language and culture

hawken (blessed unrest, 94) notes a bias when judging cultures, ‘that there are higher and lower peoples, and that because one’s culture is not european or modern, one’s history is not as distinguished or valuable.’ a reductionist view of language—grammar and vocabulary only–‘misses the point. language is nothing less than the living expression of a culture, part of what he [wade davis] calls an ethnosphere, “the sum total of all the thoughts, dreams, ideals, myths, intuitions, and inspirations ….” ‘ hawken goes on: ‘cultural expression [language] represents centuries of learning by trial and error.’ and language is beauty. a language is local, bioregional, universally unique, not global and universal–what do world languages, such as english and french, lack? a sense of place and beauty? ‘despite languages’ preciousness,’ writes hawken, ‘one perishes on average every two weeks.’ although i know a smattering of other languages–french, german, spanish, latin, greek–really i speak only english and that is my true poverty. similarly, in seeking a monoglot world, as we mythologized in babel, as we hoped for in esperanto, as we are doing with english, ‘we as a people and a species,’ davis writes, ‘and earth itself, will be deeply impoverished.’ did latin bring about pax romana, or just cultural hegemony?

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4 Responses to language and culture

  1. shelleyshell says:

    I need a dictionary to understand this post Peter. I wish the Ojibway language had been passed down to me through my grandparents.

    • :). yeah, words like ‘monoglot’ (which hawken uses) threw me for a loop. thank goodness for the internet.

      your anishanabemowin is way better than mine will ever be. my father was german. evidently, german was my first language, but i’ve forgotten most of it. chloe, though, lived in europe for three months speaking french.

  2. Brian Barker says:

    Esperanto speakers do not want the world to be monoglot. This is because the language is a second language for everyone, thus placing all languages on an equal footing.#

    Esperanto is in fact more widespread than people imagine. It is now in the top 100 languages, out of 6,800 worldwide. It is the 29th most used language in Wikipedia, ahead of Danish and Arabic. It is a language choice of, Skype, Firefox, Ubuntu and Facebook and Google translate recently added to its prestigious list of 64 languages.

    Native Esperanto speakers, (people who have used the language from birth), include World Chess Champion Susan Polger, Ulrich Brandenberg the new German Ambassador to and Nobel Laureate Daniel Bovet. Financier George Soros learnt Esperanto as a child.

    Esperanto is a living language – see

    Their online course has 125 000 hits per day and Esperanto Wikipedia enjoys 400 000 hits per month. That can’t be bad :)

    • thanks. good point. if esperanto remains a subsequent language, then diversity is maintained. the question, however, is can that diversity be translated? is esperanto, with its indo-european roots, biased and just a stepping stone to a true lingua franca, or can it adapt?

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