Apr 1, 2021 in Analysis

What Is Involved In Building People's Identities?

Language and identity are quite related notions, but they are commonly overlooked in the context of global processes and social injustice. In fact, language is proactively used for gaining international political goals and establishment of White superiority. Needless to say, external processes and factors are the primary cause of global changes and social injustice, but language is utilized as a subtle instrument of segregation of global communities according to categories of majority and "other" Language itself does not render such an effect, but its presence is the aforementioned context is worth a more detailed discussion, as long as it uncovers multiple gaps in understanding relationship between social processes, political sciences, culture studies, and other disciplines. Actually, language does shape human identity in a wide range of ways, but it does not present a genuine threat to suppression of original identities of people, regardless of a profound political involvement in this process.


It is hard to ignore the fact that language shapes human identity in a number of ways. Language is not just a grammatical, phonetic, and lexical system but also a reflection of human social, cultural, and ethnical identity. These factors determine self of every single individual, and these influences can be observed in language. Pronunciation, pitch, sentence structure, vocabulary, and other aspects of language reflect on human gender, ethnicity, age, social status, culture, and even occupation. For instance, IT specialists use their own slang vocabulary, there are different versions of English pronunciation, etc. Nonetheless, language as well as identity is not stable, so they evolve under influence of various factors. Barbara Mellix describes her adoption of Standard English and acquisition of academic writing skills in the following way: "I was beginning to think that and feel in the language I used, to find my own voices in it, to sense how one speaks influences how one means". It is certainly true, language is just an instrument that enables a person have his/her own voice in it, thereby determining a personal identity. It does change, so language changes to the same extent. Moreover, language changes because of external social, cultural, and economic processes, so new words and expressions emerge. This process may be a "good burden that accompanies my growing expertise", but it is inevitable in one way or another.

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As a matter of fact, language reflects on social processes, as well. Barbara Mellix makes references to the fact that she had to "fix" her Black English in order to fit the context of the major and dominant group of Whites, whose language is considered proper a priori. Mellix recalls her conversation with a white policeman Toby, when she had to select necessary words to speak properly: "He was white and could speak as he wished. I had something to provide. Toby did not". Actually, a profound implication of racism and white superiority can be observed in perceptions of language. African Americans, who speak Black English, have to adjust their speech to Proper English, meanwhile Whites are not limited to any borders in language. Ethnical minorities have to identify themselves, as they do not belong to dominant majority. As a result, they need to adopt a language they do not speak in order to be recognized. This situation describes the fact that language does relate to human identities, but it can thwart people from acquisition of their natural "selfs" At the same time, switching from one language to another means a progressive evolvement of human identity, once more and more experiences are becoming available, so more languages are convenient to be spoken, depending upon a context only.

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On a separate note, it is worth saying that supremacy of major language is a far stronger instrument that it may seem from the perspective of identity expression. The matter is that English nowadays is perceived not as international language but as mean of globalization and Westernization. People of different nations and culture strives for acquisition Western model of life, and language is one of its indispensable components. Traves suggests that English language plays a role of political influence in order to address goals of American and other Western countries: "Where once English facilitated the staffing of colonial officers, now it helps fill the cubicles of multinational corporations". Under these circumstances, economic and political purposes of Western countries drive English language towards suppression of original identities worldwide. Acquisition of English is associated with being "other" no longer, being accepted with the system of Western values and cultural codes. On the contrary, English as well as any other foreign language as such is not an influence to be avoided. Traves makes a relevant remark regarding the fact that openness to new cultures and languages makes original identity stronger: "purpose of learning English is not for us to 'speak and act' like an English person...but to speak English an educated...". This statement is certainly true, so identity can be preserved, regardless of languages being acquired.

Concerning my personal experiences of encountering different manifestations of language in relation to identity, daily interaction should be indicated. Communication with friends, neighbors, teachers, etc. takes different discourses and therefore various types of language are applied. In the same vein, writing a research paper or texting a friend do differ, and these changes do not affect my identity. Instead, ability to adopt different language styles demonstrates my experience of various socio-cultural contexts, so a certain level of education can be observed. On the other hand, I witness strong impacts of English language culture on my Caucasian friend: I heard him talking to his sister on his native language, but several English words were used as well, so a matter of globalization is far stronger. People of diversity try to follow English language in order to integrate their identities to a mainstream culture, as they fear being unaccepted. This tendency can be also explained with the fact that English language epitomizes not only Western culture, but a practice of consumerism. Technologies, social media, fashion and other attributes of modern life tend to acquire English language names and words, so their common use display's a person's adherence to contemporary trends. This issue is hardly observed by white majorities in the United States and other developed countries with English as the first language, meanwhile ethnic minorities, which use English as their second language, regard it as an instrument for eradication of their "other" identity.

It is appropriate to make a general comment on the fact language plays a significant role in formation of human identity. It reflects on social, cultural, ethnical, and occupational background of the person, so that specific attributes of a certain identity can be easily observed in language. Nevertheless, a strong presence of superiority towards a certain identity or positioning language as method for identity suppression must be recognized as a matter of political issues. Acquisition of multiple languages or their specific patterns is genuinely a positive process that facilitates development of human identity on the basis of experiences gained. Thus, language itself does not cause changes towards adoption of false identities, but can intensify expansion of perceptions and internal associations that become applicable to new side of a person's identity.


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