Language and Society

Language and Society

Language and Society

Language and Society

Excerpt

Language and Society is an introductory but systematic treatment of the ubiquitous and frequently strategic role of language in the life of man. The significance of this role is revealed whatever avenue we follow in studying human conduct. We may concentrate upon personality development, for example, or upon group life or the persistencies and changes of culture or historical matters or international affairs, but ultimately we are faced with the task of understanding the nature of language and its functions.

Some of these functions are indispensable for human society. Thus "a structural system of arbitrary vocal symbols by means of which members of a social group interact," to use the author's definition of language, is essential to the socialization of the individual, on the one hand, and, on the other, a requirement for the maintenance of society itself. Possession and use of language as here understood justify the depiction of man as a unique animal and his way of life as an unparalleled type of social order. Moreover, language often helps to bring together diverse cultures, extending the range of communication and thus contributing to the expansion of community. Students of language sometimes stress its potential role in cementing a community of world-wide dimensions.

But the use (and misuse) of language and the attitudes and sentiments to which it is attached also shorten the reach of contact and narrow the area of understanding among human beings. If a system of language is an essential component of individual and social stability it nevertheless serves to exacerbate social disorder and, perhaps, individual disorganization as well. These negative functions are no doubt exaggerated by some semanticists, especially by those writers for whom faulty communication is the basic source of human conflict and anxiety. This study makes no such claims. Yet both negative and positive contributions of language--to socialization, social organization, cultural and social change, and intra- and international relations--are clarified and illustrated.

Knowledge of the nature and roles of language is provided by several special fields of inquiry, specializations that have been stimulated by problems confronted in various disciplines, including literary study, philosophy . . .

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