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Number of Downlaods: 29

Published Date: Apr 1, 1998

Language, Knowledge and Inequality (R-20)

Tariq Rahman, SDPI
1998

Abstract

The invention of writing created grounds for sustaining a new hierarchy: that between the illiterate and the literate.  Literacy also made the keeping of permanent records possible and so extended control over people.  Since it also created bodies of knowledge, it also extended human control over nature.  Thus, the written word made more systematic and thorough exploitation of human beings and nature possible and legitimized them in the name of merit, technical expertise and science.

The standardization of a variety of a language was a political act which devalued all the other varieties and their speakers.  Those who used only the non-standard varieties – dialects, `restricted codes’, such as working class people use, or indigenous languages in ex-colonies English – had limited and more difficult access to positions of power, affluence and prestige.  Thus, despite having broken old hierarchies and giving power to some low-status people, linguistic practices really served to rationalize and maintain inequalities.  Above all, since science is created in Western languages it does not transcend the Western world view.  When this `science’ regards all other knowledge-systems as unscientific and hence `unreasonable’, it rationalizes intervention in the lives of human beings by placing them outside the very pale of humanity.