Social Scientist. v 14, no. 156 (May 1986) p. 56.


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56

Language As Ideology

VEENA DAS (ed.) THE WORD AND THE WORLD : Fantasy, Symbol and Record, Sage Publications, 1986, pp. 218.

LANGUAGE, or as the authors of this book put it, the word, has a complex role to play in the science of man. Engels, in his seminal work. The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man, written in 1876 and first published in 1896, has this to say : "Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown, properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring-the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual... First labour, after it and then with it speech— these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which me brain of the ape gradually changed into that ofman."1 This highlights two aspects of language : its developmental grasp over reality and its use as ideology. Any strees on the one without the other will lead to partial or faulty conclusions, as we shall see.

The traditional anthropological approach, from which'the editors of this volume and many of the contributors are unable to escape, ignores the jmportance of a historical perspective in sifting out elements of a growing developmental grasp from merely ideologically, giving new solutions for problems faced by society. This is evident, when the introduction to this volume states : "This volume lies at the intersection of life and the word, recognising the transient quality of both and acknowledging the inherent plurality through which words are made and re-made."2

This also is an important class perspective, for, "almost the whole (of) ideology amounts either to a distorted interpretation of this history or to a complete abstraction from it. Ideology is itself only one of the aspects of this history."^ Thus, the shifts and distortions that take place, the contradictory ideologies that coexist and the over-arching solutions that are imposed on society reflect class struggle and the interests of the ruling classes parading as the ruling ideology, whose limitations, distortions from reality and transformations are necessarily ephemeral. To acknowledge that as "words are made and remade" existentially is essentially to deny the historical perspective that alone shows how ephemeral they are and points to more durable perspectives, where historically, the rule of the exploiting classes has broken down in



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