Watch what you are saying!
The language and the words we use are only the end results of what we have produced. Humanity is used to create a language at certain times. However a bunch of those words passes their shelf lives in due time, making them lose their function and meaning.
This has crossed my mind due to a new reality that is scattering around the world. Apparently “globalization” is the most popular theme nowadays. The Trump phenomenon in the U.S. and the Trump-like far-right in Europe reveal the fact that the anti-global movement is growing at a fast pace. As Marie Le Pen, the representative of the far-right in France, said last week: “The struggle is not between left and right anymore. It is between the globalists and nationalists.”
Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is the U.S.’s most established think-tank, has taken this newly emerging reality as the basis of his new article published in Foreign Policy. He puts forth that a bunch of “International Relations” concepts related to globalization have decayed. Haass states that these “buzzwords” were derived due to the notion of globalization and the “need to get taken to the woodshed.”
One of the words he tackles is “global citizen.” This word came down as a treat in the early 2000’s, when the pace of globalization peaked. It was also kind of cool to be a “global citizen,” as if one were able to overcome boundaries.
Haass writes that such a notion does not actually exist. “Citizenship, however” he says, “is a national concept, one tied to sovereignty. More useful would be calls for people to be better informed about global affairs, something that has the potential to make them better citizens of their own country.” According to him this would in turn lead to better policy and might even make the world a better place.
Another concept he discusses is “international community.” This concept really put me in trouble during my master’s and PhD studies. What is this community composed of? Where does it start and end? There is no reply to these questions since this word is completely artificial, having been created according to the Zeitgeist of that time. “The phrase tends to be invoked every time there is a crisis in the world. The problem is that no international community exists. It would require that there be widespread agreement on what needs to be done and a readiness to do it,” Haass says.
“Self-determination” is another phrase he puts emphasis on, which actually means “the right of the peoples to declare their independence.” Haass says “the idea was originally associated with the decolonization era when people living under foreign rule and occupation were thought to have the right to their own country.” Yet now that colonies are a thing of the past, he says that it is far from clear who - if anyone - has this right. Accordingly, this would also affect those living in that country and its neighbors, thus causing trouble. The Basques, Palestinians and Kurds are among the examples he gives.
According to Haass, the term “super power” is also on shaky ground. This was in vogue during the Cold War era and applied to the U.S specifically after the war when globalization was on the rise. “It was something of an exaggeration,” Haass says. “There are limits to what the U.S. can accomplish. Power is not the same thing as influence. Superpower is best retired.”
In short, the words we use take shape according to the conditions we live in. And they change when the circumstances change. In other words, they reflect the dynamics and the balance of power of a time being.
Yet it is not only time, but also the place and the geography that defines our vocabulary. Some words arise out of need in some countries, whereas some other words cannot be translated to any other language as they fail to find their meaning.
Not only words, but also an entire language is prone to spring or death. For example, Hebrew was mainly a holy language; it was the language of the Torah. Yet after the foundation of Israel, it started to be spoken in daily life too, hence becoming a living language. Latin, on the other hand, was the official language of the Roman Empire, therefore the strongest language in the world at that time. However it turned into an extinct language with the collapse of the empire.
Local languages also perish, which is making English become more and more dominant. The report published by the United Nations one year ago put forth this reality. According to them, 97 percent of the world population speaks only 4 percent of the living languages. And in every 2 weeks a local language disappears.
After all, we need to look at the words we are using from this perspective. Try to imagine how many words of your dictionary are already outdated and are in the bin. Are we really aware of the words that come out of our mouths?