Taking control over the body by tongue
Posted on September 26th, 2011

GEETHANJANA KUDALIGAMAGE

“Who is to say that robbing a people of their language is less violent than war?”   (Ray Gwyn Smith)

Robbing a people of their language is not lessviolent than war; yes I agree.But at the same time I would say that it’s also not lessbrutal than genocide. Why do I say so? The reason is because man without language is a dead man. Taking one’s language away is similar to that of taking one’s soul out of the body. When a soul was taken out, the man will be reduced to a frame without a picture. Let me ask a question, what possesses one’s identity; the soul or the body? Replacing this hollow body with an outlandish language like English can never fill the void of the lost soul. Who is to say that it’s not a murder?

 If there is any substance constitutes within the entire meaning of “ƒ”¹…”man,’ with all due responsibility, I must say that this substance has been acquired through language; and nothing but language. The physical body of man is merely an animal structure; a walking and breathing mound of flesh and blood. It has nothing in it other than a living animal and an unborn or dead man. But the possession of a cultural component makes the man to be complete and separate from other animals. It took long time for me to understand that this cultural component is nothing but a product of language.

 Man is a socio-cultural animal. Due to this socio-cultural component, man becomes different from other animals. Does language play a significant role in this entire transformation of man? Of course yes; because this socio-cultural component is nothing but a making of language; because the socio-cultural environment is fundamentally based on exchange of ideas, feelings and knowledge through posterity. Without a proper tool of communication in place, such socio-cultural environment cannot exist. Therefore we can recognize the role of language that creates foundations for the continuation of cultural knowledge across generations in a given society.

 The foundation of communicating above said cultural awareness is language. It helps us becoming aware of our own cultural values, beliefs, perceptions, ethos and mythos. It tells us why we do things in this or that way? How do we see the world in particular manner? Why do we react to certain things in that particular way and not in any other way? What is our history, our mythologies, beliefs, ethics and morality? Who are our heroes? What are the cherished values we upheld throughout our histories? What are the cultural taboos? Not to mention, it reveals us all our way of organizing our feasts, rituals, traditions of mating and their ceremonies necessarily structured by a particular cultural model. That model is our model. It is unique to us, and nobody else has it other than us. We call it our way of life.This entire cultural learning is based on language.

So the language preserves our memories.It helps in our recollections; it goes between images imaginings and our understandings of them. It mediates our perceptions of natural phenomena and helps us to grasp them, understand and memorize them. Language brings meaning to human life, helps to generate, explain and understand complexities of human ideas.

The uniqueness of our entire cultural learning makes us to laugh at the criticism and accusations coming from the west on our actions that we took to protectinnocent lives defeating terrorism. It makes us to laugh even louder when we see them criticizing us while justifying their continued bombardment of cities and villages killing thousands of innocents to safeguard human rights world over. We do not see any sense in it; because our cultural learning tells us to see justice otherwise, through a different perspective. It tells us that their justice is completely opposite of our notion of right and wrong.

 Anyway, beliefs, perceptions, ethos and mythos and sense of right and wrong of communities are loaded with ideas, ideologies, intrinsic symbols and cultural metaphors of their own, and mostly they are properties of language. When the language is removed, the essential properties of their cultural memories can be discontinued. There is a reason for it.

 The socio-cultural approach in human behavior is based on the idea that “society and culture shape cognition. Social customs, beliefs, values, and language are all part of what shapes a person’s identity and reality. According to this approach, what a person thinks is based on his or her socio-cultural background. A socio-cultural approach takes into account more than the individual in attempting to understand cognitive processes.” (Psychology Glossary)

If man is a product of his socio-cultural background, and if this socio- cultural background is a product of language, then we can accept the fact that man is exclusively a product of language. Language is the determining force of human behavior. Under this condition, one can understand that robbing people’s language is equivalent to genocide of entire communities; because with this robbery, onerobs every possession of such communities. After doing so, nothing will be left other than empty physical bodies. This reveals that taking control of a tongue is not less than a murder.

