How human rights advocacy contributes to language change and the complexity of such changes in learning

Language Gs 01 File photo

Fri, 25 Nov 2022 Source: Denis Andaban

Merriam-Webster dictionary explains that language is the system of words or signs that people use to express thoughts and feelings to each other. I wish to add that, words and signs and their structural and functional systems are countless. One can only remember a limited number at a particular time and situation.

This makes language a rather complex system but because of the important role it plays and its naturally inherent nature, we (speakers) make relentless efforts to use it. Language is therefore a sine qua non in life since it is the direct reflection of the feelings, thoughts, and mind of man. It is important to render that the feelings, attitudes, thoughts, and actions of man vary from time to time.

The logic behind changes in man's behavior is the very logic behind the changes in the rules of a particular language. The changes in the rules governing a particular language are an essential part of language development. I ordinarily assert that language and its changes are inevitable and efforts must be made by language experts to let the rules reflect accordingly.

Sometimes, the changes that may occur, at the beginning culminate in some discomfort as they may appear to defy logic and natural sense. Be that as it may, the language will continue to change and the changes in the English Language in the 21st century, for instance, may complicate the language rules in the near future.

I predict that the changes may contradict the sociocultural norms of many across the world and that, in a way, will cause the language to lose its natural potency even to native speakers. By far, we are getting to a stage where language will be more artificial and contradictory to logic and nature.

Language change is the modification of forms of language over a period of time or physical distance that may affect parts of the language such as pronunciation, orthography, grammar, and vocabulary. For the purpose of my subject, the language change resulting from Human Rights activists shall be limited to grammar and vocabulary.

According to article 1 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels.

It is this legal principle that many interest groups and human rights activists rely on to seek to push society into considering and respecting what they think should be in their interest, no matter the controversy. Many may think that human right activism is a vehicle for progressiveness in society but society is so much confronted with a myriad of controversies because of the activities of these activists. Popular among some of these controversies are; gender equality, child labour, same-sex marriage, and racial equality.

The discussions on the subject are hybrid in nature, thus, both American and British Language are used. This is because both languages are used particularly in my country, Ghana.

The English language had recognized “Chairman” (American English) to mean any person privileged to preside over a meeting or conference. The continuous advocacy by gender activists on gender equality, however, resulted in a gradual shift from “Chairman” to “Chairperson”.

The use of “Chairperson” is considered to be more generic and standard for gender inclusivity. The use of “Chairman” is perceived by gender advocates to be gender insensitive and connotes a certain prejudice and discrimination. The biblical use of the “man” remains a controversy. The usage is perhaps archaic and conservative and has no such limited and discriminative space in modern socio-linguistics.

Another important area of grammar that has seen some changes to reflect issues of gender neutrality is the use of neuter pronouns or neuter gender. There are three genders for nouns and pronouns as follows; masculine, feminine, and neuter.

For instance, we use “he/his” as masculine pronouns. On the contrary, we use “she/her” for feminine and “it/its” for neuter pronouns. When speakers realized the difficulty in using a singular possessive pronoun like “its” especially for a person whose gender is unknown immediately, they resorted to the use of “his or her.”

You may have noticed sentences such as Each student must ensure his guest signs the registry. The above sentence has become outdated and ungrammatical. Again, the mere addition of her, to read; Each student must ensure his/her guest signs the registry has not cured the gaffe in the sentence.

It has remained clumsy and outdated. According to modern English Language (British Standard), the sentence should be, Each student must ensure their guest signs the registry.

The introduction of the neuter “their” has therefore solved the problem and met contemporary language standards. I simply cannot tell what evolution will cause a change to the use of the word in the future.

The most serious controversial subject today in Ghana and the world all over is the adoption of same-sex marriage. Indeed, many countries in the west, have approved same-sex, insisting that, it is a human right issue and people must be allowed their sexual preferences, associations, and beliefs.

In Ghana, the subject remains unresolved as advocates for same-sex marriage are confronted with fierce cultural, religious, and in some cases, scientific-oriented opposition. The question that remains unanswered in my mind as a language student is, what will be the impact of a man becoming a woman and vice visa, on language, especially, the English Language?

For instance, if two women decide to marry, in which case, one becomes the man and another a woman, will both still agree with the use of “she/her”?

In any case, how will I, as an individual outside their relationship, know which of them has turned into the man? The time when we could just look at the physical characteristics of a person and refer to them with the appropriate noun or pronoun is long gone.

To the human right activist, sex transcends biological characterization (Carolyn M Mazure, 2021). It is now based on personal beliefs and feelings. This has the propensity to affect language and throw the world into confusion. The naturalness of the language is on the path of extinction by the outcome of extreme activism.

While the so-called human rights activists are seriously expatiating theories to justify the need for some of these strange and culturally alien activities, they have not told the world whether the language should remain static irrespective of their artificial transformation or whether we must begin to think about new nouns and pronouns so that we can take care of this transformation.

Though I am not against language change, which is inevitable in any respect, the feelings of groups of people should not necessarily influence the rules of a language that has become our lingua franca. If it does and the naturalness of the language is annihilated, then it will always exist with complexities and learning it becomes extremely difficult.

It is high time we standardized the English Language to remain consistent with our cultural values and attitude and own the same as Ghanaian English. The benefits of doing that are numerous.

Firstly, it will help us ensure some amount of consistency which will make learning easier. Again, standardizing the language according to our social and cultural situation means that we will be protecting our culture and values, registering our uniqueness in the face of the world. By these, we could be more original.

Columnist: Denis Andaban