Have you ever considered the origin and significance of the language with which you communicate on a daily basis? For some, this method of communication is merely a fact of life with little import beyond facilitating an exchange of information. Only when they come in contact with another language or dialect do they briefly consider that another system of communication exists. However, language serves a much larger purpose than simply interaction. Ultimately, language serves as the culture boundaries through which one views their society as well as the secrets of their native environment.
Language at its core is entirely a cultural creation and possession. It is no secret that every culture has its own method of communication, which may consist of a variety of sounds arranged in various ways. The differences between these methods of communication could be as radical as the system of clicks used by the !Xoon of Africa or as slight as a dialect common in a section of the United States. No matter the location of origin, these linguistic differences often serve to identify the home region as well as the cultural affiliation of its speaker. For example, those raised in a traditional Maori community of New Zealand today would be more likely to speak the language than an average child in England or the United States. Perhaps if the language or dialect was important enough, others from outside the community might learn it, but they would more than likely not become as fluent in it as one of that culture.
Because it is created by a particular culture, language offers valuable clues into the thought process of that culture. For example, in the !Xoon language, clouds are referred to as rain houses, a rather descriptive revelation of their true nature (Harrison, 19--, p. 43). Instead of concealing one of the cloud’s main functions through a less definitively set of words, this African culture goes straight to its true purpose. Such a culture could potentially be more direct and less poetic in its overall linguistic function. In contrast, by examining modern American English, one could easily conclude that American culture is quick to absorb elements from other cultures. For example, while many English words have their origins in Latin, French, Spanish, German or other languages, some lifted straight from other languages. True, they may have a different pronunciation in English, but the meaning and shape are both still there.
However, the most important value of language lies not in how it views that which is well known but in how it reveals that about which people know little. For example, in the jungles of South America, there exist many valuable plants whose names and properties are contained only in native languages (Harrison, 19--, p. 42). True, scientists who speak major languages could travel there to translate that knowledge into a more accessible form but that process takes time as the scientists learn the native language or find a translator who could help them. In that time, the knowledge could be lost as those who possess it lose the memory or even die, as forty to sixty percent of knowledge is lost every generation (Harrison, 19--, p. 43). Additionally, even if these steps are completed in time, the understanding of the meaning of the language on either side could be such that the scientists do not understand the nuances of what they discover or the translator does not understand scientific terms enough to assist the process. Ultimately the greatest benefit lies in preserving the language in order to reap its knowledge for years to come.
Language at its base serves to facilitate language between people of a particular culture. However, it is also works beyond this to exchange language about and among many different cultures. Without the language of major and minor cultures, thought processes would be obscured, valuable knowledge would be lost, and cultures would be forgotten. Ultimately, without language, culture itself might cease to exist.
Harrison, K. D. (19--). When languages die. (Insert title of textbook). In (insert editors) (Eds.). (City, State Abbreviation): (Publishing Co).