Language is really a powerful tool (metaphorically speaking – because now I know that Benveniste explains that one can not call language a tool/ instrument because one cannot put it down) and this very language enables its user to be able to define themselves and doing so – unconsciously – in comparison to the other. Peter Anderson (in one of his English lectures) argued that it is in language that one establishes a sense of being in the world with ones use of personal pronouns such as I and you, thus I others the you, placing them outside of himself, because language operates on a binary system that allows the I to subject itself and other the you. Language is used in society to communicate and it operates adequately and has meaning when all the I’s in the society share the same codes of language. If you think about this for a moment, you who refers to yourself as I (even though I am now referring to you as a you), use your I (unconsciously) to define who you are to yourself and society (those around you) – even though society, which refers to you as you, may not really have the same perception of your sense of I and will judge you because they misunderstand you. Society judges, classifies, grades, boxes and marginalises a person and in a way limits personal development of self. They marginalise people according to certain ideologies which are often contradictory, I am sure you can think of a few contradictory statements in the bible that contradict themselves (that is not the point so I will not dwell on this point). Society, basically teaches one to define themselves but on the condition that one does not cross the margins layed out by them. To make this simpler and I will use myself as an example. Xhanti’s sense of I, whenever he speaks defines who he is to himself, thus his sense of I carries his personal identity and not the social identity because it is the you, that society refers to Xhanti, that entails his social identity. Personal identity is the way in which one [the I] perceives himself and is embedded in Xhanti’s sense of I. Social identity is the way in which the people around a certain person, otherwise known as society, perceive that person (which could be according to sex, sexual orientation and behaviour). Xhanti defines himself as a human being that’s growing and learning to live on his terms, even though he cannot totally isolate himself from society which he lives that he does not agree with its ways. Society may perceive Xhanti as black, male and teenager that knows little. Xhanti totally disagrees with the way society has defined him, the fact that there are certain attitudes and behaviours are expected of him, he thus rebels against such constraints of character. Xhanti acknowledges that he has been socialised but refuses to be passive and accept to do what is expected and does the same. Xhanti’s developed a purpose in life which is to defy the imaginary boundaries which society has said to be there. It is the very society that has taught Xhanti the importance of self perception and he thus takes that lesson and uses it to really define himself – which is not what is expected by society. Society will still judge one wheather one keeps within their created imaginary margins by defing one even not really – personally – knowing one. Xhanti does admit that he draws his personal identity from society which he is brought up in – this is in a way contradictory in Xhanti himself – and that his personal identity is influenced by his social identity which he rebels against. The plausible fact that Xhanti, defies the society which had aimed to socialise him into what they ideally had in its “mind”, looks past how he has been socialised and does not let anyone else define him other than what he himself as. The way in which language operates allows one to define themselves and the society to define him. It is beautiful and strange the way language works the way everyone (all the I’s and you’s) is able to define self and other using the same word, it is like people are constantly borrowing each other words.
Acknowledgements and thanks to:
Benveniste, E. Problems in General Linguistics: Subjectivity in Language. Miami, University of Miami press.
Anderson, P. University of Cape Town – English lecturer.