Written Language, Oral Language, and Their Liberation

The following is Part II of this article. You can read Part I on pages 30 to 32 of the July 2016 Present Time. Part III will be printed in the January 2017 Present Time. You can also read the entire article, in English, Basque, or Spanish, on the RC website at <www.rc.org/page/onlinereading/contents>.

Turning Linguistic Oppression Around—
Practicing Liberation

Connection and linguistic
liberation, in my role as a client

I have noticed that when my Co-Counselors feel united with me, they give the best of themselves and I give the best of myself. In other words, we give the best of ourselves in RC activities when we are connected. I believe we should focus all our attention on this fact at the beginning of every session.

When I am client, the most important thing is not that the counselor understand what I am discharging about (even if that is generally helpful). Something more crucial, which can completely determine the outcome of the session, is that I offer access to my mind so that the counselor can come in. It is about consciously using the connection. That is a truly powerful action and is the sharpest weapon against my distresses.

I have observed that linguistic oppression can hinder and even prevent the connection. For this reason, when I am the client, I try to bring the counselor toward the inner process of my mind by doing, among other things, the following:

When the counselor’s language is different from mine, I say a few words, a common sentence, in her language: “So good to see you.” And I perceive the deep meaning of this sentence and in which way it is good for me to see her again. Saying this sentence in her language adds a special power to our connection. I usually spend the first ten to fifteen minutes of the session on this sentence. Then, in the rest of the session, my attention is not as pulled to go to my distresses. It wants to keep swimming in the shiny surface of the ocean of connection, in reality.

Other times, before my or my counselor’s distresses start to make some noise, I gaze for a long time into my counselor’s eyes, or repeat her name again and again, and am conscious of the present moment that we have together.

In one way or another, I make an effort to see that my counselor is a witness to and participant in my process. I let her know that I will use all her presence and that the language difference won’t be an obstacle to the connection we need to establish from the first second we meet.

Language, an instrument to
unite us and bring us even closer, in my role as a counselor

When I am counselor, if a client who doesn’t know my language lets me know that she will be there, aware of me, ready and open to have me with her a hundred percent, the session is usually excellent.

This occurs easily when she has taken into account that different languages are involved and that hers is neither the only one nor the most important one, and when she has realised that achieving the entire dimension of the communication depends on both people, not only on the full effort of one. This applies especially when she is from a dominant linguistic group.

If she shows some interest in my language, she is showing interest in my person. When she makes a gesture on the linguistic situation, it makes possible what language oppression presents as impossible—that the two of us can have complete connection—and I never feel confused or lost as a counselor.

Minoritised-dominated languages and internalised inferiority

My language, aside from being a minority one (spoken only by a minority), has been minoritised—deliberately restricted, marginalised, forbidden, and persecuted. This has been done with laws, sociopolitical rules, and sometimes violence. My language has also been isolated; it has lost its relationship with its old language family. This has affected how Basque people think about themselves and their capacity to make relationships with new “neighbours.”

The minoritisation and isolation can show up in my behaviour. I refer to this as internalised inferiority. I can easily—and without external intervention—feel less than the rest of the group, begin speaking in the language of the other person, or move myself from the center to the margin. I can forget my own importance and significance, or fall into the patterned behaviour of “give and give and give.” (This kind of giving is one of the consequences of genocide. As Indigenous people we have a tendency to give out everything, believing that by doing so the white people, or the invaders, will maybe spare our lives or go away and leave us in peace.) Internalised inferiority can be summarised as follows: “I don’t deserve as much as . . . .” This influences our RC project.

Majoritised-dominant languages and internalised superiority

The majoritised-dominant languages, which are the ones that surround mine, include the following:

  • The majority languages—the languages with the most speakers in the world
  • The majoritised languages—the languages that are given a higher status, are assumed to be more important than and superior to all the others; more complete, more adequate, more developed
  • The dominant languages—those that have other languages, generally the minoritisedones, under the scope of their power and authority; that force the speakers of the other languages to adjust, submit, and assimilate to them.

Traces of the oppression connected with the majoritised-dominant languages can be found in the people who speak them—mainly due to their living in countries with a capitalist, imperialist way of life that has made their language and culture dominant. I call this internalised superiority. It tends to make these people see as inferior the people who speak the minoritised languages, to make them expect that the speakers of the minoritised languages will adapt to the mode, pace, and style of the majoritised-language speakers and offer them gratitude, admiration, privileges, service, or favors, because they deserve it. This distressed tendency can be summarized as “I need and deserve more, or more than . . . .” This has considerable influence in our RC activities. (For instance, Co-Counseling activities with a significant number of white people are particularly challenging for Indigenous people like me. I usually spend a big part of my session time on not letting this issue keep me from being an active part of the International Community and its activities.)

Facts to remember and make clear

In our International RC Communities, it should always be clear that not speaking English is the natural state of a lot of RCers and in no way represents a lack of capacity or responsibility. Also, in the absence of distresses, everybody would want to know and speak the languages of their fellow humans as much as their own.

