Prisoners of Language
August 31, 2000
By A. H. Hotep
People who do not understanding their own social situation and how to use these acquired languages to convey what they mean, remain prisoners of the dominant culture imposed on them.
What is normally not considered is how people derive meaning from an acquired language. This is crucial to appreciate the problems of misunderstandings and misrepresentations. People acquire the meaning of words through their earliest experiences of the behaviors that accompanied the words.
People learn words in association with actions/behaviors; this point cannot be overemphasized.
So to understand how different people internalize the meaning of words one will have to examine the conduct of the people who came with the new language. Of course, the problem is even more complex today because the dominant culture usually redefines the meaning of words as their dominant position becomes entrenched. They also move to indirect control of people as their wealth allows. The colonized people are normally left with the earlier acquired words and meanings as reflected through the early behaviors of the colonizer.
The colonized people had ways of expressing themselves to deriving common understanding within their societies, however, when their societies were disrupted without a proper transferal of their communication skills, the colonized people were placed at a disadvantage to the colonizer. They became enslaved by virtue of a lack of communication skills with the ever-shifting meanings of newly imposed words.
The only way out is for them to learn the history of the colonizer to understand how they have used their language over time, and to further grasp the diverse meanings of their expressions. People will also have to give their understanding of the words they are using when communicating and insist that the people they are communicating with do the same.
Racism and the Culture of Denial