Language is power

Any discussion about cognition, culture, and language may give the impression that these things are neutral, that they, in and of themselves, are just things and systems devoid of any type of emotional weight.  While in an isolated setting, as in a village in a remote Latin American jungle, there may not be any emotional thought given towards the system in question.  It would be a group of fishes unaware and not bothered by the water around them.  However, if another group threatened the remote village, then huge amounts of emotion would then be triggered and war could and probably would ensue.  If this is the case, then it is clear that any discussion of cognition and culture must include as a necessary component power distribution dynamics.  If there were no issues about power, then no conflict would be present in any discussion of culture’s outside of one’s own and everyone would get along quite peacefully.  In my opinion, humanity has never known this type of peace.

What is the role of power?  To answer, I must first take a look at what power really is.  Power, from a sociocultural perspective, is the ability to transfer one group’s value system onto another group of people, usually as an act of conquest, “Whether urbane or harsh, cultural invasion is this always an act of violence against the persons of the invaded culture, who lose their originality or face the threat the of losing it…the invaders mold; those who are invaded are molded” (Freire, 2000, 152).  While Freire uses strong words that imply force, supplanting a culture involves removing, or at best, rearranging a person’s entire life-view.  Furthermore, not only can there be a value clash between groups of people, there can be value system clashes even among a person’s value system of origin.  Rousseau wrote, “…each individual may, as a person, have a particular will contrary or dissimilar to the general will which he has as a citizen.  His particular interest may speak to him quite differently that the common interest” (Crosby, 1978, 12). While Rousseau’s words were in a different time context than today, there is still truth in his words.  Therefore, power dynamics influence both group’s culture relationships between distinct and also these dynamics are at work within a single person and any system external to himself.  Language is the mediator not only between self and that which is outside of self, but language is also the mediator of power dynamics.