Language has been with us since the beginning of time. Everyone around the world uses different words, accents, syntax, etc. to express themselves verbally or in writing. Language can be a weapon as coined by Professor Jane Lewis, “Language is the partner to empire.” In other words, language is another tool an empire can use to extend themselves onto those they conquered. This is an extension of the empire in which the empire can control their defeated humans through their common system of communication. Language is a powerful tool, that is often overlooked. For example, English is used everywhere. It is the most commonly used language in the United States but English originated from the British Empire, despite its’ nonexistence in the modern world. Language, dare I say, has its problems as this tool can be used in an oppressive manner.
One example was when the Spanish language was used to silence the Andean people residing in the Spanish colonies in Peru. From the bible to the courts to letters to Spain, Spanish was mostly used anywhere during the Spanish colonization. Although the Andean people were able to retain their original language, Quechua, it was greatly discouraged, at one point prohibited, to use their original language because the Spanish had to be aware of a revolt, right? The way the Spanish impose their language onto the Andean people to have “mono-language” is similar to controlling the minds of everyone. Their every thought, every tongue, and consequently every action. Language oppresses the thoughts of rebellion and revolt because everyone will be too busy learning a new system of communication. Speaking from personal experience, it is difficult to learn a new language you were not raised with as well as it consumes more time and effort than planning a revolution.
The Spanish language showcases how language can be used in reality but it can also be used in non-reality such as fantasy and literature. If I were to discuss Shakespeare’s The Tempest, who would be the most notable character? Prospero. Why? Because he is a powerful manipulator. Where does he obtain his power? His books. What does his book contain? Words. Language. Prospero is the most powerful and famous character in The Tempest because he is excellently versed in language and literature. What he does with his power is manipulate every character in the play from his daughter, Miranda, to the shipwrecked survivors to Ariel to Caliban. Similar to the Spanish, Prospero controls situations and manipulates action to his favor like matchmaking his daughter with the prince of Naples, Antonio, and guides Caliban from his furious revolt to a docile slave begging for forgiveness. This man’s power oppresses his daughter from acting on her own will and thought (unless her actions please him), and his slave from further revolution. Through his understanding of language, his power resonates throughout most of the characters.
As seen in these two sources, language is a powerful tool for the empire as it oppresses revolting thoughts against them and manipulates those to act in a way beneficial and benevolent to the empire.
Hogarth, William. Scene from the Shakespeare’s The Tempest. 1736, oil on canvas, Nostell Priory, Westfield, West Yorkshire.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Signet Classic, 1998.