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Reflections: Language labels


Language plays a major role in showing how speakers perceive reality. When one speech group becomes dominant, they often denigrate speakers of another group and their language or dialect as socially less important. In its extreme form, this bias leads to the power group labeling the subordinate group as somehow less human.

Linguistically, however, all languages and dialects are equal. They each enable their speakers to communicate. But to label one language or dialect less important then another is a social judgment, not linguistic.

It is a human foible to label speakers of other dialects somehow different in social importance. This works both ways, as speakers in lesser social groups may accept that they are somehow less important. Eventually, however, this changes as speakers of the so-called “lesser dialects” learn the prestige dialect and use it as a way to help rise in their social or professional status. They also routinely switch to their home dialect when they visit family or friends, just as newcomers to America use their native language when at home with their families.

This is the beauty of American diversity.

But diversity is worldwide and varies by culture, language, ethnicity, tradition and culture. All these became different as people, over millennia, developed their own perceptions of reality and adapted their views to develop stories as to how the world began.

This does not mean that one story is more accurate than another. It only means that each culture describes the Otherworld in its own way. Those who practice contemporary Shamanism or Druidry acknowledge this, and honor other views of the Upper World as equally valid.

John T. Harding lives in Doylestown.