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Language, throughout history, has been the ability or resource that human beings have implemented to project their desires, thoughts and ideas regarding their surroundings. This implies that each manifestation of language, such as speech, comprises a different reality that the author allows himself to convey, and that emphasizes the cultural testimony and pragmatic value of his perspective. In Mary Shelley’s 1823 book, Frankenstein, the importance and role of language in society is constant, since language is a fundamental element in people cultural and social awareness, it is pertinent to understand social communication as a human condition, speech as a restorative tool of reality and language as a tool capable of generating a socio-cultural order.
In the first place, language must be understood as a faculty of the human being to transmit and retrieve information from its interaction with the environment and other individuals, and therefore it is pertinent to mention that the participants in a communication environment are called interlocutors. This is because both sides are carriers of information and are involved in a social context.
Therefore, the relationship that is generated between interlocutors involved in a communicative process constitutes a social interaction, in which one learns to transmit thoughts and ideas through language, within a given socio-cultural context. At the same time, the message conveyed in the communication process involves a social code, the speech, and composes a broad cultural intention and specific knowledge. This is evidenced in the literary work Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley, where the monster says,
By degrees I made a discovery of still greater moment.
I found that these people possessed a method of communicating their experience and feelings
to one another by articulate sounds. I perceived that the words they spoke
sometimes produced pleasure or pain,
smiles or sadness, in the minds and countenances of the hearers.
This was indeed a godlike science, and I ardently desired
to become acquainted with it. (12.130)
This quotation expresses the influence of language on both the social and personal perspective of reality, as evidence shows how words affect the mood of people, showing their mutable and transforming reality. This is how language manifests itself as the basis for the development and progress of a society, as a ‘form of expression […] undergoing a transformation towards the conscious.’ (Becerra) Moreover, language involves concepts, symbols or terminologies consistent with the socio-cultural environment, that is, words acquire their own meaning regarding to their use in a given context, and thus language and cognitive development are conditioned to a particular environment and has a dynamic and semantic quality. For example, the word shield varies according to the context in which it is enunciated, since this word refers to different concepts, whether in the sports, arms, historicist or heraldic framework. This is why the monster, from the conversations he heard from the cottagers, acquired a new vocabulary and a different worldview, because he assimilates concepts that condition the society in which he lives:
Every conversation of the cottagers now opened new wonders to me. While
I listened to the instructions which Felix bestowed upon the Arabian, the
strange system of human society was explained to me. I heard of the
division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty, of rank,
descent, and noble blood. (13.141)
On the other hand, speech, as part of language, understood as the particular use of a set of signs or codes, allows to modify the cognitive process and the perception of the reality of each person. Ferdinand de Saussure, father of sociolinguistics, poses the thought as a binary concept by and makes a difference between the signified and the signifier of a concept, since the abstraction of an object refers to a general idea of it, which can manifest through language in different ways. That is, the abstract idea of an object, such as a tree, is remnant in all human beings, however the way to express that idea varies according to the language and socio-cultural context in which the individual is, because the concept and the word have no direct relationship with each other. For example árbol for Spanish, tree for English or arbré for French. This is why Frankenstein’s monster is glad to know how to express words such as milk, fire and bread, because he is capable of transmitting and referring, through language, to the ideas of those objects with which he interacted, and capable of understanding behaviors and common social structures in human society, such as family relationships, associated with a particular cultural environment:
I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects
of discourse I learned and applied the words, ‘fire,’ ‘milk,’ ‘bread,’ and
‘wood.’ I learned also the names of the cottagers themselves. The youth and
his companion had each of them several names, but the old man had only
one, which was ‘father.’ The girl was called ‘sister’ or ‘Agatha,’ and the youth
‘Felix,’ ‘brother,’ or ‘son.’ I cannot describe the delight I felt when I learned
the ideas appropriated to each of these sounds and was able to pronounce
them. I distinguished several other words without being able as yet to
understand or apply them, such as ‘good,’ ‘dearest,’ ‘unhappy.’ (12.130)
This learning manifests an acquisition of a different perspective of the world around him, because according to the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis ‘there is a relationship between the language that a person uses, and the way he perceives the world.’ That is why there are situations such as that of the Zuni Indians in New Mexico, which, for example, do not have a word that differentiates yellow color from orange. An experiment was carried out in this population, which consisted of giving them pieces of wood of these colors, and they were asked to choose a piece, so that they would then be removed from their sight. Subsequently, the pieces of wood were handed over to the Zuni Indians and asked to identify the piece of wood they had chosen, showing great difficulty in distinguishing between the two colors due to the lack of words to differentiate them, restricting their descriptive ability to reality (López).
Third, language is capable of structure a social order, because as the interlocutors relate information to the environment in which they live, they do so with the individuals in their society. Thereupon, thought and language develop with mutual influence, taking into account the social environment and the constant interactions that individuals make between them, generating a need to belong to a social group or a community, in order to generate a cognitive evolution:
I improved, however, sensibly in this science, but not sufficiently to follow up
any kind of conversation, although I applied my whole mind to the
endeavour, for I easily perceived that, although I eagerly longed to discover
myself to the cottagers, I ought not to make the attempt until I had first
become master of their language. (12.132)
Likewise, belonging to a social group determines the evolution of the speech, and therefore of the language, due to the constant mutability, the internal interactions that are generated in a given society and the cultural influence, giving rise to a linguistic variety.
To conclude, language plays a very important role in society, because it represents a capacity to transmit thoughts, reasoning, desires, etc. and involves its own meaning regarding a given context, which is why it is subject to a condition of mutability and constant change, so that as reality changes, so do the manifestations of language, such as speech. Due to this, it is possible to explain why Frankenstein’s monster had such coarse language and behavior, as this was due to its lack of interactions with other social beings and the lack of knowledge regarding a particular cultural context. Also, it is possible to identify the elements of language and its importance in society from Frankenstein, where language is highlighted as a fundamental component in the cultural and social people’s awareness as it understands the communicative and socio-cultural dimension of the human being.
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