The ability to communicate has long been a problem in human history.  Not only for the complications that arise between languages and translation but by the amount that race and culture have become tied to how someone speaks.  These internal forces within our world have left a trail of sorrow and death that is ever-lengthening.  With one component simply being viewed as a counterpart to another, what is right and correct is arbitrary.  The conflict will always be there unless an external solution was to present itself.  Thus it could be said that humanity would benefit from an alien invasion, from an outside force changing the dynamics of our world in a way that could not come from within.  Though this invasion would affect the world in countless ways, race and language will be the subjects in this experiment.

Language has the power to both separate and unite.  When inside a rural community where one language has been spoken for generations, the presence of a common tongue to bring people together is taken for granted.  People have never had to deal with not being able to converse with someone because of a break in the linguistic code.  Chinua Achebe, an African writer who was taught English growing up, said “those of us who have inherited the English language may not be in a position to appreciate the value of the inheritance”.  A common language then could be viewed as a great privilege.

In a borderland area, such as that of Southern Texas, the opposite of this can be seen.  There arises a clash of communication where many people in the same geographic location cannot freely express their thoughts to the entirety of the population.  This disconnect of languages can effect economic circumstances, labor hierarchies, local law enforcement and medical treatment, just to name a few.  In areas such as Southern Texas, the power of language can be seen in all its force.

Concerning written communication, Chinua Achebe referred to unifying language as a national language, saying, “A national literature is one that takes the whole nation for its province and has a realized or potential audience throughout its territory.  In other words a literature that is written in the national language”.  A national language then, takes advantage of a common vehicle of thought, such as English in the United States, and uses it to produce literary works that can be easily accessed by the majority of a certain audience.  When it comes to verbal communication, the same advantages apply, in that for Achebe, a national language allows for everyone’s thoughts to be heard and shared.

Achebe maintains that having a national language, having a universal way to communicate, breaks downs barriers and allows for authentic representation of differing viewpoints.  He states, “there is certainly a great advantage to writing in a world language” and “today, for good or ill, that language is English”.  At the same time however, a national language can be quite problematic causing the exclusion and change of those who are not signed on with the national code.

A critic of Achebe, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, an African who was also taught English in school, said “language was not a mere string of words.  It had a suggestive power well beyond the immediate and lexical meaning”.  For Thiong’o, language has deep and profound influence on an individual, much more so than simply the sounds coming out of their mouth.  English became a power to control, “it was the language”, he said, “and all others had to bow before it in deference”.  By being forced to speak English and humiliated when complications arose, Thiong’o was thrown into a social hierarchy not by one’s thoughts but simply by how they were communicated.

Ultimately, this pressure to abandon one’s native tongue caused Thiong’o and his schoolmates to distance themselves from everything associated with that language, including their own culture.  He remarked, “language and literature were taking us further and further from ourselves to other selves, from our world to other worlds”.  He was losing his identity because by being subjected to the perceived superiority of English and the witch hunt to get rid of the language of his people.  He suggests that language and culture are inseparable.  “Culture is a product of the history which it in turn reflects… a reflection of human beings communicating with one another.”  Thus language and culture are products of each other.  Changing one, changes the other.

A national language in this case, caused someone to lose that basic definition of self.  How then could a national language imposed upon a people be for their benefit if who they are at a very fundamental level is changed?  Consequently, language and who we are seem to be connected.  Frantz Fanon said about language and culture, “to speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax… but it means above all to assume a culture”.

For Fanon, who wrote at length about colonization and language, to take on a new language is to take on the mannerism and thought process of that language.  He simply put, “to speak a language is to take on a world, a culture”.  Accordingly, a race viewed as inferior has an assumed inferior language.  Race then too is linked to culture and language.

In this hierarchy of race that is in our world, whiteness has been an obsession throughout recorded history.  Fanon wrote, “The Antilles Negro who wants to be white will be the whiter as he gains greater mastery of the cultural tool that language is”.  If one wants to move from Black culture to White, whatever these maybe, Fanon insinuates that this can be done by simply changing how one talks, implying that race is not biological if language can change it.  “Honorary citizenship” comes with a new tongue, making the person no longer the other.

This being said, it should not be a surprise that language and race compose a complicated dilemma in the world.  The three viewpoints are just a sample of what the spectrum of voices are saying.  Each one, however, is still a part of the system they are critiquing.  Who is right will vary, sway and even change as time continues on.  Thus no real solution can come from within the problematic situation we all live in.  An alien entity, quite literally, would be needed to solve our current state of affairs.  Such an invasion would give response to Achebe, Thiong’o and Fanon’s points.

An extraterrestrial is an unknown.  Movies, comic books and videos games have perpetuated notions of what they might be like but the common strand in them all is that aliens are different than humans.  Not just a different skin color, different belief or different lingo but actually a different race.  Not human.  The addition of such an entity to our dynamics on earth would show that race is simply a combination of language, culture, and the need for humanity to have an “other”.

The concept of a nation language, in Achebe’s terms, would become important during an attack on humanity.  The pressure to do so however, would come not to persecute or belittle, but to unify out of necessity.  The national language, or in this case a world language, could be achieved without damaging personal worth because the compelling forces would not simply be finger-pointers but an external element calling for the necessity of mutual understanding without humanity as a whole.

Consequently, being who someone is culturally can be a beautiful aspect to the world.  Thiong’o was right to want to preserve this but the problem lies in becoming combative, on either side of the fence.  If Fanon is right in saying “every dialect is a way of thinking”, an alien invasion would show how those ways of thinking are simply human and not as far off as they may seem.

At its core, an alien invasion would help show just how petty the race argument is.  Sometimes, the only difference between hostile groups is how they speak.  If race is simply language and culture, then an extraterrestrial power would break down those walls and demonstrate this idea.

Race is not an inherent quality of our life system but an internally created concept intended to control and divide.  If race can be changed or mutated by simply learning a different language then it would be logical to say that race is not biological.  There is no change to DNA, no molecular modification when someone says “perro” in place of “dog”.  At the same time though, the problem is so widespread, so ramped, that a paradigm-shifting event, such as an Alien invasion, would most likely be needed to make this point clear.  Hopefully, it would not take a 9-11 attack of a global scale to show this to the world but having an external component in this mix would change how humanity views itself.

Quotes taken from:
The African Write and the English Language (1975) by Chinua Achebe
The Language of African Literature (1986) by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
The Negro and Language (1952) by Frantz Fanon

Compiled in:
Burke, Lucy, Tony Crowley, and Alan Girvin. The Language and Cultural Theory Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 2000. Print.


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