It is something that is passed on to us, and in that process of receiving language, we also receive meaning for the symbols given to us. That meaning is reinforced in our home life and our outside world. Quick note, English is the language spoken by the most nonnative speakers, which is a direct result of the colonization efforts by the English. They exported their language and culture all throughout the world. Hence my non-English self is able to write this book in English, and you are able to read it even though most of us are English speakers by force and not by birthright of being born English in England. We are all by-products of their colonization, and the language we speak, think, and write in is one of the lasting artifacts of that colonization. 

English was superimposed on global populations, and it included a particular view of the world. One of the core values of that English cultural worldview became the supremacy of English people over all other groups of people. Their false reading of events in the world led them to believe they were the most "civilized" of all the nations. Their language began to reflect this cultural arrogance, and we still can witness it in the English language to this day. Case in point, examine the definitions for the words white and black. It is no mere coincidence that the people who felt they were the best of all people defined a word that is used to describe their skin color with all the positive attributes they could pile into the word. 

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the words white and black as follows:

 

“White - 

 

  1. (1): free from moral impurity innocent (2): marked by the wearing of white by the woman as a symbol of purity <a white wedding>

 

  1. not intended to cause harm <a white lie> <white magic>

 

d: favorable, fortunate <one of the white days of his life—Sir Walter Scott>

 

Black -

 

  1. dirty, soiled <hands black with grime>

 

  1. thoroughly sinister or evil: wicked <a black deed>

  2. indicative of condemnation or discredit <got a black mark for being late>

 

  1. connected with or invoking the supernatural and especially the devil <black magic>

  2.  

    1. very sad, gloomy, or calamitous <black despair>

    2. marked by the occurrence of disaster <black Friday>

  3. characterized by hostility or angry discontent: sullen <black resentment filled his heart>

 

11

  1. of propaganda: conducted so as to appear to originate within an enemy country and designed to weaken enemy morale

  2. characterized by or connected with the use of black propaganda <black radio>

  1. characterized by grim, distorted, or grotesque satire <black humor>

  2. of or relating to covert intelligence operations <black government programs>”

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