Our understanding of reality is structured by language, and when we begin to acknowledge the complexity of the human race alone, we will encourage language to evolve and expand. Just like language has the power to oppress and subordinate, it also has the power to liberate and empower.
Language dictates the way we perceive our experiences, so the more languages we know, the richer in verbal expression we will be. As multilingual individuals can attest, it can be difficult to transfer certain words from one language to another, as well as the different meanings applied after the translation. For example, I recently read a novel by John Steinbeck called East of Eden. One of the most prominent themes in this book revolves around the Hebrew Biblical translation of Timshel, which closely resembles “thou mayest.” In this, it contradicts the other Biblical translations of that phrase, which says “thou shalt,” thus referring the already destined path of an individual. Thou mayest gives one the personal choice, and personal responsibility and power over their life and the decisions made in it. With the change of shalt to mayest, an individual now suddenly has a choice.
Language also has a way of directing people’s attention away from some things and towards others. This refers to different vocabulary used for referring to the same thing. A great example of this is the way a politician chooses to word their arguments, bringing different meanings to the same topics being discussed. For example, in reproductive debates on abortion, Pro-Life refers to the “reality” as a baby, while Pro-Choice refers to its “reality” as a fetus, each referring to the same “reality” but with different meanings associated with their different use of language.
Not only can language alter our reality, but it can even alter the way we analyze a situation, so wording becomes crucial in the way we understand a topic. A simple change in language can make all the difference in the understanding of a phrase. And while in day to day conversations, it might not be as destructive, in different news outlets, such as TV news, radio, or newspapers, language makes a world of difference in its understanding and the way it is perceived by its viewers. For example language and the way that is manipulated in headline news to describe rape occurrences, is sometimes done purposely to suggest the victim being at fault for being where they were at at the time, and for wearing the clothes they were wearing “she had it coming”.
Language does not only shape how we speak and communicate our thoughts, but also shapes how we perceive and engage with the social world around us. By becoming aware of language, we can learn to be more thoughtful and open with our words. Through communication, true and detailed communication, we can avoid many conflicts we are currently, and have always been facing.