The Relationship of Language to the Culture of a People or Nation

The language of a people plays a seminal and powerful role in the development of the culture of any nation or people.  The lack of a unique language ties the people to the origin of the mother tongue.  Sri Aurobindo cites the example of the United States which, at least until recently, was very much bound to English language and thus, showed its cultural development to be an extension or projection of the culture of Great Britain, despite the obvious political, economic and military power possessed and wielded by the United States.  In recent decades, we see the evolution of new turns of speech, modifications of the original English, and a form of clubbing together of terms adopted from other languages as the United States attempts to create its own unique language-identity.

Sri Aurobindo notes:  “The life of the United States alone tends and strives to become a great and separate cultural existence, but its success is not commensurate with its power.  Culturally, it is still to a great extent a province of England.  Neither its literature, in spite of two or three great names, nor its art nor its thought, nor anything else on the higher levels of the mind, has been able to arrive at a vigorous maturity independent in its soul-type.  And this because its instrument of self-expression, the language which the national mind ought to shape and be in turn shaped by it, was formed and must continue to be formed by another country with a different mentality and must there find its centre and its law of development.  In old times, America would have evolved and changed the English language according to its own needs until it became a new speech, as the mediaeval nations dealt with Latin, and arrived in this way at a characteristic instrument of self-expression; but under modern conditions this is not easily possible. (It is affirmed that now such an independent development is taking place in America; it has to be seen how far this becomes a truly vigorous reality: at present it has amounted only to a provincial turn, a sort of national slang or a racy oddity.  even in the farthest development it would only be a sort of dialect, not a national language.) ”

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 28, Diversity in Oneness, pp. 246-247

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