Language as prejudice

culture, Linguistics, psychology Leave a reply

So let’s start with: I am neither a linguist, nor a sociologist, but I’d love to hear from anyone with experience in those fields. I did a quick search on Google Scholar and didn’t find anything related.

I think a large part of racism is borne implicitly, a collection of attitudes and behaviour adjustments that, in themselves, are neither conscious nor large, yet the aggregate effect of millions of people acting in this way is what tilts the whole system against various groups.

I was thinking about language recently. Language isn’t ever neutral. Sounds are processed, regardless of their origin. Our brain is constantly pattern matching everything we see and hear, and doing it’s best to provide itself with a working hypothesis of what’s going on in the world around it.

Now I don’t have a lot of experience with language (fluent only in English, I can get by in Japanese, and I have a few sentences in Irish and French), but it occurs to me that for those of us who are unfamiliar with a foreign language (depending on the language), the ‘best fit’ may be baby sounds.

There is a history in most countries (that I am aware of) of infantilising and othering the foreign nationals that visit the host country. Is it plausible that monolingualism plays any part in this, as a kind of unconscious background assessment made by the majority inhabitants?

Lest I be misunderstood: I’m not saying that this is a correct assessment, nor am I suggesting that this justifies anything. However, if true, this presents a unique way to reduce the overall expression of racism: language lessons, in a language that sounds radically different from the primary language of the country.

Any thoughts?

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