Linguistic relativity is that field of knowledge that considers the idea that language and its structures influence and limit human thought. Works in this field has established the fact that language has less influence on thinking than one might suppose. Recent research as shown that although language may have some influence on our thinking, it does not affect out underlying understanding of concepts. Also, intelligence is more related to successful educational, occupational, economic, and social manifestations than any other variable(s) – such as language.
Scholars like Skinner (1965) has opined that language learning/acquisition and development occurs through principles of association, reinforcement and the observation of others. Other than performance in English (or any language), biological factors such as brain volume, speed of neural transmission and working memory capacity are most reliable quotients for intelligence. In the informed opinion of Charles Stranger, it’s our vast intelligence that allows us to have language… language only gives the ability to communicate our intelligence to others. Steven Pinker poetically explains Stranger’s idea when he says language is the jewel in the crown of cognition. High linguistic (language) ability and high general intelligence can be at least partially separate and not necessarily intertwined.
So far, from what we can glean from the concepts of linguistic and general intelligence, the claim that speaking English is a measure of intelligence does not hold water.
To further argue against the claim in questions, it’s apt to briefly examine the concept of language and its entailments in relations the presumed ‘superiority’ of English.
Countless definitions of language abound but that of Henry Sweet will suffice. He describes language as the expression of ideas by means of speech sounds combined into words… The operative words in his definition will be expression of ideas. Note that the word idea is a subset of intelligence i.e. the stuff of idea is dependent on the level of intelligence. For instance, an intelligent mind is most likely to conceive sound ideas and vice-versa. Therefore, just like Stranger’s informed opinion, Sweet posits that language, whether English or Hispanic is merely a tool/medium of expression. A Spaniard will make much sense as a Briton or American with his language.
It’s common knowledge among language experts that no language is ‘superior’ in itself and that no language can be considered to be inferior to others. All human languages represent extremely complex systems of communication. Folks who live in the so-called third-world countries use languages that are as intricate and versatile as those spoken in the most highly developed societies. All languages are flexible enough to adapt and expand to the needs of its speakers. It’s illogical to privilege the language of a particular language community – nation, tribe, or region (English in focus) over another just because that community enjoys global prestige. Such distinction is sociologically motivated and not linguistic. Gretchen McCulloch puts the preceding statement in clearer terms when he argues that
- languages or dialects that people think of as “better” reflect a social (and often racist) judgement about who has power or who is considered more important, not anything intrinsic about the language itself.
From a linguistic standpoint, every human language shares the common features of being system-based (governed by a set of rules), arbitrariness (lack of relationship between a word and what it refers to), dynamism (keeps changing with time), culture-dependent (reflects the culture of group of people), displacement (ability to use language to refer to things outside the scope of a current speech situation), reciprocity (an exchange between at least two people), discreteness (uniqueness of the individual sounds of a language), innateness (intrinsic ability of every ‘normal’ human to use language), creativity and productivity (ability to skilfully manipulate words to create desired effects).
to be continued…
Image credit: Sarcasm (Facebook)