THE CREATION OF SOCIAL IDENTITY 1 The Creation of Social Identity: The Continuum of Language and Power in Modern Society Name Instructor Class Date THE CREATION OF SOCIAL IDENTITY 2 Abstract The normative effect of language within society describes a role in which social identity and acceptance is the product of demonstrable power…
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As such, language and power are bound together in a mutually sustaining relationship that gives shape and meaning to society as a whole. Keywords: normative, language, power, socio-political, hierarchy THE CREATION OF SOCIAL IDENTITY 3 The Creation of Social Identity: The Continuum of Language and Power in Modern Society One of the most powerful, normative effects of language lies in its ability to determine and assign social “belonging.” As discussed in Blommaert, this is a largely ideological notion, one rooted in the perception that in order to belong to a nation, or ethnic group, one must be able to “speak” the language at a sufficiently proficient level (2009). The wielding of language as power operates on a “two-way” street. Language may be used to exercise power in a “top down” direction, meaning a government may use language to assert its legitimacy, even its moral authority, among a population just as an individual may use language to acquire personal power, negotiating avenues of opportunity within a society by exhibiting his or her mastery of circumstances. This means more than simply being able to communicate verbally; it is the extent to which an individual projects the overall image and power of a language through writing, use of vernacular and other, more subtle means. It is in this way that the continuum of power and language in society creates social identity. The concept of language as power can be boiled down to a very elemental level. Language is the “invention” whereby human beings exchange ideas, the medium in which concepts are created, and the forum in which societal persuasion and influence is translated into intent. The Roman politician and orator Cicero used language as a means of social performance to “patronize or pillory,” to “exclude or excuse” and, when necessary, to extol societal virtues when circumstance dictated that the language of another be undermined (Krostenko, 2001). His power lay in his ability to use language so effectively that he coerced others into believing that language itself conferred power, an important concept in ancient Rome: its greatest perceived power was that it could confer the condition of citizenship. Perception, even then, was THE CREATION OF SOCIAL IDENTITY 4 reality and so it remains today. To be a citizen, the individual not only needs to know and speak the language, one must embody the language, must exhibit outward signs of one’s fluency in order to “belong.” Language as an extension of the nation state is a bestower of identity, both national and personal. “The space in which languages are situated is invariably a national space, the space defined by states that have names and can be treated as fixed units of knowledge and information…It is also a unit of power, control and institutionalization… ” (Blommaert, 2009). In this context, identity may be seen as power, or as that which gives shape and form to power. In his article on the relationship between language and ideology, Professor Eric Johnson writes that language is a tool for manipulating society (2005). Johnson considers language as “something that has been produced in public spaces for the purpose of persuading or dissuading others” (2005). In its more overt (and aggressive) form, language is seen as “an object that is used to control and mold social relationships” (2005). Indeed, language may be seen as having created society
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