Language, Society and Power
Language, Society and Power. Language is the most powerful social tool we have. It’s how we form and maintain relationships with those around us and shapes our identities.
Language also has a power that transcends the individual and makes up the collective, something which can be intimidating to those who may not understand what language does. This article will go over how language gives society identity as well as ultimately changing its power, as well as how it can use this power to inhibit or empower others.
Language is an integral part of society and needs to change in order for it to evolve right alongside society; however, every time we speak new words into existence they carry meaning that defines our identity through social interactions. The more we use certain words, the more we solidify their definition.
Language, Society and Power. A good example of this is the word “hegemony.” It comes from a Greek word that means “lead” and “weight” and originally was used in reference to various types of leadership. Through social interactions, this word found its way into our dictionaries and then into our social interactions through a new meaning: a powerful political or economic power exerted through influence over people.
This new definition has stuck with society because the language itself gives it an identity, and thus it has stuck with us because we have accepted it as a valid definition.
The power of language comes from those who control it, those who have the most access to it. For those in positions of power, this access happens to be a lot easier. For example, one might notice that the majority of college professors are white males.
This is because this group has historically held positions of power and as a result has been able to have more access to education and thus to knowledge and therefore language. They have been able to control language by defining what it is and how we use it. However, as our society changes so does the meaning of our words, and with a changing society so too can change the identities associated with certain words.
Language, Society and Power. Language can also be used to oppress others and keep society separated by providing us with a sense of identity that we can then use to separate ourselves from others.
For example, while one may want to sit down with a Black person and have a conversation with them about how they feel, interacting with them is made more difficult when one must actively think about how their own language reinforces the difference between them and the Black person they are trying to relate to.