Standardizing? Weaponizing?

It seems apparent that in the time of Samuel Johnson, the dictionary, and the standardization thereof was a method to allow foreigners to enter English controlled or English ruled areas, and live among the English, with English customs and courtesies. Johnson’s view of English is very much innocent as well, remarking that “Language is only the instrument of science, and words are but the signs of ideas” (3) Again, it becomes apparent, when reading Johnson’s words that his view of the English language, and truly all language, is nothing more than a way of sharing ideas. Sure, Johnson wants to codify the language and has classist issues with slang, but in essence, his dictionary is a way of distilling, or reducing the English language to something simple and clean and designed to unite people in pursuance of scientific discourse.

Contrast this, however, with Macauley’s words, roughly 80 years later. Macauley is planning on using Johnson’s standardized English as a weapon. No longer is English the “instrument of science” and “signs of ideas.” Now, Macauley wants to see languages used and abused. He wants to see native languages taught to the native peoples with the express intent of showing them the errors of their religion. Specifically, Macauley says “It is confined that a language is barren of useful knowledge. We are to teach it because it is fruitful of monstrous superstitions.” Here it is shown that the native languages are of no value, and by extension and linked, the “Hindoo” language, as Macauley refers to it, contains a religion that is false. The linking of the language to the religion is quite the attack on non-English languages, when viewed through the European, Christian lens.

What’s more, Macauley goes so far to say that “when we pass from works of imagination to works in which facts are recorded and general principles investigated, the superiority of the Europeans becomes absolutely immeasurable. It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England.” This too is a massive attack, and a vicious one at that. The idea that all information in a language can be of less value, simply because the language chosen to convey that information is perceived to be of less value is an incredible assertion.

By Macauley’s time, English is more than a thing to be standardized, more than a way of sharing ideas. By Macauley’s time, English is a weapon. English has been weaponized, rather than standardized.

-Ross Koppel

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One thought on “Standardizing? Weaponizing?

  1. The main point is, “It seems apparent that in the time of Samuel Johnson, the dictionary, and the standardization thereof was a method to allow foreigners to enter English controlled or English ruled areas, and live among the English, with English customs and courtesies.” I think you should add more on Johnson since you mainly talk about Macauley.

    Extra Credit 3/25/3

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