Language

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Language

We use language each day of our lives even if that language is non-verbal. Language allows our thoughts and desires to have form and be understood by those with a common language. It is essential for communication that we have at least one language. For parents and schools this is an essential role. In the home children learn their first words and the language or languages they learn at home will carry them through life. Children are grouped into language based schools when there is more than one language in an area. Where I live families can choose a school of their language whether English or French. And English families wishing their children to learn French and in French can send their children to Immersion Schools.

Language has been both a unifying and a dividing point in many countries and societies. People identify profoundly with a language which comes from the nature of cultural identity united to language and at times faith. In Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, the Gaelic language  from Scotland lives on and is one of the curriculum languages as well as a Gaelic College to ensure its survival. This is but one example of linguistic and cultural survival.

During my doctoral and post-doctoral studies in which I looked at the history of education offered through the public schools created by the Catholic Church in eastern Nova Scotia from 1790 to 1853, it became obvious that language, in this case French, was the vehicle through which education was provided to people spread over a large territory and who identified with that language and culture. For the Acadian people, long persecuted and exiled under the British the combined language, culture and religion was the unifying link. And to them, to lose one was to lose the rest. To speak English meant becoming Protestant like the English people in their experience, not having met English Catholics. To lose the culture was to be a soul-less people. So language in religion is very important. For me, the Catholic Church is French in my mind because after my Reception into the Church I moved to Québec City to university and later studied for the priesthood at the Grand Séminaire de Montréal. I “learned” the Church in a French environment.

For most religions there is a corresponding language: Hebrew for Judaism, Arabic for Islam, Classical Tibetan for Buddhism, Sanskrit for Hinduism. Until the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Latin was used as the common language of the Catholic Church. And while it is the official language and all documents are produced in it, the people now speak a variety of languages and need interpreters. Without a language to unite a people, they are easily divided. Nations find this out and may lead to wars or deep political divides (Canada, Belgium, Cyprus, Cameroon etc). And in the case of the Catholic Church this division has grown so that national conferences and even regional conferences seem far from the unity desired and found pre-1965.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see” (Mark Twain).
In all of this, we see a unifying point to language in politics and religion, but what counts is the idea we can speak freely and calmly to others. We need to use language as vehicle for good and for the betterment of humanity and not as a weapon to hurt. It is possible. We just need to work on the control of the tongue! “There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword, But the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12, 18)

 

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