Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

10 - Language and Linguistic Expression


The Relationship between Language and Cultural Identity

It seems appropriate to conclude this book with a focus on language and linguistic expression. After all, we have seen throughout the book that language is essential to both culture and law, playing a role that transcends its normal and most obvious function simply as a vehicle of communication. Quite likely, it actually structures and thereby influences individual perceptions and actions. According to the famous Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, language filters sensory information so significantly that it shapes our understanding of reality. The effect is a particularly profound example of the role of culture, given the primacy of language.

The manner in which individuals express themselves can both enhance intercultural communication and help foment conflict. Consequently, and even in the absence of conflict, the use of language often raises serious political and legal questions for society and its governance. Intervention by the state may be necessary but also problematic. For example, a decision to officially recognize one or another language or perhaps more than one language may affect the allocation among persons of social services, education, political participation, the judicial process, and regulation of the media. As we will see, linguistic human rights address the resulting domestic and international issues.