Essay on Language and its Importance to Society!
Language and Society
From what has been written so far it is clear that man is possessed of natural sociality. His disposition to band together with his fellows for lower or for higher purposes is one of his fundamental characteristics. To understand his fellows and to be understood by them, men were impelled to the production of language without which they could not communicate with each other.
The desire of communication was the main cause of language making. Nowhere has the old proverb “Necessity is the mother of invention” received a better illustration than in the history of language; it was to satisfy the wants of daily life that the faculty of speech was first exercised. Charles Winick has defined language as “a system of arbitrary vocal symbols, used to express communicable thoughts and feelings and enabling the members of a social group or speech community to interact and to co-operate.” It is the medium of oral expression.
The Origin of Language:
Language is an institution:
Language is a product not of one cause but of several factors. It is, in fact a social creation, a human invention an unconscious invention of a whole community. As Professor Whitney has observed, it is as much an institution as a body of unwritten laws, and like these it has been called forth by the needs of developing society.”
The linguists are not in a position to form any conjectures as to the precise point in the history of man at which the germs of speech should have appeared, and the time which they should have occupied in the successive steps of their development. That the process was a slow one, all agree.
To quote Whitney, “Language making is a mere incident of social life and of cultural growth. It is as great an error to hold that at some period men are engaged in making and laying up expressions for their own future use and that of their descendants, as that, at another period, succession shall find expression. Each period provides just what it has occasion for, nothing more. The production of language is a continuous process; it varies in rate and kind with the circumstances and habits of the speaking community, but it never ceases; there was never a time when it was more truly going than at present.”
Thus language is not the creation of one person or of one period but it is an institution, on which hundreds of generations and countless individual workers have worked.
Three Instrumentalities of Expression:
The traditional instrumentalities of expression are gestures, grimace and tone. Gesture means the changes of the position of the various parts of the body, especially of the most mobile parts, the arms and hands; grimace means the change of expression of features of the countenance, and tone is the utterance of or the production of audible sound.”
These are also termed natural means of expression. In the first stages of communicative expression, all these three were used together, and in fact, there can never have been a period or stage in which all the three instrumentalities were not put to use together. They are used even today. It is very interesting to know what signs or what facial expressions were used for words.”
James gave a list of 104 signs employed by the North American Indians in the place of words. Darkness, for instance, was indicated by extending the hands horizontally forwards and backwards and passing one over the other so as to touch it once or twice; a man by a finger held up vertically; running by first doubling the arm upon itself and then throwing the elbow backwards and forwards. Out of these three instrumentalities of expression voice or tone has won to itself the chief and almost exclusive part in communication.
How long man, after he came into such being as he now is physically and intellectually, continued to communicate with signs is a question which is idle to try to answer even conjecturally. How the first scanty and formless signs have been changed into the immense variety and fullness of existing speech, it is impossible to point out because nearly the whole process is hidden in the darkness of an impenetrable past.
Probably the man had to undergo the same labour in learning the speech which a child has now to undergo in learning its mother-tongue with this difference that primitive man was a grown child who painfully elaborated a language for himself whereas the individual child has but to acquire a language already formed.
The Importance of Language:
Language is a constituent element of civilization. It raised man from a savage state to the plane which he was capable of reaching. Man could not become man except by language. An essential point in which man differs from animals is that man alone is the sole possessor of language. No doubt animals also exhibit certain degree of power of communication but that is not only inferior in degree to human language, but also radically diverse in kind from it.
Language is one of the most marked, conspicuous, as well as fundamentally characteristic of the faculties of man. The importance of language for man and society cannot be minimised. As a personal thing, language is not only a mode of communication between individuals but is also a way for the expression of their personality.
Sociologically, language moulds the individual from infancy. The child comes to know most of the things of the world through language.
It is an important attribute of his personality. Its importance to the society lies in the following:
(i) Easy Social Contact:
Firstly, it makes social contact easy. Society, as we have seen, is a web of social relationships which imply development of social contacts among the individuals with language contacts become easy to be established because men can easily exchange their ideas. According to E. H. Sturtevant, “A language is a system of arbitrary vocal symbols by which members of a social group cooperate and interact.
Secondly, language helps or hinders the spread of culture. Ideas require language. Sometimes an idea or concept is hard to translate because the language has no words with which to express it. We are facing this difficulty in our country because Hindi, our national language does not possess terms for a number of English words used in sciences.
The Hindi linguists have coined some words to replace English as a medium of instruction. These coined words are, however, more difficult to understand and remember than the English words. Language conserves our culture which it passes to posterity. Language may be called culture-carrier.
The culture that exists at a given time and place has come from the past and is the result of accumulation of things, attitudes, ideas, knowledge, error and prejudice. The animals as we have seen are incapable of speech except for a few sounds and so incapable of having any culture and civilization. It is man alone who through language has acquired a high degree of culture and civilization. As pointed out above it raised man from savage state to a noble state.
(iii) Easy Conveyance of Ideas:
Thirdly, language gives a capacity for conveying ideas about a great variety of things. In times when there was no language the ideas were transmitted by signs or cries which were not easy to interpret. Man felt great difficulty in the clear expression of states of emotion.
There was no uniformity of these signs or cries. Some of these signs were quite complicated, for instance, ‘man’ was denoted- by extending the forefinger, the rest of the hand being shut, and drawing a line with it from the pit of the stomach down as far as can be conveniently reached.
But with the invention of language now a number of ideas and states of emotion can be conveyed in an easy and simple way. A language that could transmit an idea such as “the flood came and destroyed the houses” through delicate variations in sound was an achievement far superior Lo the transmission of ideas by a variety of cries.
Thus importance of language to society is clear. It has led man from mere clumsy animal to a human being in the real sense of the word. It has simplified the conveyance of ideas, smoothed social contacts, conserved our culture and transmitted it Lo posterity. In fact, language is very valuable possession which has elevated man from the level of a savage to the plane of the ‘Lord of Creation’.
Need for a Universal Language:
The people of different parts of the world speak different languages. Not only that, people living in the same territory use different languages or speak different dialects. These differences in the language of the people of the world have served to limit inter-group communication and perpetuate social isolation.
Since language is a great medium of communication the assumption has been made that if the people of the world have the same language it may help a great deal in removing the culture barriers and bring the people of the world nearer to each other thereby serving the cause of international understanding and cooperation.
No doubt, a universal language may help in the cultural unification of the people of the world and remove misunderstanding that grow out of inability to communicate effectively, but the practical difficulty is to find out such a language.
The proponents of different languages claim that ‘their language is better than any other language and that it alone provides a more efficient means of communication that it is more explicit, more logical, more flexible and far more easier to master.
Efforts have also been made to improve the existing languages, to make them more simplified and logical. But as yet no universal single language has been agreed upon and consequently the linguistic differences continue. It is also difficult for any people to learn more readily any other language than the mother-tongue.