It may be said that the origin of human civilisation is to be found in the development of language, those complex systems which enable us to organize our ideas and each other, and which allow us to develop insights that lead us to alter the natural world in complex and sometimes catastrophic ways.
While it’s true that many other species also have complex language systems, humans are unique in their attachment of sentiments to their languages. The languages we know mark out our identity, our circle of solidarity and affiliations. They also secure our access to exclusive communities of people with similar linguistic abilities. The way we think linguistically, record our ideas through writing, and form relationships through conversation is the substance of our complex language that distinguishes us from how non-human animals communicate.
For humans, language performs more than just an evolutionary function; it is a means by which we assert our place within our wider communities, marking out our distinctiveness and expressing our value by sharing and continually embodying the products of its heritage. Language defines us because, when we use the word us, we are referring less to our species and more to our geographical and cultural affinities, the people with whom we experience day to day bonds through the sharing of language.
In this way, language is also a deeply political subject, evidence of which we see in places like Catalunya, where the recent history of its Catalan language has been deeply wedded to the political history of Spain. During Franco’s dictatorship, children were forbidden from being taught Catalan in schools, so as to prioritise the national language of Spanish.
The consequence of this was the establishment of greater resolve within many parts of the Catalan community, who sought to demonstrably express their identity and reassert their self-determination through language, once Franco’s power was lost.
It is because of this intricate and deeply rooted importance of language within our lives, that…