In a recent post by Ken Allen, I commented
"...literacy is more than the language. Governments and certain societies want to control language, but it has a deeper goal. What they want to control is the knowledge, the means of communication, and the structures that are behind the language, imposing their ideas through the restriction of language."
Ken then challenged me to come up with an example of what I meant by controlling knowledge through language. I came up with the example of using the passive voice in American English. In the States, we are taught in schools not to use the passive voice (The paper was handed in). In the passive voice, there is no action agent unless the speaker (or writer) puts it in (The paper was handed in by the student).
How does this affect knowledge creation? By requiring that there is an agent for action, the language is reinforcing the American cultural value of the belief that man has control over every thing (even nature). An extension of this is that every idea is tied to a specific person (thus the obsession with identifying plagiarism in schools and identifying owners of "intellectual property." In other cultures, ideas might be considered communal or community owned. But in American English, we have a language based mechanism that helps to reinforce that every idea comes from an individual (the active voice preference).
However, American English and English in general is much more flexible and less constrictive in limiting ideas. An English speaker can (and often does) make up, borrow, or modify words when there is no word or expression that fits a specific idea. Simply look at the tech words that have come into use in the last 5 years (to google something, wiki, social software, texting, just to name a few).
I am more familiar with the control of ideas for francophones. In the '80's and 90's there was a big controversy over the use of "le marketing" over "publicite". This had more to do with the fear that American marketing practices might take hold in the French organizations. However, rather than letting a French version of marketing evolve (so that le marketing was not the same as marketing in English), companies were fined for using the word, but did not necessarily create their own form of the concept. There was a gap in expressing what they were doing. Now, I am not saying that this influenced the direction the French marketing departments took on. However, the fact is that English became a language of choice for many multinationals companies, because French was not allowed to evolve naturally. The action did not control French ideas so they maintained their "Frenchness" but rather encouraged those that worked with French businesses to use another language.
- V Yonkers
- Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.