Politics of written language

History has shown that victors of war have always written history of the people they conquered. This trend tremendously affected the history and identity of many peoples. It can be said without exaggeration that the political utility of the written language has had far-reaching effects on humankind. Language being a powerful tool can do as much harm as it can do good, its role is fundamental in the complexity and dynamics of human. However, since the function of dominant ideology is to persuade the powerless that their powerlessness is inevitable, the written language has been used in promoting and protecting ‘statecraft.’ 

Thiong’o opines that language is central to a peoples’ definition in relation to the world around them and has a dual character as a means of communication and a carrier of an evolving culture. Therefore language is the collective memory bank of a people’s experience in history. He further adds that “the domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonizing nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonized. Freire adds that the language is a vital component of the structure of oppression and it both generates and derives from the policy of domination, exploitation and subjugation of others. This language that perpetuates oppression is erroneously asserted as a representation of a universalized language and as the sole possessor of all solutions to the challenges of present time. 

The modern world is a result of the interplay between imperialism and the resistance against it. To maintain its dominance in international system, a language embodying the dominant culture was shaped, in which the concept of rights is upheld only for itself. This discourse conveniently erased the historical, cultural and geographical experiences of those in the margins. They were seen as passive objects living in a static reality with no history while the dominant cultures were seen as the makers of their own history and where the future of humankind lay in imitating. 

Written as it was with questionable intentions, the existing language is an echo of the dominant culture. Sankara observed, “From imperialism’s point of view it is more important to dominate us culturally than militarily. Cultural domination is more flexible, more effective and less costly.” Consequently, the dominant language leaves no place for creative alternative paradigms. Such a discourse has limited the concept of rights to one of privilege, which does not uphold the values but rather creates expectations without fulfillment, thereby sustaining the status quo of oppression. The construction of rights as a privilege is ideological and extremely political in nature which has at its center the interests and goals of the dominant culture for supremacy through expansionism and monoculture.