Language Barriers – Literary Theory

Language Barriers
Throughout human history, conflict has been caused or exacerbated by people simply not understanding each other. Individuals, or entire nations, struggle to communicate when they don’t "speak the same language", either literally or metaphorically. The biblical book of Genesis offers a story to explain the separation of humanity into races and the diversity of human language: our inability to understand one another, we are told, results from the sons of men getting above themselves. Once, when they were united in language and purpose, they tried to "reach unto heaven", to trespass on God’s territory, and so He took them down a peg.
The Tower of Babel
And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech. And it came to pass, as [Noah’s descendants] journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there. And they said one to another, Go to, let us make brick, and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone, and slime had they for morter. And they said, Go to, let us build a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth. And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded. And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the LORD did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the LORD scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.
Genesis 11
The Bible: Old Testament, Authorized Version
Whatever the explanation, differences in language make it difficult for human beings to fully understand each other. Different languages grow out of different cultures – language itself is a way of making sense of our experience as human beings. If our experiences differ widely, misunderstandings may lie at a level deeper than that of words. Barriers can arise not only between races, but also between people of different social class, gender, or age.
While language may both connect and divide people. It can also represent those connections and divisions symbolically. Since language is the medium writers work with, it is not surprising that they often explore ways in which it reflects and affects human relationships.
Language is a particular issue when a dominant nation has colonized another, appropiating territory for itself and imposing its culture on the native population. Following the earliest voyages of "discovery" of the fifteenth century, Europeans colonized the Americas, Africa, India, Australia and the West Indies. Imperialism reached its height in the nineteenth century but broke down in the twentieth, and more and more nations claimed their independence.
Situations where colonial powers have been driven out and people are seeking to reassert their own cultural identity are sometimes referred to as "post colonial". These cultures are inevitably complex mixtures, often scarred by oppression. A "pure" form of the original culture cannot be recreated, as the influence of the power that has dominated it cannot be entirely erased.

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