LINKING UP AND EXTENDING THE MYTHS

The linguistic homogeneity myth, which drives the ideology of the Kultursprache and the related ideology of the standard language, is made up of a complex web of myths that are interwoven and continually open to further extension. They are all derived from the common, possibly universal conceptual anthropomorphic metaphor used to understand the nature of human language and introduced in chapter 1: A language is a human being. We saw in section 2 of this chapter how the concept of a language is derived from an awareness that different communities of human beings use different variations of the capacity for human language. Once the concept of a language is established, the need to understand it can only be satisfied by reverting to conceptual blends in which projections are made from the source domain of a human being onto the language itself. The reason for the projection is simple. Like time or love, our abstract concept of language constrains us to rely on our fundamental bodily experiences with the immediate environment and to project these onto the abstract concept of human language. From the day we are born we are surrounded by human beings who use language to communicate with us. it is obvious that those same human beings also use other means of communication—facial expressions, laughter, physical contact, and so on—but language is the most fundamental human characteristic. The projection from the source domain human being to the target Language is thus self-explanatory.[1]

All conceptual metaphors are mental blends, and once they are firmly entrenched in cognition, they can be run to generate as many “true” statements as are required, as we saw in chapter 1. Human beings have physical qualities such as size, strength, state of growth, and they are subject to maturity, age, infirmity, decay and death. So in terms of the conceptual metaphor, languages are also metaphorically subject to these phenomena. Human beings have personal characteristics such as honesty, civility, charm, agreeability, and so on, so once again such qualities can be projected onto language. it has often been noted in the literature (see, e.g., Milroy & Milroy 1999; J. Milroy 1999; Cameron 1995)[2] that there is a strong tendency to attribute the qualities associated with a language to the speaker. if the variety of language used is judged to be morally imperfect, degenerate or faulty, then these attributes tend to be automatically transferred to the speakers themselves.

Once a language is assigned a human feature from a metaphorical blend, the blend may also be run. For example, a language that is considered contaminated must be infected by some negative agent or other, and the infection must have been transferred through close physical contact. A language that is contaminated, infected, or diseased can be purified by undergoing treatment of some kind, and it is also thought to be potentially dangerous to a healthy language such that any contact with it should be avoided. Alternatively, a language that is considered noble is of course automatically considered to be superior to other languages.

Linguistic myths are discursively produced stories about language that feed on the welter of “true” statements deriving from the fundamental anthropomorphic metaphor A language is a human being. Some of them, like the myth of the North versus the South, are specific to English in England, whereas others are of a more general nature, as evidenced in the contamination through contact myth. In the following subsections I will comment on the three central myths used by Higden (the pure language myth, the contamination through contact myth, and the barbarians myth) and the two local or peripheral myths (the pure language of the South and the corrupted language of the North myth and the good climate/soil myth) to show how they can be derived by running the conceptual metaphor of language A language is a human being. In figure 5.1, the oval in the centre of the page towards the top represents the conceptual metaphor A language is a human being. This yields a set of physical properties of a language on the left and at the top of the figure and a number of nonphysical, moral qualities of a language on the right and at the top of the figure, each group being potentially endless and deriving from the central conceptual metaphor. Running each of these blends yields different kinds of supplementary “true” statements, as shown on each side of the figure, which then feed into the myths used by Higden given in the centre of the figure.

  • [1] There is also an obvious sense in which the metaphor is partially metonymic in that human beings arewhere language is produced—they are the source of language.
  • [2] Consider also the method of the matched guise in sociolinguistics to empirically test subjects’ attribution of qualities to speakers on the strength of the language variety they use (Gardner & Lambert 1972).
 
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