Most of us never stop to think about the mechanics of language. We learned to speak before we were conscious of learning, and to read and write before we could question our teachers. The first time many people are forced to face the construction of language is when they undertake the challenge of learning a second one. As an adult attempting to express yourself in a new language, you quickly discover that you often can’t say exactly what you want to. You have to learn a new way and that way conveys a slightly different meaning. In some languages it is almost impossible to prevaricate or be overly polite eg. in Norwegian you can’t say I would like, only I want. In English we know that people can talk around and around a point without ever actually getting to it so is the Norwegian language rude, blunt or just culturally appropriate. Students of semiotics, linguistics and philosophy among others, then ask the question does culture construct language or does language create culture?
The English language is an incredibly dynamic one that was formed by the agglomeration of many older ones that passed across the lands of Britain. As such new words are added to the dictionary each year and the meanings of existing words are changed all to reflect changes in our culture and society. If you stumble across a sub culture you haven’t experienced before, at a poetry slam, youth oriented or maybe an indigenous event you will hear words, once used to demean, being reclaimed and new words created to give expression to an experience outside of the mainstream culture. Language is our voice and as such the words we use are an expression of ourselves if we are conscious of the import of them. There is a difference between calling someone an illegal immigrant rather than asylum seeker, a victim rather than a survivor, an elderly spinster rather than a mature professional woman. Language is powerful and how we use it can mislead and manipulate or inform and communicate.