LANGUAGE AND POWER: A Close Look at Critical Sociolinguistics

Points of departure :

1. At a glance there is no relation between language and power. Language is within the field of linguistics, while power is the domain of politics. It is true when language is just meant as arbitrary vocal symbos dealing with meanings (which is then studied by semantics), and word and sentence constructions (which are then studied by morphology and syntax) as defined by structural linguists. However, a close and critical look at the language reveals that language is much beyod that scope. Sociologists think of language as institution where  a lot of things are there. A new socioliguistic approach to analize the function of language that sustains or maintain inequality is the so-called Critical Sociolinguistics (Mesthrie, et all, 2000: 316).

2. Critical Sosiolinguistics has defined language not just a means of interaction or communication among members of society. Language concerns with culture, social stratification, human mind and feeling, etc. Language is much beyod that function. One of the  concerns of critical sociolinguistics is to reveal the way language creates, sustains, and replicates fundamental inequalities in societies. Inequalities are every where: in education, economy, communication, and politics.

3. Prominent theorists who have concern with distribution of power are Louis Althusser and Antonio Gramsci. According to Althusser behind power there is ideology and the ideological processes take place within the various organizations and institutions such as the church, the legal systems, the family, also education system.  Althusser terms these practices as Ideological State Apparatus (ISAs). Poulantzas further devides the state system into a repressive apparatus (army, police, and ideological state apparatuses (church, political parties, unions, schools, mass media, and the family). Another influential figure, Antonio Gramsci draws a distinction that power is best practised when the actor can manipulate the situations in such away so as to prevent  hikm from coming to the point of decision at all, as the so-called HEGEMONY. At the macro level, hegemony is best practised  through language.  Successful rule involves the legitimisation and aceptance of power, one of which means is through language.

4. Another example of resistance to powerful language is from Halliday’s perspective of oppositional subcultures within a society. Halliday coins the terms “anti-society” for a group of people who reveal their oppositional status to a dominant society by several means. He further uses the term ‘anti-language’ for the special language of this group. Such a group of people always exist as said by Weber that when there is power, there exists retention to that power. Language is  a very instrument to sustain power, and at the same time to oppose it.

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