The Travails of the English Language - From Obscurity to Empowerment
The academic intelligentsia has been abuzz with a new found occupation-the Subaltern Studies-in the recent decades. It has drawn our attention to the outwardly quiet, but potentially volatile fault lines of our culture, which invariably run along the borders of different (and may be even irreconcilable) group interests. As he peeps in to these fissures, the watchful eye of the academic identifies many a hitherto unobserved sites of oppression; History, text, discourse, media, film, art and literature have all shed their innocent apolitical stance to emerge as sites of conflicts. Another important addition to this litany of shame is language.
Since times immemorial language has been regarded as sacred and one of the several divine bounties which makes humans human. However, language today, is more appropriately viewed as a powerfully loaded “weapon” which means service to those who wield it, and servitude to those whom it is wielded at.
Language standardization is just one of the many areas under the gamut of linguistic problematic which concerns us today. The process of Language Standardization evokes several unpalatable adjectives like “autocratic”, “tyrannical”, “discriminatory” and “inequitable”. On the other hand, the defense arsenal of the same term has concepts like “linguistic purity”, “correct usage” etc. to give it strength.
This paper critically explores the process of the standardization of English, questioning whether or not and how this process has been linguistically oppressive. In a systematic manner, it looks at the principal stages of standardization, the prejudice at play therein, and the ideology floated to sustain the standard. By examining the fallout of linguistic exclusion on our identity, it to a less acknowledged but very significant kind of backwardness - the linguistic backwardness. Though deprivation of a social, economic and educational nature has duly been recognized and documented, linguistic dispossession can certainly do well with a little more attention. This paper, with the example provided by the standardization of English posits that the linguistic disadvantage is cause and the consequence of the socio-economic deprivation. The linguistically disadvantaged classes endure manifold curses - they are at the receiving end of an autocratic and also a linguistic hegemony. Furthermore the traumatic psychological corollary of subjugating a people’s individuality, something they are doomed to endure generation after generation, is also examined. And finally in a time when the globe is shrinking and the repressed have found some hope, it asks how successful a role a standard language can play in the emancipation of the ones it once tied down. Is our Standard English Debate turning into a Standard English Paradox?
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