Overcoming internalised inferiority and superiority,
in an RC session

In an RC session, two minds, in a mutual and equal relationship, can help to free each other from internalised inferiority and superiority.

If I am a client with someone from a majoritised-dominant language, I model making space for the counselor to come into my session, my mind, and my life and submerge herself in my discharge and re-emergence. This is a way to interrupt my internalised inferiority and hold up the power that belongs to me.

If the counselor doesn’t understand my language, it has worked well to provide at the beginning or the end of the session a summary of what I will be or have been working on; to look lovingly, for a long time, into the counselor’s eyes before starting; to say to her words of endearment in my own language; to take her hands in mine and sing her a lullaby.

Because she has been assimilated into the superior or dominant attitude of her culture, she could forget more easily than I that seriously attempting to get closer, past all the limitations, is both of our responsibility.

You, also, will find many ways to do this as you go. Let’s go!

If I am counselor, a client from a majoritised-dominant language can try to be aware that I am over there, with my cultural background. She can ask me how to say some words of my language that have great significance for me, such as, “I love you,” “Your heart and mine,” “Good to see you,” “You and me forever,” “Close by,” “No fear now,” “Forgive me.” Then I can put into the session my full potential in her favour, and she can face her internalised superiority with me on her side.

A common characteristic of internalised superiority is to use language to make noise to cover up the lack of connection, or the fear of the unknown or of strangers, instead of using it to build connection and closeness. When I see this, I ask the client to remain silent and to look at me for five minutes or so. I am sure you will find many ways to deal with this in your practice.

The course of a session is often determined by the indestructible connection that emerges between the two of us after we have both understood that each of us is responsible for getting unlimited closeness between us. The client is no longer working by herself, and the session is very vigorous. Both of us are in the present, and the re-evaluations happen more easily.

And we should not forget that the other oppressions (classism, sexism, racism, and so on) surround the internalised inferiority and superiority and can reinforce or distort them, in ways that depend on the role we have played in these other oppressions.

False expectations

Both counselor and client also need to be aware of the false expectations that can come from language oppression. Below are some that arise in speakers of majoritised and dominant languages, due to internalised superiority:

  • “The person who speaks the minority language, as well as the minoritised one, will understand my language because she has learnt it. So she should take the first step to get closer to me and to ensure that the session is intelligible.”
  • “The person who speaks the minority language, as well as the minoritised one, should learn my language, as it is the one most used internationally. Because almost everything happens in my language, she would benefit from learning it.”
  • “When counselor, the person who speaks the minority language, as well as the minoritised one, has to make the effort to understand me and get close to me in my language and should let me do the session my way, because I know better.”

The following are expectations that stem from internalised inferiority:

  • “I should know her language,” “She does not and will never understand me in my own language.”
  • “This won´t go well,” “We won’t be able to communicate.”
  • “It is useless with her,” “They are all the same,” “She will not see me; she won´t notice anything.”
  • “And all the above are true, in great measure, because of me—because I am ignorant, I am not as much as I should be, and there is nothing I can do about these people.”

Counseling in RC groups

Generally speaking, the above recommendations also apply in support groups and other RC groups. And here are some additional thoughts and observations about counseling in groups:

A client in an RC group may pick a counselor who speaks her language. She may believe that in their speaking the same language she will find connection and a contradiction to her distress. But she is focusing on a small, cognitive portion of the whole communication. A cognitive understanding does not necessarily mean connection.

I have also observed that fear of a stranger and distrust of the unfamiliar can lead to someone picking a counselor who is fluent in the same language.

In fact, any counselor can offer, in any situation, the connection, contradiction, and logical and exact perspective that the client needs. Remember that we RCers have done this Co-Counseling exercise thousands of times and have all become experts at it.

Even though it’s important to understand the client’s verbal communication, attitude is the element required for the real revolution—the connection—to happen between the client and the counselor.

At times, instead of making a direct relationship, the counselor or client will use an interpreter as an intermediary. (This happens more often when the client and counselor are of different cultures, languages, or origins.) This doesn’t allow for truly knowing the other person or making a direct connection with her mind. Something will always be missing: the true relationship.

In such a case, I usually encourage the person not to use the interpreter as a bridge or a way to indirectly reach the other person. There is nothing like a direct relationship to provide the most powerful contradiction to the griefs, fears, and frustrations we have accumulated from our other relationships.

Patxi Xabier Odriozola Ezeitza
International Commonality Reference
Person for Languages and Interpreting
The village of Marieta Larrintzar,
Araba, Basque Country

Translated from Basque to Spanish
by Juan Gabriel Urriategi
Translated from Spanish to English
by Stéphan Picard
Revised in Spanish and English
by Goizalde Galartza 

[Juan Gabriel Urriategi, Stéphan Picard, and Goizalde Galartza also translated and revised Part I of this article. We apologize for not listing their names at the end of that part, on page 32 of the July 2016 Present Time.]


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00