Relationship between race and language

Language and Race | Bill Ashcroft -

relationship between race and language

In this module, we will explore different facets of the relationship between language and race. Using a sociolinguistic perspective, we will explore questions . This relationship between race, language and racism is a part of the foundation for reflecting and defining the way human societies are. So there is a correlation between ethnicity and language, but this tends to break down in the Western Hemisphere as in the vast majority of peoples can only.

Listeners heard two one-second vowels. They were told one vowel was from a White man. The other one was from a Black man. The listeners had to decide which was which. This finding is impressive when we consider that listeners only heard a one-second long vowel.

UWG | The Relationship between Race and Language

Another compelling context where we can observe people making judgments about race without visual cues comes from research on whether and how blind people perceive and experience race. Because we know that people are generally capable of classifying people into races based on voices, it is not surprising that blind people are aware that race exists.

However, because they cannot see race we might believe that it is a different and less significant aspect of their perceptions of other people. However, research by Osagie K. What is interesting then is that even in the absence of the visual cues that mark race for sighted people, through relying on experiences derived from their other senses, blind people are able to experience race in a manner that is strikingly similar to sighted people. Indeed it seems especially likely that language allows us to assign people into different races.

One interesting implication of this is that we experience non-human characters in media as members of different races. Lippi-Green concludes that Disney casts voice actors with linguistic aspects that mark them as a particular race in order to draw on existing stereotypes or associations, whether negative or positive, about racial groups. This is particularly clear when we look at how non-White voices are sometimes used in Disney films.

Fairly clear lines are drawn using language between the positive lion characters for example, Simba and Nala and the villains Scar and the hyenas. In contrast, we find more linguistic diversity in the voices of the negative characters.

Scarfor example, speaks with a clearly British accent.

Language and Race | Linguistic Institute

Curiously, the vagueness and imprecision of racial terms, rather than diminish this fixation, merely served to exacerbate it, by fostering a language that was protean in its application. Race and Philology Widespread interest in the link between language and race really began in the late eighteenth century with the discovery of the Indo- European family of languages and the subsequent rise of philology — comparative or historical linguistics — which developed out of an interest in the link between language and the essential identity of communities.

If races and nations, though largely formed by the workings of an artificial law, are still real and living things, groups in which the idea of kindred is the idea around which everything has grown, how are we to define our races and nations? How are we to mark them off from one another?. I say unhesitatingly that for practical purposes there is one test, and one only, and that that test is language Freeman is splendidly vague about how that test may be applied, how language and race are linked, or even how the communal metaphors of nation and race may be distinguished.

His confidence rested on a century of philological study, but neither the difficult distinction between nation and race, nor the precise way in which languages could be said to characterize groups of people had been resolved. Clearly the establishment of an empire extends the qualities of the English nation into the qualities of the Anglo-Saxon race. Arguably, its major vehicle was netiher trade nor war, but the English language.

Language was only one feature of a broad array of concepts invoked to elaborate the idea of racial grouping and inheritance. Freeman demonstrates something of the mental gymnastics employed by those determined to propound the link: Community of language does not imply community of blood; it might be added that diversity of language does not imply diversity of blood.

But community of language is, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, a presumption of community of blood, and is proof of something which for practical purposes is the same as community of blood In this circumlocution we find the beginnings of the paradox with which race is to gain its grip on contemporary thought. Though a widely disputed category of biological variation, the assumption of its presence in language, including the protean nature of racial metaphors, mean that linguistically it becomes ineradicable.

relationship between race and language

Despite the flimsiness of arguments about the essential links between language and race, the rise of philology was synonymous with the rise of race thinking. The interest in the link between race and language arose largely as a result of the discovery of the Indo-European family of languages and particularly the emergence of the theory that all European languages developed from Sanskrit.

relationship between race and language

The announcement of this discovery, inby British Orientalist and jurist William Jones, ushered in a new conception of linguistic history. Although the organic analogy had many detractors it maintained a hold on popular thinking in a way that inevitably cemented the link between the racial characteristics of speakers and the languages they spoke.

