I’ve been writing lately about the power of language, even down to the importance of individual letters for freedom of speech, so imagine my interest when I ran across this sentence in a book I was editing (Kurdish Identity, Discourse, and New Media, by Jaffer Sheyholislami).
“When admitting the fact that writing in Kurdish is so difficult that it pushes her to quit, Tewar writes:
‘But, I cannot quit . . . Language is a part of me. Words are mirrors that reflect my ideas and feelings . . . Without [our] language we are nothing . . . A language is as important as a country, history and flag . . . Language is a part of our personality . . . Language is identity . . . To express your inner thoughts and feelings … you need the language of feelings and the soul; no language is closer to one’s feelings and soul than the mother tongue . . . When writing we might make mistakes . . . We may not have a rich vocabulary . . . but, let’s not quit; let’s continue [writing].’ (Tewar, 2002a)
“For Tewar, language is important as a national symbol in defining a people; it is also a decisive factor in defining a person. This idea that the mother tongue is a strong link between the individual and the nation has been advocated by prominent scholars of nationalism and language as well.”
In another book I just edited, I learned that the Zaza Kurds of Turkey have an oral language; the Turkish government has forbidden any written record of their language, so that Zaza history, Zaza literature, and Zaza music must all be memorized and recited. For the Zaza Kurds, there is great truth in the African adage: When a man dies, a library dies with him.
In Alaska, my cousin Beth is working to record the Athabascan language, a language that a few decades ago was dying out, and which certainly had never been recorded or documented. Beth is working to save the language, and, thus, preserve a culture.
This speaks to one of the reasons I am a writer, and why I treasure our language so much, why I am adamant that we learn to speak and write with flair and focus. We are defining ourselves as a people through our use of language. It is so much more than a tool for conveying ideas. It is the means by which we identify ourselves, as individuals and as a nation. It is the avenue by which we share our souls with the world. When we rally for freedom of speech, we rally for freedom as a people.