[Marxism] Dying languages - addition

Jurriaan Bendien bendien at tomaatnet.nl
Tue Mar 2 07:20:06 MST 2004

I wrote:

(e) If it is true that all meaning is relational, i.e. refers to relations
between discrete or distinct entities, then a language symbolises,
contextualises and expresses relationships and practises, including
specifying relationships and practises independently from the context to
which they refer (abstraction).

For the sake of clarity, I should really add that language learning actually
facilitates and assists the basic cognitive processes of stimulus
discrimination and stimulus generalisation, insofar as learning to give
objects specific names helps the learner tell them apart, and group them
together, quite apart from facilitating thought about those objects
independently from the perception of those objects.

Kenan Malik's argument suggests that many languages just constitute
malabstractions, at odds with real social relations, real social practices
or actual social realities, and therefore ought to "die out". But just maybe
those languages enable a critique of those social relations to be
formulated, and change them into something better.

That is to say, precisely because a language may deviate in its
conceptualisation of objective realities, it may shed new light on how those
objective realities ought to be viewed for the purpose of advancing towards
a free, egalitarian society.

Malik might swear by "the centrality of the human subject" but in this case,
just maybe he is conceding too much to an objectivist fatalism. He is
certainly correct in believing one ought not to fetishize language, reify
it, but I don't think we should underestimate the revolutionary potential of
linguistic rebellion against linguistic take-overs.

That is to say, from a socialist point of view, the role of linguists is not
to pontificate about the "dying out of languages" but take an active role in
reshaping, transforming and critically examining them, so that they clarify
real social conditions, rather than mystify those conditions. And here, it
may strategically or tactically be necessary to support an alternative
language, as a means for critique and insulation from the idiocies of the
ruling culture.


More information about the Marxism mailing list