Furthermore, a family tree diagram posits a hierarchy of branchings over time which rests on a view of history as a movement from primitive to ever more highly developed languages and peoples. The increasing attempt to provide comparative linguistics with a firmly scientific footing parallels the late nineteenth century attempts to provide a scientific basis for the analysis of race.

Both rested on rigid hypotheses which ignored exceptions and bore little relationship to empirical evidence. We see this disturbance of linguistic theory time and again as post- colonial societies appropriate language for their purposes, demonstrating the extreme elasticity of languages. This is exactly the differentiation underlying the development of ethnology in the nineteenth century. For these reasons German philology was particularly amenable to anthropological questions of race, which became deeply implicated in assumptions about national character.

The Relationship between Race and Language

This deep cultural affinity between language and national character led philologers such as Theodor Waitz to justify the influence of linguistics on two grounds: Cultural scholars had in effect, created a new academic territory — primitive life — in order to banish their materialist rivals to it.

The creation of language was the common act of prehistoric communities and the ground of common human existence. But differences in language were held to indicate differences in moral and mental capacities. Humboldt had inspired the doctrine that of the three kinds of languages — the isolating, the agglutinative and the inflected — the inflected languages, such as Indo-European and Semitic, were superior.

relationship between race and language

Consequently for philologers such as Steinthal, because all thought was linguistic, the structure of a language could determine the mental capabilities of its speakers. This assumption has a long history. The emergence of racialist theory in the nineteenth century found many of its principal exponents in those French thinkers most deeply influenced by the emerging Orientalism of Napoleonic France. People such as Michel Buffon and Count Arthur de Gobineau are well known for their development of race thinking and for ideas which, from the perspective of the late twentieth century, seem absurdly ethnocentric.

But the philologist-historian who had the most to say about the link between race and language was Ernest Renan. Renan was a voluminously productive and extraordinarily influential Orientalist whose career spanned three quarters of the nineteenth century. Language is the key for Renan, because language plays a dominant role in the formation of a culture.

Language and Race

Is the mention of skin colour meant to be seen as arbitrary, or does the colour of the skin provide the biological frame for cultural dominance? The second problem is that when positing the deterministic link between language and culture, he must answer the question: Which comes first, language or culture?

On the face of it, this seems to describe the complex interactive relationship between language and culture, but it represents precisely the dilemma we encounter when we attempt to posit, in a deterministic way, that a culture somehow precedes language. But this contradiction — that the language to which a culture gives birth becomes its restraint and limit — is often repeated by Renan.

We may examine this problem where Renan becomes more specific about language and race. For at one point he sheets the entire supposed superiority of the Aryan race to its ability to conjugate verbs: The Aryan language was highly superior, especially as regards verb conjugations. This marvelous instrument, created by the instinct of primitive men, contained the seeds of all the metaphysics that would be developed later on by the genius of the Hindus, the Greeks or the Germans.

The Semitic language, on the contrary, got off to the wrong start where verbs are concerned. The greatest mistake this race ever made because the most irreparable was to adopt such a niggardly mechanism for treating verbs that the expression of tenses and moods has always been imperfect and awkward in its language.

Even today, the Arabs are still struggling against the linguistic error committed by their ancestors ten or fifteen thousand years ago Renan This starkly exposes the logical problems of a deterministic view of the relationship between language and culture. At what 15 point does the creative instinct of a people become bound and limited by the genius of the language it has created?

Yet the way a race treats ideas is determined by the grammar of its language. Clearly, the complexity of the relationship between language and culture requires some other explanation. Either the linguistic identity of a culture lies in the ways it uses the language available to it, or the culture can never change, and can never appropriate that which lies outside it.

