The Languages of People

The Languages of People April 26, 2024

Image: Goodreads

In what probably won’t (but easily could) be a series on how Science Fiction so often accurately predicts the future, a previous post noted that Sci-Fi anticipated our current conversations about gender and sex. This review is about a book that anticipated modern discussions about language. I realize that most of these discussions were taking place among academics and largely involved conversations about postmodernism vs classical ideas, and mostly passed by the man on the street (and good riddance, for the most part–those conversations could get bogged down in minutia fairly quickly). But we’ve seen at least some of that hit the public in the past few years as discussions over proper terminology has taken over the internet and increasingly affects the real world.

But why? Why is there so much time and ink (or whatever the digital equivalent of ink is) being spilt on the question of whether that person should be called “he” or “she”, or whether this building should have that name on it, or whether some words should simply be banished from the language. A mid-20th Century science fiction book by Jack Vance called The Languages of Pao gives us the answer, far ahead of most academics giving the matter any thought:

“We must alter the mental framework of the Paonese people…which is most easily achieved by altering the language… Words are tools. Language is a pattern, and defines the way the word-tools are used” (55-56)

Certainly as Christians we should be involved in these conversations. We believe in a God who speaks the world into existence, and a Word that became flesh and took our place on the cross. Words are tools, and they do affect how we live. The Languages of Pao is a useful doorway into thinking about the topic, and that it’s a solid story as well just makes it that much the better.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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