The Bars that Block Understanding
One of my biggest regrets is not learning the language of my race. As a second-generation Vietnamese American, many of my living, older relatives within my family can only mostly speak Vietnamese. For that reason, my communication with loved ones, such as my grandparents, has, at best, been ambiguous, while my understanding, blocked. Once I became more aware of the communication problem, I realized that the language barrier had silenced my relationship with my loved ones, disconnecting me from my own origin.
The language barrier is not just my issue but a macro issue that blocks humanity from understanding one another. There are around 6,500 foreign languages, so without a doubt, no human can communicate with every human in the world without a translator’s help. However, to say that humanity should get rid of the languages that don’t even make up one percent of the population is ethically wrong. Forcing others to abandon their language is akin to asking them to abandon their origin, which in itself is egocentrically evil. But then, how can humanity communicate with one another if people aren’t willing to abandon their own language out of their own violation or force others to do so for them? Well, the answer is we never will understand one another fully, but we will keep trying. Despite knowing that my relative will most likely not be around in a few more years, I still desire the opportunity to learn Vietnamese. Pointless it may objectively be, but it is something that is significantly meaningful to me as it can unsilent my relations by breaking through the bars that block understanding with my loved ones. From understanding how vital a foreign language was to me, I understood why forcing others to abandon their primary language is ethically wrong. How can I ask others to give up something meaningful to them when I refuse to do so in return?
Although there might not be an exact way to overcome the language barrier, there is a reason why humanity should keep every 6,500 foreign languages. Despite languages possessing words with the same definition, such as “biblioteca” and “library,” they are unique as their intent could still get lost when translated. That is because the intent is affected by a language’s syntax. “How to Tame A Wild Tongue,” by Gloria Anzaldua, is a perfect example of why languages, even if translated, wouldn’t hold the same meaning. Anzaldua uses a mix of Spanish and English in her book, explaining how the U.S. society treats people differently based on how well they know how to speak “American.” The issue with this is that “American” isn’t a language, instead a restriction based on a specific syntax that English speakers in America follow. So, if English speakers in America are restricted to speaking “American,” how can they expect non-English speakers to switch? Do they believe foreign speakers want their tongue to be tamed inside the cage created by another language that only allows for one syntactic expression? It’s impossible for someone to truly convey their intent as no language has an infinite amount of syntaxes. However, that is why having multiple languages is great because, just like Anzaldua’s decision to mix between English and Spanish, some languages have the advantage over others when it comes to being syntactically structured for specific intent. Every language has its syntactic restrictions and abilities that make it impossible to translate without losing parts of the intent.
How to Tame a Wild Tongue, by Gloria Anzaldua, 1987, pp. 75–86.