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That’s what … they said? I Maureen Good

Evolving in two languages has allowed me to make certain observations about the impact of language on culture and collective consciousness.

Beyond the international dominance of the English language in all walks of life, from trade and business to music and film, there are certain aspects of the language which allow for increased social openness and levelling which may be less prevalent in other linguistic traditions.

For instance, a simple word like ‘you’ can be levelling in its lack of distinction between the various uses of the word (singular/plural but also formal/informal), as opposed to the French ‘tu’ versus ‘vous’, which already communicate and reinforce social boundaries between speaker and listener. Similarly, the distinction between the formal and informal register in French, absent in English, may heighten the struggle for social mobility, the inability to adopt a formal register in certain settings anchoring people in lower social standings. Language in its pure form, then, may affect the way in which individuals interact and evolve in society.

Taking this language analysis further, it is useful to consider both the potential for social change and the barriers constraining it. Specifically, the structure of the French language around gender. With gendered pronouns and agreement of adjectives, it is difficult for French social consciousness to grapple with feminist thought, which distances itself from the gender binary and aims towards inclusivity for the LGBTQ+ community – whereas in English, the lack of gendered pronouns, and the existence of the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’, makes these demands for change easier to integrate on a social level.

Language, then, becomes a vessel through which and by which social consciousness is formed and expressed – and through linguistic changes, such as inclusive writing, social change will perhaps follow.

Have you ever considered how language might influence our perspectives?

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