Catherine Chimley – Linguistic Connection and Bias in Global Society

Language is an essential part of human expression – influencing the way we think and perceive others. One aspect of the translation panel from Thursday’s plenary lecture that was particularly interesting to me was the idea of assumptions in radical translation and the potential ignorance of social nuance through misunderstandings. During Professor Jankovic’s segment of the lecture, I was struck by the question “Why should speakers of another language think with your perspective?” For example, when radically translating a phrase, why would we assume that the language spoken has the same concept of nouns or personal property as our own linguistic background? This connects to the ideas expressed in the film Arrival, when the linguists are forced to ignore assumptions about the linear nature of their perception of time in order to understand the heptopods. I find this idea particularly interesting, especially in relation to the various preconceptions we bring to social interaction with others. Do linguistic barriers block true human connection, or do our own biases create this division? Today, American culture – music, film, and fashion – is increasingly becoming global culture. The Anglicization of words in languages causes some to fear the eventual dissolution of unique languages into a single conglomerate communication method. This presents an interesting question – would this facilitate greater connection between all people, or would our biases continue despite linguistic parity? In what ways does language influence culture and collective thought? Although I feel that our biases are somewhat connected to linguistic differences (for example in the immigration crisis at America’s southern border), I believe that language is often used as a justification of those biases, rather than their cause. How often is the exclusion of refugees justified by the fact that “they don’t even speak English?” How has our society devalued these people so greatly based upon their manner of communication? In what ways do our perceptions of someone who only speaks Spanish differ from someone whose only language is French or German? These comparisons demonstrate the fact that biases other than language contribute to our judgement of others. Through greater understanding of others – whether by respectful connection through communication in another language or non-judgmental linguistic assistance – I feel that language can become a tool for connection across cultures, rather than a dividing line.

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