The Power of Language
I was having a wonderful time eating brunch alone in DS on a Sunday, though I was a little bit lonely because I usually eat with my family in my home country, Japan. When suddenly, I heard an unexpected word, “Ohayou!” which means good morning in Japanese. I was surprised and had to think for a second, “Am I in Japan or America?” I looked in the direction where I heard the voice, but there was only a man with blond hair and blue eyes standing there. I looked back to my dish and started eating again, and thought, “Oh, I am still missing home. Why would you hear Japanese here, Mari?” I was eating a piece of waffle using a knife and fork that I’m not familiar with using. Then, I felt somebody come toward me and say “Ohayou!” again. The voice was from one of my Norwegian friends. I said “Ohayou!” back to him, and looked back at my dish. But I couldn’t cut my waffles because of being blinded with tears. It was just a normal morning greeting that I used a few times every day to my family and friends one month ago in Japan, but it was the most remarkable thing that made me feel as if I were at home. It also made me recognize that daily conversation was the thing that I missed the most.
Most people say when you go and travel for a long time, you should bring your own country’s food because it will be the thing you will miss the most. It could be peanut butter to Americans, brown cheese to Norwegians, and sticky rice to me, Japanese. But, I found it was not food that would fulfill my home-sickness. It was my mother tongue, Japanese. I realized then for the first time that language reflects the culture where it is spoken.
In this globalized world, English is becoming the most remarkable communication tool in the world. Many countries are trying to educate students who will be supporting their country economically in the future to learn English mandatorily and many companies are requiring their employees to be good at English. For example, one of the most famous companies in Japan, called “Rakuten,” regulated English as an official language in their workplace. In addition, in some countries like India, Singapore, and many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the official language was determined to be English, although that is not their traditional tongue. They have set their official language to English because it is “used in business, in higher education, and in scientific research,” or because it helps the multilingual areas for wider communication since language differences cause political, social, economic, and educational problems (“English Language”). Certainly, it is an effective way to standardize language in this world which makes it easier to communicate and share information across the border.
However, is English the most important language in the world? That answer would be a strong “no” for me. As a student who is majoring in intercultural communication in Japan, I feel that language is one of the most essential cultural heritages that build up a country’s identity. Language was always there while humans founded their countries, while these countries struggled with conflicts between other countries, and while they figured out what was the best way to survive in this globalized world. Languages matured as the native speakers matured. We walked along with our own individual languages for decades to communicate with men who share the same language to create national unity. That is why language is different from others and focused on different aspects. For example, some languages have grammatical gender rules like German which divides nouns to masculine, neuter, and feminine, or tense rules like English which has past tense, present tense, and future tense. Some will have tones like Chinese, or some will have an expression particular to that language like Japanese which has various kind of honorific expressions. Language has a strong power that identifies each country and makes them distinct.
Though, tragically, according to “Scholastic Math,” a language is dying out every 14 days in the world and it is said that more than half of the languages that exist right now will become extinct by 2100 (“Dying Languages”). Because of globalization, English took the position of a global lingua franca, a common language used by speakers of different languages, and a lot of people use English as their most common communication tool. In addition, the frequency of the use of traditional languages is getting lesser and lesser. There are some people who are trying to protect their indigenous language in some kind of way like in Hawaii or Australia, but can’t catch up with the speed of the disappearance of language. Many people are losing their ancestral treasures and the respectable identity that they have built up for many years.
Ironically, the intercultural issues like the sexism or racism that we hope to get rid of are still remaining in our society, but a cultural treasure like language is quickly vanishing. While I get information from the media, I always feel that intercultural issues draw people’s attention because of its effect on humans’ rights that terribly offend people, but the problem of disappearance of cultural languages are perceived as being of secondary importance to the society. It is impossible to revive what already vanished, however we struggle.
As I sat there eating my waffle in DS, I realized waffles are one of the foods that represents specific cultures, and is still remaining in our society because people think it is tasty. Knives and forks are one of the utensils that are reflecting specific countries’ cultures which is used in many regions because we think it is useful. How about language? Language is also an important thing that represents our culture and it is also a significant tool that we use every day. We need to think about what we should do before another flame of language goes out and people no longer have a language that connects them to home.
“Dying Languages.” Scholastic Math 34.5 (2013): 8-9. EBSCO MegaFILE. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.
“English language.” Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 14 Oct. 2014.