Friday, December 20, 2013

Payman Akhlaghi: The Politics of Language, Part II: Native Languages; Short Original Essay (2013)

The Politics of Language, Part II: Native Languages

A Short Essay By Payman Akhlaghi 

Draft 1, First published on December 20, 2014, at , under The Politics of Language... .

A language without sophisticated content is a fertile if empty language. Whether it grows henceforth, or it becomes extinct soon afterwards, the vacuum of content is bound to be filled by material whose nature would as much reflect as determine the culture in which it's spoken. Left to itself, a language may grow by expanding and proving its utility, or it may fade out for decreasing relevance and application. What it absorbs as long as it exists would influence the future of its speaking community and their interactions with the larger world.

Languages normally co-develop advanced content in parallel to the cultural progresses made in the speaking community. At this stage, small and neglected social groups may be helped to close the conceptual gap between them and the larger society by enriching their native languages with demonstrably sophisticated, tolerant, and non-biased content, in thought, arts, sciences, etc. This approach validates their unique cultural identity; it prevents the vacuum of data to be filled by detrimental content via an osmosis of information; and it facilitates their integration within the larger human society with an immediacy of perception which may never be fully achieved by merely adopting any dominant language. Of course, this is meant to continue in parallel to the necessary attempts of the community itself to join the larger pool of knowledge by mastering at least one dominant language. They may further appeal for a better global understanding of their local concerns by providing an array of their intellectual heritage in a dominant language, most likely, in English. Sustained efforts as such would help tear down the walls of ignorance, hubris, and cultural solipsism at their roots, on both sides.

Stating the obvious, the above highlights the crucial role of competent translators, and the need to date for increasing investment by the larger society in such localized publications and media. Both points have long been recognized, and successful examples abound, indeed going back for millennia, as it's readily suggested by, say, the Greek "Septuagint" version of the Jewish Bible. In our times, thanks to its dedicated and independent translators,  the Iranian intelligentsia has maintained a smooth and strong bond with world thought, which has shunned their short or long political upsets. On the other side, such bridges as VOA, BBC and VOI, have continued to provide much valuable content in Persian, through decades of radio broadcasts, and recently, via the Internet, alongside the incomparable multi-lingual UNESCO's Courier, whose lasting imprint on cross-cultural understanding on a global scale should be appreciated.

The above may explain in part the overall sympathetic attitude of large sectors of the Iranian people toward Western thought and modernity, despite decades of propaganda to the contrary. It should also reinforce our urgent attention, at the policy level, toward evermore effective means of bringing modernity in its best sense to smaller nations through an increasing awareness of the central role of language. This requires an attitude of natural curiosity and mutual esteem, without negating our core belief in our civilization, continuous progress, life-enhancing achievements, and life-affirming values.

Arguably, the historically prolonged "colonialist" mentality has resulted in lingering partitions between the "dominant vs. conquered" languages, as vehicles of their associated cultures and norms. These invisible walls symbolize and contribute to ongoing tensions, leading to some absurd dichotomies of values and identities that evidently may coexist, for long unresolved, within the same community, even the same mind. In contrast, a linguistically and anthropologically informed synergistic approach, open yet not absolutely relativistic, could reduce tensions between and within such conflicting social groups, even as it would acknowledge the unique contribution of each party to the global human discourse.

If so, we may as well search in language for a most effective and elemental key to eliminate hostilities and ideological violence among many distinct groups, and ease their assimilation into the larger society, whether it is a small rebellious sect in Europe, or the larger tribal Afghanistan, provincial Pakistan, many Arab societies, but especially vast numbers of small and large African nations and ethnic communities. Lasting calm depends on mutual esteem and understanding, and on absorbed values of tolerance and harmonious coexistence on all sides. To that end, we may bet safely on radical solutions that arise in essence from an improved understanding of language in its broadest sense, and the subtle yet crucial nuances thereof.

(*) Update (April.25.2014): Months later, as I read through Prof. Noam Chomsky's Language and Responsibility (1979), I found the following paragraph relevant, if obliquely, to this short essay, notwithstanding the broader and more sophisticated scope of what he has in mind: "[...] In the speech of real speakers idealized systems interact; each of us speaks a variety of these systems, intermingling them in a complex fashion. Because the experience of individuals is different, the mixture of systems is different. But I do not believe that outside these systems there exists a reality of dialect or language. [p] Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there are constraints on the ways in which linguistic systems can or cannot enter into interaction in a single community, or a wider group, or the mind of a single person. Perhaps we shall find that certain combinations are possible and others impossible. If principles emerge which govern the interaction of these systems, then these will belong to a field called sociolinguistics."[1]

[1] See Noam Chomsky, Language and Responsibility (1979), in On Language. The volume also includes his Reflections on Language.

(*) Afterwords: My short paragraph, Politics of Language, Part I, was first published on August 21st, 2013, at Here's the text:

On the Politics of Language, Part I, By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

To insult, regardless of intent or validity, is to label by the use of a perceived objectionable concept -- delivered explicitly via words, or implicitly through gestures -- with a presumably reductive effect on the image of the target. I distinguish between an insult offered To some entity in the position of power versus one coming From a position of power. In the former case, it might be an understandable, forgivable if not preferable or permissible, way to get a hold on a perceived threatening enormity: to make it more manageable emotionally; and to free up the cognitive resources to better handle its reality. In the latter case, it seems to be pure malice meant to harm. © 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

© 2013, 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

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