Is Language a Friend or an Enemy?


By: Nour O. ElBorno

In this short article, I will be talking about how language controls us and shapes our lives. I will also be talking about how language makes us racists.

All the time we think that we are free to ‘think’, free to ‘speak’ and free to ‘imagine’ whatever we want. However, who is the one in power in the following example:

A mother offers her son three candy bars: a blue one, a red one and a yellow one. The child assumes that, say a boy, he wants the blue one. He ‘thinks’ that he had the freedom of choice. However, the person who originally offered the choices is the one in charge because the child’s choice was limited; it’s either the blue, the red or the yellow. You can’t have anything else. That means: the mother is the one in charge.

The question is: how is that related to language?

Language offers us words; it offers us certain vocabulary that we can use and then we assume that we well expressed ourselves because we chose from a long list of words. BUT did we really express ourselves? Did the idea really belong to us? The source of data was the language. Therefore, the language was the one which shaped us, shaped our thinking, shaped our understanding of things.

Can we think beyond the language? No. Imagine yourself in a closed room where there are four walls. You spent your whole life in that room and you know nothing of what could be outside. You might imagine certain things but everything you imagine will, in a way or another, be linked to the room you are staying in. Your concept and perception of things will be greatly affected by the place you are in. When we imagine things, what we do is that we choose from the language certain items and put them together and come up with something. A black vase was flying around my sister’s nose. All the words I used are part of the language, the imagination was a product of the language. It was highly affected by the possibilities the language offered.

Then, let’s learn more things? Wouldn’t that make our imagination more vivid? It will only make the language have more control on us. You will start thinking about and imagining the other things that the language has added to your list of concepts.

Think of something like why we don’t understand how the beginning of the whole world began, the beginning of the beginning rely on of the words beginning and end. Our brains are programmed to only understand things with beginnings and endings. The language does not offer an explanation of what it really means not to have a beginning or an end.  There is no separate word from ‘beginning’ or ‘ending’ to describe that infinite world. “It does not have a beginning,” we might say.

When I tell you, you have a, b, c, and d. Use whatever you like from these letters. Do you have the choice? Do you really have the choice? Or haven’t I just limited your thinking and usage to only one of these four letters? Do I control you, or do you control me?

The other important thing about language is how it makes us racists. If we go back in time and spread the notion that white is the worst color, white is the color associated with evil, harshness, wickedness (still difficult to imagine right? You are probably thinking that white is innocence and white is peace) and say that black is the color of love and color of tranquility; how do you think the world would have been? How do you think the White people would have been treated? Though this part is very important, I find it absolutely enough to provide the example above.

Is the language our friend? Or our enemy?

It is worth mentioning that all of this teaches a very important thing about ourselves: we are not as great as we think we are.

سبحانك اللهم لا علم لنا إلا ما علمتنا, نشهد أنه لا إله إلا أنت وحدك لا شريك لك, لك الملك ولك الحمد وأنت على كل شيء قدير


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