Damien Hall’s article in The Conversation got me thinking about language as a virus.
William S. Burroughs once wrote that “language is a virus from outer space”. Hall’s insights might go some way to understand how the virus mutates and spreads power.
The article argues that regional variations of language spoken in Normandy reflect changes in the language spoken in Paris. The people of Normandy look to Paris for the “best way” to speak French. When the language in Paris mutates, the Parisian strain spreads to Normandy, taking with it the power of Paris.
We all learn to talk by listening to those around us. The way we speak organises the way we think. How words are spoken, and sentences structured, communicates a logic. That logic organises a specific way of understanding the world. Regional accents not only connect people to a specific area, but also to unique way of life.
Take for example the different ways English is spoken throughout the United Kingdom. The dominant culture in the UK is centred in the South. The way people think in the South is not the same as people in the North. The culture is different, because the logic is different, because the language is different. We may all speak English, but Northern English is not the same as Southern English. It’s more than just an accent, it’s a set of values.
I think there’s a strong argument to be made, that the media spreads the Londoncentric virus, allowing it to dominate the furthest reaches of the country. It changes the way people speak, and think, and understand the world.
Burroughs’ “cut up” technique may offer a way of immunising ourselves against this homogenising virus. By cutting into his text Burroughs was able to create new words, new sentence structures, new logics, and releases his own mutations into the culture.
We should all think seriously about how to do the same.