 This tells why colonial administrations were so desperate and determined to enforce their language upon natives. Above all, this reveals why Colombians think completely in opposite to native thinking.

 Taking control of the body by an outlandish tongue

What controls what”¦? This could be debatable in regards to language question, especially when it comes to a colonial language such as English. Although we accustomed to think otherwise, I think the language has more control over human body than we think. As we have experienced, the controlling of one’s tongue is the way to take over the control of the entire mind and the body of a person. How if I suggest that the cultured man differed from the animal-man largely due to his being controlled by language?

 We tend to think that body is controlled by mind. But none would deny the fact that our entire thinking process is governed by imaginings and language. We think in images and words. All these images associated to their language form of nouns and descriptions. Ideas are generated in words. If our mind is programed by language, then we have to accept the fact that our actions are determined by language as well.

 Human mind is not only functioning merely by animal desires and feelings. It is also a store house of memories and theirrecollections, fantasies and imaginations.So human mind is not a mere organ, but a phenomenon more related to language.

In addition, cultural knowledge transmitted through language helps to understand meanings among the members of given communities, to recognize cultural signs and symbols, signifiers and signifieds. Without this awareness, communication will never be able to have any substance or significance.

 The most important thing is that man’s creativity depends on communication and transmission of knowledge between generations. But we know that imagination will never occur in the void of culture. Cultural knowledge is the key component making one to “ƒ”¹…”wonder’ and “ƒ”¹…”imagination.’ If the root cause of the entire creative impulse of man is imagination, then language fulfills a large part of such imagination.
In every community, we can see an existing cultural understanding that governs every aspect of social life. This can be recognized as a unique knowledge base gradually accumulated over the time, shaping up cultural landscape of given societies.

 However, if cultural awareness governs human cognition, then we can recognize language as the source of this awareness.Every society possesses cultural meanings traditionally associated to their cultures essential for creative activities, knowledge production and even to deal with day to day life. These assigned meanings may be unique to given cultures and may look estrange to others. Nevertheless some symbols and metaphors can go beyond cultural limits. Sometime they can be used across cultures generating universal meanings. But in a multi-cultural world, such metaphors can be limited. But by taking control of the tongue of the “ƒ”¹…”Other,’ colonialism desired to remove this obstacle for the benefit of the colonialists.

 A man who thinks in Sinhala language overshadowed by its entire cultural practices and its ethos and mythos, would begin to think entirely differently when his native tongue is removed. In conquering distant lands, colonialists used language hand in hand with their brutal military interventions. In colonial setting, language is a political as well as a military affair. When the body begins to control by the tongue, then of course it can even become an economic affair.

 When language and its associated culture possess the power to control man’s thinking process, then of course language gains control over the desires of man. In that sense language becomes an economic tool. Let us compare the consumer patterns between Anglophone Colombians and the Sinhala speaking natives in village level. The answer is there. So the language issue is not just a matter of mere communication; but it is a matter of larger socio-political and economic issue. 

 Colonial language policy was the real WMD made in England

In colonial setting, English brings an extra device into the cultural function of the colony. This is what we call English “ƒ”¹…”narrative.’ English brings different narrations into other societies and then forcefully enforces such alien narrations replacing native ones.

 But this happens disregarding the fact that those other societies are established, cultivated and matured by a different language and a different narration of their own before the intrusion of this alien language and its completely alien narrations.

