I am interested in Frantz Fanon’s claims on language and culture, primarily how to assume a certain language is to “support the weight of a civilization”. I find this interesting for a number of reasons, partially because it invokes my own experience: by this logic, I am shouldering a massive burden by drafting this response alone. Of course, to speak (and consequently support) the English language and civilization is not a unique position. By most estimates, it is the second most widely spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese. 137 countries claim it as a national language, followed by French at 54. It has amassed such numbers through a variety of methods: through the mass distribution of western literature and media, through immigration and travel, and through slavery, cultural suppression, and colonization.
Fanon is concerned with the dynamics of the latter. Language assimilation is a key component of colonization because it forces the colonized to accept the norms of a foreign culture, and to alienate themselves and their own heritage, effectively erasing that identity. He references a quote, which states that every language is a method of thinking. The colonizing world, however, is not accepting of divergent methods of thought. There is only one truth, one commonality which we are bound under, being reason. Thus, subscribing to a different language, a different approach to speech and thought, can subject one to dehumanization on the terms of the majority. There are more than enough examples. I chose this idea, and the implications it has, because I have witnessed it manifest in a variety of ways in the places I have lived. Its relevancy is ubiquitous, from the social capital placed on English fluency in India, to the lack of structural support for Spanish speakers in LAUSD, to the Christian mission schools on the Zuni reservation, a community still reaping the results of the motivations and methods of the colonizing world.
I would ask Fanon, Adichie, and Marx:
- Adichie talks of others creating an identity for us, while Marx and Fanon detail it being stolen or cast off as a means of survival or success. Is it possible to fully reclaim an identity? How can we begin that process?
- Two of these three authors talk about our separation, or lack thereof, from the beasts of the earth. Are we that really that different? Why/why not? What characteristics are most important in determining our humanness?
- What role does language play in identity, and how should we engage with it? Another way of asking: What is the role of language, both as a means of personal and cultural development?