Language is such a power concept because it has the ability to shape one’s personal identity completely. The usage of words and phrases significantly influences individuals’ thoughts and character. Nevertheless, as powerful as it is, it aids in building new relationships and experiences. When one speaks to another, the attitude, tonality, and posture plays a major role in the impression about an individual. A formal language with clean presentation and a stiff posture provides a firm, respectful impression on an individual. This paper discusses the extent language use changes one’s identity, expected behavior, and relationships.
According to joseph (2004), “identity, by itself, is a conceptual and intangible entity, which lies deeply within us. One rephrase which most scholars seem to agree on is that it is our sense of who we are” (Kanno, 2013, p.3), yet its nebulosity needs to be classified more for the sake of further analysis on how it can be understood by its nature and its function (Kumagai, 2013). The historically grounded, socially constituted knowledge, skills, beliefs and attitudes comprising various social identities predisposing individuals to act, think and feel in particular ways and to perceive the involvement of others in certain ways constitute what social theorist Pierre Bourdieu called habitus in his research (Kumagai, 2013). Moreover, one of the fundamental concepts on which many researchers have agreed is that interaction cannot be neglected when considering identity construction. Richards (2006) explained that identity is “something that is formed and shaped through action” (p. 3). Wardhaugh (2010) added his explanation that it is also “demonstrated through performance and action” (p. 7). Additionally, another critical component in identity construction is the person’s desire. Kumagai (2013) cite West’s work on desire in which he proposed that the fundamental identity construction of desire is the recognition (visibility), association (affliation) and protection (safety, security) p.20. He further stated that Norton supported this view in her previous studies about language and identity. Kumagai (2013) asserted that Norton emphasized that desire cannot be separated from the distribution of resources in society, which provide access to power and privilege which in turn influences identity construction (p.410).
Anderseen (2009) in his dissertation and theses paper cited that, language is a system of communication where sound or signs convey objects, actions, and ideas. He continued on to state that language is an ordinary gift from God and is part of what makes man fully human. Anderseen (2009) quoted Aristotle who once said, “Man is a rational animal and that what sets him apart, what raises him above the animals, is that he has the ability to reason, and it is very clear that he cannot reason without language”. Language is social by nature and thus inseparably connected with people who are its creators and users. Moreover, it grows and develops together with the development of society. Language is essential in establishing and maintaining relationships with other people. Language makes conversation possible between any two individuals. Conversation in turn helps in collecting information about the speaker. Language enables men to convey their feelings, desires, and emotions to others.
Additionally, language is thus more than simply a means of communication; it constitutes a worldview by splitting up and arranging the sense of social reality in humans into meaningful units. Furthermore, language carries culture; culture emanates particularly through oration and literature the entire bodies of values by which people perceive their identity and place in the world. How people perceive themselves affects how they look at their culture, at their politics and at the social reproduction of wealth, at their entire relationship to nature and to other human beings.
Consequently, dialect is a social establishment both forming and molded by society everywhere specifically “cultural niches” in which it plays an important role. Therefore, dialect is not a “self-ruling build” yet social practice both making and made by the structures and powers of the social organizations inside which men live and work (Anderseen, 2009). Aydemir (2013) quoted Duranti who defined culture as something learned, transmitted, passed down from one generation to the next through human action, regularly as up close and personal association, and, obviously, through etymological correspondence. It becomes evident from this that language plays a pivotal role in culture transmission.
“Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts: the essential core of culture consists of traditional (i.e. historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values. Moreover, culture systems may on the one hand be considered as products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action” (Kroeber ; Kluckholn, 1952, p. 181).
Additionally, acculturation is the process of adapting to a new culture, and involves changes that take place when individuals from different cultural backgrounds come into extended, constant, direct content with each other (Berry, 2003). In order to adapt to new culture, individuals may have to alter their ways of speech, social behavior, altitudes, beliefs, and customs, such as the way they celebrate holidays and their choice of food and entertainment (Berry, 2003). Acculturation generally includes the psychological and social changes that a person experiences when s/he moves into a new and different cultural environment (Cabassa, 2003). However, the acculturation process may result in developing new survival skills and increase an individual’s ability to live in different settings. In particular, when an individual is learning a second language, the individual also learns the culture that within that language. In such cases, the level of acculturation is very intense. Moreover, what is involved in this general process of adaptation maybe the way an individual speaks or behaves, the types of holidays s/he celebrates, the choices s/he makes in food and entertainment, as well as beliefs and customs. This universal perspective of acculturation suggests that what differs from individual to individual is the course of adaptation, the level of difficulty experienced during the process, and the actual result of the acculturation experience (Berry, 1997; Berry, 1998).
Body language is also a part of language that helps other people in the society identify an individual from others. In order to maintain respectful social standards in the society, a person is responsible in developing a self-identity that is unique from the others. Language is a key for everyone, a key that would aim in conforming to new society and new people (Sheffield, 2013). Moreover, according to Sheffield’s research (2013), one of the major elements of language that initiates the development of self-identity would be the dialect. Dialects usually involve forms or accents that help identify a certain ethnic, religious, or social groups. Certain words of the same language maybe emphasized and pronounced differently, which can possibly aid in the development of personal identity (Sheffield, 2013). He further continued that from the dialect, an individual might use presentation and posture on an individual element to shape his/her identity keenly. The dialect, grammatical nuances, and the usage of certain words and phrases affect one’s thoughts and actions in an extremely subtle manner thus language and communication can influence society, culture, as well as personal identity (Sheffield, 2013). Thus, it is evident that language is intimately tied to a man’s feelings and activity. It is bound up with nationality, religion, and the feeling of self. Everyone, poor or rich, savage or civilized, uses it for work, worship, and play. Language does not passively reflect reality; it also creates a certain way in a person’s mind about his/her understanding their world. Globally the role of languages has become increasingly vital and a sensitive subject. Language is such a powerful tool that it can build or destroy a person or a country.
Finally, Weick’s (1992) introduction to sense making suggested that making sense of a situation is needed most when humans experience a life event that they have difficulty understanding. This difficult event is usually extreme and those seeking to make sense of the situation are afraid to tell others out of fear that no one will believe their story. To elaborate the need for making sense of this life-changing phenomenon, Weick’s ideas connect strongly with Meads’ (1934) symbolic interactionism. Because symbolic interactionism derives from the work of Mead, and because Mead was adamant that mind and self-arise and develop within the social process, to use the images of symbolic interactionism is to ensure that one remains alert to the ways in which people actively shape each other’s meanings and sense making processes” (Weick, 1995, p. 41). Weick (1995) went on to suggest that sense making requires discourse, talk, and he stated that, “words and their uses matter to a larger group or collective before they matter to ones’ self”. He illuminated Mead’s idea that the mind is preceded by society (Weick, 1995). Words matter and the sharing of those words suggest a collective form of understanding.
In conclusion, language distinguishes men from the animal world. Because of language, me can share ideas, educate them, and improve their lives. Language helps the society to keep evolving. Language has allowed societies to be built not upon strength and physical domination, but on co-operation and the exchange of ideas. Language is omnipresent throughout human society today. Without language, men would have been like apes pointing fingers at what they see.