Do you ever wonder what it would be like to have a different nationality? Would you still be the same person? Or maybe you would think completely differently and so would you feel? It is very likely that you would. The country and region where we are born determine to a large extent who we are, how we behave and what we like. And our identity is hugely influenced by the language we speak.
Why do I need to speak?
Man has always been a herding creature, living in a community. Groups in which we live needed a way to communicate. This necessitated us to invent language, or, as F. de Saussure put it, a system of signs. It turned out that besides enabling us to communicate, language has also helped us to develop our identity. Language affects our characters, temperaments, dispositions and aspirations.
The region where a given language was developed had and still has an impact on its characteristics. Weather conditions, geographical constraints or even food available in a given region are inherent elements of any language. Snow – which in the Eskimo language has an indefinite number of varieties – is one of the best-known examples in this respect. In Poland snow is just snow. It can be wet or squeak underfoot, but we invariably call it snow. For a change, in Poland we have a great number of names of mushroom species. In Anglo-Saxon countries, where mushrooms are much less popular, most mushroom species are still referred to using the Latin, botanical term. The popularity of a given phenomenon or object gives rise to special names given to it by its users, who even coin sayings or idioms with its name.
I speak as I feel
Though it may seem strange, what we feel is often determined by the way thoughts are expressed in our language. In countries where salutations are of great importance, people are withdrawn, often prudish and little expansive – at least in public.
Where the language is melodic, expressive and simply loud, as in the south of Europe, people are cheerful, open and seem to like to have fun. This is yet another example of how climate affects language. Where climate is colder, relationships between people are usually more restrained. Where the sun always shines, people are much more likely to demonstrate their feelings and interact with each other.
We live together and we speak together
Language determines our behavior, our mentality and the way we act. It helps us to develop our identity. Language affects the way we shape what we desire in our lives and what is important to us. Language enables us to express our feelings in a way that is appropriate for our culture and the region we represent. Some of us speak loudly and gesticulate a lot. Others form sentences in an orderly manner, gently formulating their thoughts.
There are of course exceptions to every rule. We are bound to meet some shy Italians and very expressive Swedish people. However, we build our characters and, primarily, identity based on language – our communication tool. We use it together and we also change it together, as language is live, it changes, and we, as its users, have an unvaried influence on the direction in which it evolves. Depending on the political or economic situation, new phrases, sayings or proverbs are coined and continue to be used for many years.
Language makes us feel a member of a group, in a place where we feel safe – among our fellow countrymen. It does not necessarily have to be the language of a specific country. It can also be a dialect, vernacular or even a jargon. Every language form we use gives us a sense of belonging to a group – sometimes due to our education or skills.
Language is our strength
Language makes the group strong. You probably know that there are languages in the world that can dominate. Countries with a strong identity and a strong language have dominated many regions. Countries such as Russia, France, Great Britain, China or Spain have shaped their position also owing to their languages. It was language that built the identity of their nations and the strength of the group.
Not only does language give strength to dominate, but it also enables minorities to survive. Owing to their strong identity, Scots and Catalans continue to be recognized as ethnic groups. After all language gives grounds to the sense of belonging, customs and often also a religion. But we do not have to look that far – there are ethnic groups in Poland as well. Despite the passage of time, Kashubians and more numerous Silesians are still able not only to survive, but even ever more passionately propagate their unique culture throughout Poland.