Growing up in a bilingual home has taught me the huge impact that language has on our lives. I’ve learned that no two people speak the exact same language. One’s choice of words and their delivery make all the difference. We all (unconsciously) speak different languages and are categorized by the way we speak (often times negatively). Not being able to speak the English language to perfection does not in any way make any one less intelligent than someone who is a “native speaker”.
I have two intelligent immigrant parents and I often act as their main avenue of communication with people who do not understand them. Growing up and being raised by immigrant parents who speak “limited English” was a challenge in that I would often have to accompany them to doctor appointments or the store in order to help translate. I often wondered what others thought of my parents and could tell my parents were given many judgmental stares. In a way, language has brought me closer to my family. Through helping them, I have allowed my parents to express themselves and to communicate and participate with the world. Language, the combination of specific words in a particular order, not only empowers individuals to participate as members of a community, it also enables and individual to establish and define the dimensions of their identity.
Could you imagine a world with linguistic oppression? Harold Pinter in his play, Mountain Language, exposes how economic and political control is gained through controlling one’s mind and language. In the play, soldiers strive to oppress the “mountain people” psychologically and culturally by continuously stating “you are not allowed to speak your language here” The officers use hard-hitting lines such as “You hear me? Your language is dead”, ‘You cannot speak your language to your men’, ‘No one is allowed to speak your language’ and ‘Your language no longer exists’ continuously repeated with fury and anger. These phrases all clearly denote how much the military is asserting their power through repetition over the mountain people in order to mentally destroy their social identity and distinctive characteristics. The military’s ultimate goal is to take control by elevating the mountain people’s beliefs and oppressing them.
The soldiers in the play devaluate the mountain people’s cultures by forbidding them to speak their language so much that eventually the elder woman does not respond to her son when he comes to the rescue and begins speaking to her in their language. The son utters “Mother, I’m speaking to you. You see? We can speak. You can speak to me in our own language”. Yet she remains silent due to the way her language was destroyed by repeatedly forbidding her to speak and taking away her culture and sense of identity.
By forcing someone to learn another language, you are forcing them to change their culture, their way of being, who they are. We live in a world of different faces, cultures, and languages. Let’s embrace it.