The Politics of Language

There is a distinct though often overlooked connection between language and politics. In our world of post-colonialism and globalization, the inherent bias of language and the rift it creates among us all becomes more and more clear.

In Homebody/Kabulthe character Khwaja talks about learning Esperanto. When I read this I was skeptical that this was a real thing and not just something that Kushner made up, but it’s not, www.esperanto-usa.org

He says “It was created by a Polish Jew, Zamenhof,” (Kushner, 58). By designating him as a “Polish Jew” he is lending cultural and social implications to him, and he loses all neutrality. Esperanto is supposed to be a “mother tongue which draws from us our common humanity” (58). There are two main problems with this language. The first is that almost no one knows what it is or how to speak it. The second which is highlighted in the description of the creator of the language is the ethnic, racial, and (most importantly) cultural groups that we place each other in.

There are some dangerous implications for not being able to communicate. There are two general examples of the inability to communicate in Act 1. The first is the Homebody’s inability to communicated with her daughter, her husband, or her audience. Early on in her monologue she apologizes to her audience. “My parents don’t speak like this; no one I know does; no one does” (13). Alienating her audience is not her worst problem, it simply sets up the tone for the discussion of language. We need to be apologized to for not understanding her, not the other way around, because we are a majority. Language therefore turns people into others. It is more obvious when their is the cultural and geographical element involved, but the disassociation of language can exist anywhere to create others among those we could consider being a part of the collective “we.”

The other example of the dangers of language barriers is a more violent one. When Priscilla almost gets beaten in the street by the Munkrat, the confusion and terror is highlighted by the fact that it is impossible for them to communicate with each other. The sense of otherness between them is born out of their collective ignorance of each other, their ignorance born out of the inability to communicate ideas. This is the politics of language. This is how language turns us into the feared and hated other.

Kushner, Tony. Homebody/Kabul. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2007. Print.

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One thought on “The Politics of Language

  1. I am sure you would expect some commemnts on your views here. You wrote, “There are two main problems with this language (i.e. Esperanto). The first is that almost no one knows what it is or how to speak it. ” I hope you allow me to disagree strongly with both those assertions. Esperanto is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, and is deeply embedded in people’s consciousness. When I say that I speak Esperanto, I’ve never met a single person who does not know what it is. Things could be different where you live, of course. Wander around the net and see how frequently the language is used for all sorts of purposes. As to the number of speakers, I don’t really know a figure. It may be impossible to ascertain, but what is certain is that there are enough to make learning and using the language worthwhile.

    I have used Esperanto in Africa, in South America, and in a dozen European countries, with no difficulty at all. Personally, I’ve made friends around the world through Esperanto that I would never have been able to communicate with otherwise. And then there’s the Pasporta Servo, which provides free lodging and local information to Esperanto-speaking travellers in over 90 countries. Over recent years I have had guided tours of Berlin, Douala and Milan in this planned language. I have discussed philosophy with a Slovene poet, humour on television with a Bulgarian TV producer. I’ve discussed what life was like in East Berlin before the wall came down, how to cook perfect spaghetti, the advantages and disadvantages of monarchy, and so on. I recommend it, not just as an ideal but as a very practical way to overcome language barriers.

    I do agree with your opening comment, “There is a distinct though often overlooked connection between language and politics. In our world of post-colonialism and globalization, the inherent bias of language and the rift it creates among us all becomes more and more clear.” I see Esperanto as one way to heal rifts.

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