Since the latter is disproved by history, we must conclude that the culture of a people does not lie within language as an inherent property, but in the complex ways in which that people creates, uses, develops, deploys, and engages language. These ways will interact with the historical, geographical, climatic, religious and material experiences of its speakers and the discourses within which those experiences emerge.

The support such bizarre claims gave to the racial dichotomies of imperial discourse is clear. If races are primitive today the fault is in their ancestors who created their languages. But the assumption, that race is somehow embedded in language, has taken a tenacious hold on contemporary thinking because the idea of an essential link is an attractive prospect to both colonizers and colonized. It is not the purpose of this essay to try to suggest any causal lineage from nineteenth century philology to contemporary views of race in language, but rather to point out the paradoxical connection between them.

In most cases the link between language and race posited by writers such as Sartre and Fanon is an argument about the cultural specificity of language, although they are not averse to essentializing the situation at times 16 In Black Orpheus Jean-Paul Sartre claims that black poetry is essentially a fierce response to the inadequacy of language: Language, for the black writer was, not a neutral, transparent instrument, but the determining medium of thought itself.

In his pursuit of self-definition, the black artist saw the inherited colonial language as a pernicious symbolic system used by the European colonizer in order to gain total and systematic control of the mind and reality of the colonized world. This is a familiar refrain: It is important to understand the great historical and cultural differences between different languages, such as French and English, and their very different roles in the two different forms of imperialism.

But the distinction between langue and langage is one that holds for all speakers. All language, in its actual use is langage so there is always in language itself, its amenability to appropriation, its flexibility and malleability, the possibility of transformation, of a self expression which resists the imperial confidence of Prospero.

Yet this is not what Sartre, nor Fanon after him are saying. For them, the language is a discourse firmly demarcated by the cultural boundaries of European civilization. But the sense of language embodying culture has been a feature of post-colonial resistance writing for a very long time.

When we look for the source of this attitude we do not have to go far past Frantz Fanon. But surely what Fanon means here is that proficiency in language represents civilization. This distinction is in fact crucial to the whole debate over language. The use of language is a signifier of culture, language does not contain that culture: This sentence is quite correct We can compare this assumption of status through the use of language with the ways in which language operates as a class marker.

Speaking in a refined way acts as a class marker, a sign of elevation, and indeed the speaker may be making great pains to change into someone of a different class. But the language will only ever be a signifier of that change. There is no secret formula in a language that effects an inner transformation in its speakers. What Fanon is saying here is an important indication of the social function of language performativity.

relationship between race and language

However, the problem of a slippage between metaphor and metonymy comes about because of the extreme Manicheanism of race. I am the colour of the daylight I am the incarnation of a complete fusion with the world, an intuitive understanding of the earth, an abandonment of my ego in the heart of the cosmos, and no white man, no matter how intelligent he may be, can ever understand Louis Armstrong and the music of the Congo The tendency to see this enslavement as an enslavement of language denies the post-colonial subject one of the most potent weapons of discursive resistance: Race and Writing The belief, inherited from nineteenth century philology, that language actually embodies cultural difference, rather than inscribes or articulates it, is one of the most tenacious in contemporary theory.

Far from ending with Fanon this assumption persists to the present day. It extends into an even more impassioned assertion of the embodiment of culture in language in post-colonial writers such as Ngugi wa Thiongo.

Although the historical link between language and race has 4 proved difficult to dislodge it is nowhere disrupted more comprehensively than in post-colonial language use, and specifically post-colonial writing. The question of language and race goes right to the heart of the problematic character of discursive resistance.

relationship between race and language

Can writing, with the difference it makes and marks, mask the blackness of the black face that addresses the text of Western letters, in a voice that speaks English through an idiom which contains the irreducible element of cultural difference that will always separate the white voice from the black? Black people, we know, have not been liberated from racism by our writings.

We accepted a false premise by assuming that racism would be destroyed once white racists became convinced that we were human, too.