There are more than six thousand languages in the world. Each individual language is a pearl cultivated by the evolution of human civilization. Languages offer people a way to share their unique stories with others. Languages can also be divisive, building walls between regions, while at the same time conveying uniquely astonishing traditions that make the speakers of those languages proud. As one of the most obvious tags each individual sports, languages are intricately linked to ones’ identity and social acceptance, according to the expatriate African American writer, James Baldwin, in an essay he authored in 1979. Though there are more arcane features that distinguish a person and promote social acceptance, language also remains significant to these issues because it represents unique cultures and, to a larger extent, nations as a whole.
Languages carry the culture behind traditions and therefore characterize individuals among groups. Since languages are spoken by specific groups of people with their own typical customs, they inherit the conventions and values that these people possess as a result of thousands of years of development. Speaking in a particular tone demonstrates one’s intimate contact with the culture behind any given language. Learning languages, choosing what language to use during communication, and showing a preference for a certain language are all manifestations of one’s living environment and cultural background. As cited in Phinney, J. S., “Language in group speech can serve as a symbol of ethnic identity and cultural solidarity.” Therefore, languages identify each individual with his or her own unique characteristics.
As a high school student in Guangzhou, China, I have picked up Mandarin, Cantonese, and a few phrases in the Teochew dialect, all through studying at school and practicing at home with my dad and my grandparents. The fusion of these three languages makes me who I am. Language helps me maintain ethnic participation, which in turn reinforces my ethnic identity and heritage. Language embodies cultural experience. Through contact with different languages, people can embrace diverse involvement with various cultures and promote individuality. The use of slang and colloquial phrases can remind a person of where they come from and identify to others the sounds associated with certain cultures.
Besides, languages represent different nations and thus correlate with social acceptance. Proudly speaking one’s mother tongue indicates firm confidence in the power of one’s country. Inspired by the French revolution during the era of Enlightenment, an ideology called nationalism prevailed through Europe, where people began to consider themselves as members of distinctive national communities. Languages became the primary indicator of whether people belonged to different societies or not. People who spoke in the same language were encouraged to protect one another and contribute to their community’s advancement; whereas people who spoke in different languages, particularly those of rival countries, were often regarded as enemies or dangerous. Along with their mutual love and passion for their cultural heritage, people distinguished themselves by languages and created an invisible barrier that blocked them off from other “foreigners” who didn’t speak their own languages.
As language continues to serve as an invisible border between communities, rules that relate to one another’s ethnicity are established. Without communication, people would understand less of who they are. Everyday interactions offer information about the manner through which a person can reaffirm and construct their social identity. Hence, languages contribute to the formation of nationalistic identity by providing a sense of cohesion and unity for their speakers.
Admittedly, a person’s identity and their acceptance within society cannot be fully determined by what languages he or she speaks. In the present-day world, where globalization persists, and English has become the lingua-franca, it is common for people to master other languages like English in addition to their mother tongues. Therefore, in a worldwide market, the language people speak cannot fully define their identity or relate to the level of acceptance they enjoy in some societies. Some languages cast a wide net, while others find a niche market.
In the United States, a large number of immigrants from all over the world mingle with each other. It would be difficult to use languages to characterize the next generation of these immigrants because despite their appearance, they generally regard English as their native language. Under this circumstance, the general behaviors of people during conversations and interactions play an even more important role. By following etiquette rules or demonstrating discerning opinions, one can effectively leave a positive impression on others and assist people in fitting into specific groups. Moreover, by actively learning about other cultures and absorbing their benefits for their own gain, people can boost their formal knowledge base. In addition to studying a language, people can also examine the architecture, histories, and conventions of different cultures as well. By opening their eyes through these studies, people can illustrate their own stories more precisely.
Languages are essential to building one’s characteristics and social acceptance because they are the fundamental communicative tools people engage every day. They not only effectively convey an implied culture, but also distinguish each nation. However, the way in which people behave within groups and the knowledge people seek through different cultures play an equally momentous role in a globalized world. Therefore, the loss of language would be no small sacrifice. People today should keep in mind their own language inheritance, while enthusiastically pursuing a higher level of self-improvement. Languages act as tools through which people can broaden their horizons, unlock new doors, and interpret a wider variety of information sources. By maintaining fluency in one’s first language, and expanding abilities in a second, or even third, language, both individuals and their associated groups can participate actively in information sharing, and enable the global village that is today’s modern world to become more interconnected, inclusive and culturally diverse.
Zixuan Zheng, 11th Grader of Huafu International, Guangzhou, Guangdoing of China. Her pieces have been featured in magazines, newspapers and on websites since the 7th Grade. Three-time junior golf champion in California. Making friends from all around the world by playing golf and writing powerful words are her greatest passions.