On Mother Tongues and Functional Community

This morning, I contemplated the meanings and usage of language. What is language? What are its purposes, and how do we use it most effectively? The first order of business is to define language. One of the things that any cohesive unit needs to function is a common definition of terms. Without that, things fall apart. But we’ll explore that more in a minute. Merriam-Webster defines language as follows:

“The words, pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community.”

Communities, as well as their unique ways of communicating, come in various iterations. A community, for purposes of this exercise, can be as small as a family or as large as a nation. After a brief, humorous exchange with my husband this morning, I had occasion to consider this concept more in-depth. As I was recounting it to someone else, I was instantly aware that to an outsider, my funny story could sound pretty offensive. Our family’s mother tongue, however, is often heavy with sarcastic dialect.

Consider the current state of affairs in what is left of the United States. One of the major culprits in the continuing breakdown of our national unity is the loss of understanding surrounding language. This is true of big idea words such as “justice”, “equality”, and “discrimination”, but it’s even true of rudimentary words such as “woman”, “man”, “mother” and breast”.

Without a common language, values, and understanding of reality, there is no way my children can ever experience any sense of the America that existed when I was a child a few decades ago.

And that is too bad.

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