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Language Liberation

OUR COMMUNITIES NEED TO IMPROVE

In our RC Communities, we will not achieve complete human liberation if we do not include language liberation. Until we take care of the language needs of all members of our Communities, we are missing a piece of the liberation puzzle. It is necessary that each person recover, claim, and be able to use RC in their own language.

In the past we had monolingual RC Communities. But the world has changed. The movement of humans in the recent decades means it is almost impossible to find a Community that is monolingual. We must adapt to this new reality.

We have created many good, liberation-oriented structures in RC (sessions, classes, workshops, publications, formats, guidelines, and so on). They no longer continue to fully foster liberation, however, if they do not address the language diversity of the Community. Our Communities must move away from being monolingual to being bilingual, trilingual, or multilingual. We must open our cultural and linguistic borders to all if we want to continue to grow, if we want to eliminate oppressiveness from our structures, and if we want to enjoy the great gains in thinking, presence, and fresh new attention that will result from creating space for speakers of minority languages.

SPEAKERS OF MAJORITY LANGUAGES ARE KEY

Such change will not happen by itself. Nor will it result simply from speakers of minority languages claiming and occupying our place in the shared space in which we belong. Change will not result simply from people who experience language oppression doing the work of raising awareness in those who are unaware (who are usually Co-Counselors trapped in oppressor roles). It will not happen if we minority-language-speakers alone organize language-liberation structures for RC events. These measures are no longer enough.

The key to the change we need lies with the people who live in the dominant cultures. Specifically, the speakers of majority languages will have to give up their position of domination (as is true for any oppression)—in this case, their position of language domination.

I suggest several approaches to help people who speak majority languages to organize to re-emerge from their culture of dominating. In this we can work together. We who are oppressed because of language can point the way out of linguistic domination (exclusion) and toward equitable linguistic cooperation (inclusion), in which the rhythm of everything we do together takes into account primarily the needs of non-English-speaking people.

The situation will be simpler and more manageable, solid, and egalitarian for all people when each of us is recovering our own language (and cultural) origins. (See below).

UNDERSTAND WHY SOCIETIES RESTRICT LANGUAGES

If you are a monolingual person, that’s okay. You are not the problem. Monolingualism is a condition in which you live. And from where you live you can play a good role in language liberation. To do so, you will need to understand that the majority languages exist within societal structures of oppression and domination that prevent cultural organizations that are non-dominant, such as those of the minority languages, from surviving. The oppressive system has supported and maintained monolingualism with a goal of reducing the options for human liberation. (Nowadays, thinking that monolingualism is a ever a solution is a mistake.)

EMBRACE YOUR OWN MULTIPLE IDENTITIES

Every time we talk about a lost, forgotten, or unused language, we are talking about language oppression suffered by a person, linguistic group, or civilization.

Most English-speaking or majority-language-speaking people who have come to my classes, workshops, topic tables, and meetings on this subject have ended up realizing that they have hidden cultural and linguistic origins. These origins of theirs have slipped below their awareness, possibly so that they or their forebears needn’t face the grief and frustration of having had to suppress and bury parts of their language-and-cultural heritage—that is to say, parts of themselves.

People who have moved to dominant and white-dominant countries have additionally had to assimilate to their new country and its oppressive structures. To fit into their new “status quo” they have had to hide, disguise, forget, erase, and eliminate any vestiges of the culture or language that they brought from their places of origin. Gaining an awareness of the importance of their having internalized this assimilation process can promote great re-evaluation and can allow them to begin to recover from their losses.

Especially if you have only one language and it is a majority or dominant language, these losses of language and culture are a reality to face.

As an anthropologist, I see the concept of a “single identity,” geographical or cultural, as yet another oppressive strategy used by capitalism to deceive people and to keep them occupied with looking forward and not noticing their rich and varied cultural and linguistic pasts.

Added to the idea of a single language, the oppressive system makes white people think that if you are white, the white identity is the only identity you have. This idea, again, helps maintain the oppressive majority structures we are talking about. Thus many white people are not eager to inquire into their pasts and do not realize that all humans have a rich variety of cultural identities originating from their ancestral lines.

WIDE YOUR SENSE OF CONNECTION

When you do notice the variety in your past, start to reclaim it as yours. As you do so, find your connections with many cultural groups different from those in your own country. A country can more easily get its people to accept norms and conduct that are oppressive toward other countries if its people do not feel connected to other peoples.

Loss of language, along with loss of cultural heritage—which is linked to language oppression and facilitated by other oppressions, such as classism, racism, and sexism—creates distresses that make a person accept the loss. The losses need, rather, to be confronted, identified, and discharged on, not only as a vital part of our own re-emergence, but also for the flourishing of our Communities.

As human beings we have beautiful pasts, presents, and futures. They inform our intelligent minds and hearts and are full of new possibilities. Let’s enjoy them.

Xabi Odriozola
International Commonality Reference Person for Languages and Interpreting

Artatza, Araba, Euskal Herria (Basque Country)

Translated from Basque and Spanish by Zhenia Chislenko and Marcy Morgan

 

 


Last modified: 2021-10-21 17:15:37+00