House-Keeping and the Purpose of this Article
Globalization is the expanding of social relations and networks throughout the world. It expands moral frameworks that are built in society and decimates falsehoods that potentially pollute minds and culture. Language is a system that confronts the unknown and has underlying realities constructed in it. In this brief article I will explain the significance of Globalization and the effect it had on language, mainly the dictionary, and later express some of the concerns that opponents to Globalization have proposed.
The Strength of Language
To start off we need to understand that language is a social construct created to express an underlying reality that is deep within our minds. We should however not be naïve enough to believe that language does this underlying reality any justice. In many cases body language is a much more positive force, let us just think about Donald Trump’s election as president: language did not serve him well, it was his determination among other things that defined him. This understanding of the psychology of the mind was not understood however in the 19 the century.
In this Victorian era truth needed to be established and language needed to be dissected and controlled. Language became the main way of expression and limited the world to bordered societies, which had a backlash in the 20th century: postmodernism, the belief that language is limited and shouldn’t be of concern in interpreting reality. That is not the concern of this essay, but it needs to be mentioned that language is limited and so it is crucial to define words both concisely and masterfully.
The Dictionary and Globalizing the World
Hence language and Globalization are closely interlinked especially within the context of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). As we know from Simon Winchester’s very helpful and brief history of the assembly of the dictionary, the dictionary was assembled through the help of thousands of volunteers that donated hundreds of thousands of slips of quotations by post — many of them from the United States. We can think of William Chester Minor who worked on the dictionary from an asylum after he murdered a person on the street, later diagnosed with schizophrenia. We can also recollect the lonesome American, Fitzedward Hall, who spent 20 years in utter isolation in a cottage, devoting four hours a day to collecting, defining, and sending definitions of words to the Srippy in Oxford.
In this sense we can understand what Manfred B. Steger means when he writes about “the growing consciousness of global connectivity”. America, one of the largest continents in the world, decided to help in this endeavor to define their own language. It quickly needs to be noted that “Americanizing” is not a bad word. It may have negative connotations associated with it due to the political aspirations of the U.S. in the last 50 years or so. But all in all, it is a set of Western, Enlightened Ideas, spanning from the Renaissance.
Global connectivity aspires towards a set of moral standards that everyone is held accountable for. Science has determined what is right and wrong for particular people groups in the world. There is a social exchange that is appropriate, this is why we know what to do when we walk into an auditorium; we see a podium and seats that are placed diagonally across from it, so we can understand that there is a person speaking on the podium in due course and the people in the audience are meant to listen. Social networks and social relations dictate this type of behavior and understanding.
Without a collective evolution of social interactions we wouldn’t be capable of this type of behavior. This is one of the reasons why the OED had to be constructed. Society was heading into a particular direction, words were being adopted from Scandinavian, French, Italian, Persian, East-Indian, and Germanic dialect, to name a few. The main reason for this was trade with the East and the South and the growing sense that the world was meant to be discovered and dominated. In other words the main reason for the expansion of the English language was Globalization.
This leads to my concerns of globalization and it’s relationship to language. English has become the main way of expression in the 21st century. About 90% of languages have been lost due to colonization, many cultures are because of this slowly evaporating. Let us just think about the Slovakian language. It is a remarkable melodic language that only about 5 million people of the 6.5 billion people on the planet speak. It is also one of the most complicated languages when it comes to its grammar, another reason for it not being around for long. Language is once again only a construct that is meant to help with expressing the underlying feelings that a person has. But there are specific words and phrases that only particular languages possess. In this the OED trumped all languages because it set a mental ground to turn to when in doubt of what a word means. This is one of the reasons why it was so easy to learn English for foreigners. What do you do when you do not understand a word or a phrase? You turn to a helpful system that has been constructed by hundreds of intellectuals over the course of 70 years. It can no doubt be argued that the English language owes its clarity to the Oxford English Dictionary and the masterminds behind it.
The language that is best capable of defining words is the language that will dominate this globalized world. Because of colonization, trade, military strength, financial prosperity, social well-being, among other things, English will dominate the world for the time being. This is not a bad thing if we believe that English does the ‘act of expressing’, justice. To come back to our first point: social relations are confined by language, and so it needs to have helpful definitions — because of this the OED did language justice.
If you liked this, be sure to subscribe! It would mean the world to me. :)
Until next time, keep reflecting.