 The alien language of the colonial administrations narrated the “ƒ”¹…”Other’ without giving a chance for the “ƒ”¹…”Other’ to speak for himself/herself. When this colonial narrative, narrates every single belonging of the colonized, for instance, of his culture, history, most importantly about him, the colonized loses everything including his own histories as well as his cultural memories. After all, cultural memories largely exist through posterity of words. Once a language is taken away from a community, all cultural memories and related metaphors, symbols and their meanings will be taken away with the language. The alien language would not possess same properties to narrate the native culture. When the alien language begins to narrate the “ƒ”¹…”Other’, this given community may lose not only their culture, language and memories, but also they may lose sensitivities of seeing them through their own perspective and may begin to see through a cultivated vision of somebody else. It is very sad to mention that in the ex-colony Sri Lanka, we still live with these alien narratives. The best example is the different narratives of national issue of Sri Lanka between Colombian Anglophone class and the native masses.  

 If human behavior is largely cultural, and if this cultural component is based on language, then we can conclude what actually controls what. When a community is removed from their native tongue, such communities cease to exist. If anything is left, then it must be considered as a different community like South America or Philippines.

 Now the question is, as some people believe, and some others have become diehard defenders of the notion, is that only English and other Nordic languages have the device capable for culture and knowledge production? I rather liked to leave the question for the readers to find the answer. But however, history of mankind tells it all.

 

4 Responses to “Taking control over the body by tongue”

  1. Ratanapala Says:

    When the rulers and the ruled speak different languages, that country is already divided. Japan and South Korea are where they are today in spite of imperialistic subjugation because from top to bottom the rulers and the ruled speak one language and they are proud of it. The understanding is complete; rulers understand what the ruled demand and the ruled understand what the rulers expect. Sri Lanka has no future until the Colombians are driven out of power for good.

  2. Ben_silva Says:

    Thanks. I knew tounge could do wonders.

  3. Fran Diaz Says:

    Geeth presents a powerful argument here for our native language to flourish in Lanka once again. On a personal level, I think that whatever damage the learning of the English language on a high scale has done, the Buddhist religion has countered that damage fairly effectively. Fortunately, Buddhism has mitigated the damage done through the imposed English language, and has kept our VALUE SYSTEM intact. In the absence of Buddhism, the damage done to our psyche would have been abysmal. My connection with our history and past remain fairly clear through my admiration for the uplifting and undying truths of Buddhism. As we learnt Buddhism mostly in Pali & Sanskrit, the roots of learning to the Sinhala language remain intact.
    After learning the Sinhala alphabet as kids, we were given books in the English language. As a kid of about 4 yrs, I recall seeing things in those books that were quite alien to me. The book said, “A” for Apple & “J” for ‘Japonica” a flower. What really is an Apple & Japonica – I had not seen either item ! And “My Big Book of Dogs” too and playtime with Meccano sets, jigsaw puzzles etc. Marmite & Kraft cheese were imported from Gt.Britain. “Vicks”, “Tiger Balm”, “Disprin” all went side by side with the English language ! All alien concepts to be admired by the young. Our school library was full of books in the English language. Then came “Pathe News” presenting the WWI&II through British eyes, and films galore presenting the west, mostly in sophisticated splendor, and various Sciences & technologies from the west added padding to be admired and imitated by the young. How brain washed we were by the market place ! However, I am glad of my knowledge of the English language as a medium of world communication as this knowledge has enabled me to travel and work here & abroad.

    In my opinion, for Sinhala people, English or any other language should always be taught only as a second language in Sri Lanka. The English language is a good tool for worldwide communication. It has remained the main language of commerce & computer world wide, and at present, also in Sri Lanka.

    Our thanks to Geeth for making us think.

  4. oldfarm39 Says:

    Great article,well written with sound analysis. Mother tongue is vital for human development. That does not mean only mother tongue should be taught exclusively. In a modern world ability to communicate is essential, whether we like it or not English has become world language, and it so important our children learn English as a second language. In countries like Norway,Denmark, Sweden and Holland children are taught in their respective mother tongue with all their native history,and also English,and at least one other European language . I am always amazed at their language skills but not at the expense of their own language. Every language in the world whether spoken by few or by many should be nurtured developed and preserved for future generation, without it world will be a poorer place.

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