Connections through Language and Identity

While reading through Monday’s selections, I couldn’t help but think about the huge connection between language and identity.  Common language makes almost every facet of life so much easier; from letters to speeches to national anthems, language is the simplest yet most crucial way in which we understand one another.  What’s a simpler way to connect with someone than with words that both can understand?

In the simplest manner this is such an easy way to create unity; if I was born in Germany and only spoke German, it would be very difficult to call myself an American, and vice versa.  It allows me to easily identify with other Germans through something as easy and casual as conversation.

We see a striking instance of how language can unite a nation in our reading for Monday.  John Halsall notes in his introduction to von Herder’s Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind that in 1789,

“most inhabitants of France did not speak French, but some other language… unintelligible to the French speakers of the north.  French national identity was created by simply incorporating such people into France and making them all speak French.”1

The French Revolution, albeit by force, created a sense of unity through a common language as Louis XVI obviously understood how important successful communication was to controlling France: how could his subjects obey him if they didn’t understand what he was saying?

Language is one of the most important ways to build a sense of unity in something as big as a country and something as small as a basketball team.  On a large scale, it connects us to our country and those around us, making an individual feel as if they are a representative of their country no matter where they are.  On a smaller scale, it gives these same individuals a sense of importance and pride; each person sees themselves as a vital cog to the organizations or interest groups they may be a part of, because they are the only ones that understand the acronyms and codes and nicknames specific to their groups.

In closing I ask what ways do you identify with others in your individual teams or organizations?  I know Dickinson has a fantastic network of programs and clubs that allow us all to find something in common with others of same interests.  Where do you find your connections?

  1. Johann Gottfried von Herder, Materials for the Philosophy of Mankind, 1784 []

4 thoughts on “Connections through Language and Identity

  1. I agree with your statement saying that language is a very important when unifying a group of people. As Herder says, “ people in politics are defined and bounded group with a common history, language and tradition.” Language is a way for people to identify themselves in a group where otherwise they would be considered strangers, or outsiders. You stated that “language is one of the most important ways to build a sense of unity in something as big as a country” but I also think it can be a barrier, and turn people away from each other. In my American Immigration Literature class we read s story called Caroline’s Wedding by Edwidge Danticat. In the story one of the main characters is an immigrant from Haiti and she’s having trouble understanding/connecting with her first generation daughter. Her daughter doesn’t speak creole and doesn’t know the culture which is really hard for the mother to accept. This is a case where language can divide people and make them focus on their differences rather than their similarities. This divide is seen throughout history and out daily lives. Although language is essential for people to understand each other and feel united, it can also separate people.

  2. The focus on language is integral to the creation of the nation-state in the modern era. A common language was particularly important in Germany, as you mentioned, because of the existence of multiple small territories which previously had little else to unite them. Thinking about what unites people in a setting such as Dickinson is very different since most of us do not have to deal with a language barrier, we unite based on common interests or activities. Dickinson students seemingly tend to congregate based on being on the same sports teams, in the same fraternities or sororities, or being in the same clubs.

  3. The focus on language and just culture in general is a big part of how to keep the nation together and unified. If every person is speaking the same language then it is easier to keep and raise moral throughout the nation. A commonality among the people also keeps more people involved because they can speak the same language and can bond and relate easier due to better communication.

  4. Language is a very important way to bond with others. It is difficult to bond with other people if you cannot communicate with them. Language is critical in creating unity within a nation. Without a common language or culture, it is difficult to raise awareness for the problems that can lead to a further sense of unity within people. Like Garrett said, a common language can help to keep people involved.

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