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Language of defiance

By Sami Gorgan Roodi
August 1, 2001
The Iranian

The idea of devising an anti-language or a language of defiance came to my mind while I was a student in England. I noticed how important it is for the British to sell their language to the world and what strategies they use to lure the world to buy it.

It is not to be disputed that the English language is and has, for a long time, been treated as a kind of "currency" by the Anglo-Saxon countries. The English language has always been the gold standard of exchange for the British government.

The truth is that the English have been profiting to the utmost from writing English textbooks for foreign students and also from training overseas students. The English language has become a marketable commodity and has been manipulated for commercial purposes by the commercially-minded people.

Every now and then one can see new English text-books, devised on the basis of new pedagogical methods, coming out into the market and the consumerist culture urging people to buy the new books and keep up with the latest materials.

Once, as an EFL teacher I suggested to my Iranian colleagues that, in order to combat this kind of "linguistic commodification" or "linguistic imperialism", we devise our own textbooks out of raw materials taken from magazines, newspapers, ... and, in a defiant gesture, turn our back on the commercialism of the world of language education by neglecting the rush of the new text-books in the market.

In the process of doing so, I also discovered that linguistic imperialism is not confined to the profiteering side of selling the English language; rather, I came to realize that by selling their language these guys are also selling us their capitalist - imperialist - racist - sexist ideology.

For example, look how common the use of euphemistic phrases and loaded words such as "ethnic cleansing" (used for "bloodshed", or "murder"), "strategic encirclement" (meaning "siege"), "under extreme physical duress" (for "torture"), "shortening the front line" ("retreating"), "reconnaissance planes" (for "spy planes") and sentences such as "His actions are incompatible with his diplomatic duties" (meaning "He was a spy") have become in today's English, particularly in the English used by the mass media.

What these loaded words often do to the people is that they pull the wool over their eyes and hide the nefarious aspects of the militarist nations under the guise of pleasant words that conjur up pleasant connotations. The militarists, imperialists and international terrorists often mislead public opinion by using such deceptive language.

Capitalism also makes the most of euphemistic words and phrases such as "currency adjustment" (for "devaluation of currency"), "the underpriviledged" ("the poor" and "the needy"), "industrialists" ("profit-makers"), "fledgling nations" ("poor countries"), "industrial action" ("strike") and "fashion" (that is better to be translated as "consumerist mode") in an attempt to beguile the public into accepting the capitalist and money-changers' ideology.

This is a kind of sales' tactic, a covert predatoriness that betrays our mind in this competitive rat-race and tactfully sidesteps the naked truth of the cut-throat world of the capitalist economy.

Racism in the English language becomes apparent when we study the etymology of words such as "picnic" (derived from "pick a nigger", used in lynching ceremonies in which negroes were hanged for the amusement of the blue-blooded barbecuing people). Phrases such as "to make a round-up of the news" (meaning "to make a summary of the news") also carry racist connotations since they are taken from the Western movies, from the "rounding up" of poor Indians.

Sexism abounds in the English language. Thanks to the feminists' outcry and the expression of their moral outrage at the use of sexist language, these days words such as "chairman" (for "chairperson"), "mankind" (for "people"), "headmaster" (for "the head" of a school), "stewardess" (for "flight attendant"), "salesman" (for "salesperson"), "foreman" (for "supervisor"), "mailman" (for "mail carrier"), "policeman" (for "police officer"), "fireman" (for "firefighter"), and "congressman" (for "representative") are gradually becoming obsolete.

I believe that in order to fight linguistic imperialism, we need to devise a language of defiance and struggle and create an anti-language to resist the capitalist-Imperialist-racist-sexist-terrorist faith and berate the falsity and vacuity of their linguistic culture.

This "anti-language" can be defined as a language of protest that acts against strategic and false use of words by exposing the horrors that have been covered in euphemistic words and phrases. This anti-language would help us to debunk the deceptive language of the Establishment in an attempt to bring people face to face with the darker sides of capitalist ideology.

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment for the writer Sami Gorgan Roodi


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