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Language Is Power

created 2006-03-28 14:05:42

(Up to: Society And Control Language )

"...a wealth of terms, both technical and everyday, are carefully defined and argued over in the design of information systems. When they are used in live systems to explain what is happening in the organisation they colonise the understanding of members and define the terms of debate..."

The above quote, from Bloomfield, Coombs and Owen's chapter in Management of Information and Communication Technologies (Mansell ed., quote from p. 146), illustrates the power that language has. One doesn't even need to look to esoteric, specialist discussion to realise that language is a facilitator of the flow of power. It is a substrate that links people, and allows them to co-ordinate and construct systems, ideas based on groups rather than individuals.

Every word in a language is a "term". Every word has both meaning and assumption. And this is why language barriers are more than mere communication barriers, and why something is always "lost in translation". A language has society and emotion in its very essence. It evolves as a people evolves. To understand a language, then, is to live within it and its culture. This is where swear words get their power from, why politicans squabble over the meaning of their soundbites, and why media is in a constant emotional struggle, rather than being able to stick to pure "fact". Indifference is next to impossible, because language itself is not grown that way.


Delving further in, language is symbolic, and symbols are subjective. This leaves us with a "race condition" - the language something is implemented in gives that thing power. The Internet is the largest example of this, perhaps, and the spread of American English can probably be coupled to its use in programming languages (including HTML) and URLs, in addition to underlying schemas such as ASCII (the clue is in the acronym).

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(See also: Language To Control Fears Language Is Culture )


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