Iconization, Erasure, and Fractal Recursivity


According to Judith Irvine and Susan Gal, language ideology arises because language owners and users are themselves subject to the political and moral issues that permeate any given socio-linguistic field. In short, as the said writers succinctly put it, viewing a language from nowhere [i.e., objectively] is impossible. As a consequence, any attempt to understand a language unit will inevitably approach the unit from a specific vantage point that reflect some of the prejudices or preferences of the person wishing to understand the language unit.

Linguistic ideologies influence the evolution of languages and are instrumental in the resolution of language contacts. Language contacts occur when two or more speech communities-including their respective cultures and worldviews-engage one another in linguistic communication. The outcomes of prolonged and intensive language contacts are greatly dependent on linguistic ideologies and include bilingualism/multilingualism, diglossia, pidgin/creole languages, language shifts, and language death. In almost all linguistic regions, there are three basic processes that allow a specific language unit to “locate, recognize, interpret and rationalize its similarity to or difference from another language unit. These are iconization, erasure, and fractal recursivity. The following example on how elements from the Khoisan languages were integrated into Nguni languages illustrate the significance of the three processes in language evolution.

Zulu and Xhosa belong to the group of Nguni languages that originally did not contain click consonants, a defining feature of Khoi languages that are indigenous to Southern Africa. Clicks are verbal peculiarities that might have sounded strange even to Zulu and Xhosa-speaking peoples when their migration eventually reached Southern Africa. However, the click consonants from the Khoi people did enter their vocabulary, with linguistic experts positing that the entry point was via the Nguni language’s avoidance/respect register called hlonipha. This avoidance register prohibits the utterance of certain lexical items in the Nguni’s everyday vocabulary out of respect for certain entities such as highly regarded person. By integrating the Khoi clicks and using them instead of the prohibited items, the Nguni people were able to add effective lexical substitutes that complement their existing vocabulary and conform to their culture’s linguistic prohibition, the act of which is an ideological choice.

In terms of the three basic processes, iconization occurred when click consonants were perceived as icons representing the idea of foreignness. Erasure took place when the complex relationship between the Nguni and the Khoi languages were clipped of significance as an aspect of one became an integral part of the other. Lastly, fractal recursivity is reflected in the way the distinction between the Nguni and Khoi languages was used to enhance the distinction between two modes of communication-everyday and hlonipha-in the Nguni language.

Similarly, accent is used in many animated films to produce a desired linguistic effect. In the Lion King, for example, the British accent ascribed to the villain Scar has become a common iconization of intelligence and sophistication and is used in the film to enhance the villain’s image. In the process of erasure, its discordance with Mufasa’s own American accent-they are brothers after all-is subordinated by the milieu: they are all talking animals in a fantastic iteration of an African savannah, and who cares about accents then? Finally, fractal recursivity takes effect as the more character-defining element of verbal dialogue allows the use of the accent as a differentiation mechanism for character development.

Source by Joseph D Mapue