"Ebonics is the official language of the undefined black culture, the native tongue to the underrepresented black American." - Steven Willis
Human Geography: Chapter Six
Where Languages Go to Die
Where English Words Come From
How America's Wars Have Changed the English Language
Essay Question: What do the articles Human Geography: Chapter Six, Where Languages Go to Die, Where English Words Come From, and How America's Wars Have Changed the English Language have to say about if and how language reflects and changes culture?
Although it is the most common form of communication used, and probably one of the most important distinctions between humanity and the animal world, few people stop to consider how language truly effects the way we think, act, and see the world around us. Language is something we use everyday, as a means to interact and understand others and ourselves. It is even used by everyone when they don't talk, to visualize and create abstract ideas in their mind, and it is what allows for us as people to interpret and define the world around us through understandable concepts. While some like to see language as a defined tool which should remain the same as it always has, and that the use and development of new words or ideas should be snuffed out, it is impossible to have language without it being a constantly evolving entity. As language is what is used to reflect the ideas in our minds and to define the objects around us, it is obvious that it is going to shift as these factors do. Language will always shift as the mindset of those using it does, because the people who speak the language define how it is used. In Human Geography: Chapter Six, it clearly defines how language evolves and why, as well as the effects this change has on the people who use it. Where Languages Go to Die shows how and why languages can and will be discarded whole cloth if other languages are more useful at the time. Finally, both the articles Where English Words Come From and How America's Wars Have Changed the English Language provide perfect examples for how and where this change in language occurs.
While to many it may appear an abstract concept, one which cannot be defined through clear laws and ideas, the ways through which language evolves are actually very clear. Human Geography: Chapter 6 attempts to explain these methods and changes by giving clear examples as well as defined rules. As previously stated, language is the very reason that culture exists, as it allows for the development of ideas, ideologies, beliefs, and views on the world around us. Our language defines our culture due to the fact that the language we speak dictates how we see the world around us. An example given in the chapter are the use of some Asian languages which have no tenses or ways of recording events chronologically. This affects the culture greatly as it means that the culture of these people will be more focused on the now and the why of a thing or action, then the when. It means the culture does not value the recording of history as highly as other parts of life, and gives a sense of a "here and now" attitude to the people of the language, as rather than reflect on past events they simply speak in the present. Even if they describe what someone did in the past, without the use of tenses, it still affects their view on the event at hand as it places it in the present along with all other actions. In the same way, this example can be used to show how culture and the people using a language morph it as well. The fact that there exist no tenses in the languages in question reflects that to these people, the discussion of when something happened never seemed important, and thus they developed no concept of tenses and chronology. Another way that language allows for the reflection and changing of culture is through the existence of dialects. Dialects are variants of a standard language, the form of a language accepted as the official form by governments who adhere to it, that fall along regional or ethnic lines. The very existence of dialects is an example of how language reflects culture. An example of this can be seen in the difference in dialects between the South and the North in the United States. The South has a very distinct culture to the rest of America, and their
|An example of isogloss' and dialects in the US|
The next article, Where Languages go to Die, is an extension on the previous discussion as it addresses how and why languages can be discarded and changed for political and social reasons as a result of the situation a person or group lives in. The example used in the article was the rise and fall of Aramaic as the lingua franca of the Middle East. It describes how the Aramaic peoples rose to rule large swathes of Mesopotamia, before being taken over and exiled by the subsequent Akkadian speaking Assyrians. The exile was the key to their language's success, as it allowed for the Aramaic diaspora to spread across the Middle East. The reason for so many regions shift to using the Aramaic language in day to day commerce was that there were simply Aramaic people everywhere, and as such the language was a valuable tool to learn as it allowed for communication with a greater amount of people, something very important for the merchant and ruling classes. This shift in language,
The final two readings, Where English Words Come From and How America's Wars Have Changed the English Language, also gave modern examples of how English is still evolving to this day, despite the amounts of records on English and many people's efforts to stop it, and through this change there is a reflection of America's change in culture. In Where English Words Come From, it can be seen that English culture has changed its language as it was introduced to new ideas from other places. As the culture started to need a way to identify the new aspects of the world it was discovering it began to morph its language to address this new world as well. When the English first discovered the orange, they took the name from the French, who had taken it from Dravidians, and used it to name the knew fruit. Then it can be seen that culture can affect language even more, as orange began to be used to describe things that were previously called red-yellow. As the culture began to need more ways of clearing identifying culture, they simply morphed a word's meaning to reflect the needed change. The next best example used is the word disaster, which literally means "bad star" in Latin. This is due to the Roman belief that should a disaster occur, it was because or at least could be seen in how there were bad stars and signs in the heavens. This is an
|Civil War Slang|
All of these articles display how culture is both changed and reflected through the use of language. It can be used to show differences between regional ideals, as well as display shifts in them through the use of dialects. It can show how a culture expands and how its ideals spread between groups through the adoption of concepts common to another language, and finally it can be used to see how words and concepts can change their meaning as the culture around them changes along with it. All of this is important because it proves that shifts in language should be accepted and even encouraged, as it allows for the world at large to see a culture for what it is and what it thinks by what it can say.
Here is a video of how losing one's language can affect them on a personal level, and how language is tied to memory and identity.
This is a map of the world with the languages spoken there: