Monday, October 3, 2022

Bourdieu's theory: How language is the mechanism of power?

We have a predominant belief that language is a means of communication. Is it true? Language should not be confined to only means of communication. According to Bourdieu, language is a mechanism of power. There is a struggle of power between speaker and listener while uttering the words. 

Bourdieu contends that a power struggle takes place where one side tries to maintain or imagine a certain symbolic code of the status, making the others inferior. Now, the other side can listen to the same words but it is silent in conflict. More often than not, the words being uttered are not only spoken by one single person. They are actually uttered by all the people having the same basic rights or roles. Language is like scissors. If the unequal papers are folded together, the result of the folding cannot be seen from one side. The same is true for power and people. The result of power struggles can only be seen from the side opposite of the struggle.

He criticises the theory of language proposed by Saussure, Chomsky etc. as they do not consider the power relation during an utterance. He argues that linguistic utterance is the product of the relation between a “linguistic market” and a “linguistic habitus."

The utterance depends on one's social position.

According to Bourdieu, there are four types of capital, they are economic capital, social capital, cultural capital and symbolic capital. The more capital we possess, the more powerful we become. Power relations play an important role in any day-to-day activity. The amount of capital determines one's position in the social field. Linguistic capital is one of the cultural capital. 

Bourdieu says that there are several aspects of linguistic capital, they are linguistic competence, linguistic forms and linguistic spaces. Speaking, writing and reading are the processes. The study of language(s) and linguistic elements is at the foundation of linguistic capital. The act of speaking, writing, reading and using the language is done in the act of linguistic production. It is an open process in which one has to work on language. The act of linguistic production, he argues, is the basis of linguistic capital. It creates the power which helps to gain legitimacy. This determines who has the right to speak, to listen, to question and to what degree.

The dominant group impose their language as the standard (superior) language on the subordinate group. So they acquire linguistic capital easily. When we do not have economic capital (money) in our pockets, we are unable to buy necessary goods from the shop. Likewise, when we lack linguistic capital, we do not achieve many things in the social milieu. 

Linguistic capital plays a very significant role. It is not a minor thing. If we study deeply about this capital, we will explore how the dominant group take benefits unconsciously from the subordinate group. To know this, we should perceive language as not only a means of communication but also a mechanism of power.  


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