Student Reflection: "We Don't Live in a Country, But in a Language"


Silicon Valley International School 11th grade German Language and Literature students Anna, Freya, and Finn reflect on the building blocks of language and the meaning of language in our era of globalization.

Imagine you decided that from now on you would call your car a house and your table a bed.

By switching the names of objects, you can create a whole new language. This raises the question: what is language?

0230ISTP_Oct2018_9899A language is made up of symbols that are put together to form words. When these words are placed together they form sentences, and these sentences can then form texts. The purpose of this is to communicate ideas. Language is a medium to convey ideas from a messenger to a receiver. Humans use language to express what they are thinking and to share this with other humans.

The concept of language is based on the image we think of when we hear a word and vice versa. For example, when you hear the word 'house' you think of a house. However, if another person were to always call their house a car, after a certain point they would think of a car when they hear the word 'house.' This is because language relies on the interpretations and connotations that humans have tied to specific words in order to have a complex system for communication.


When groups of people get separated by time and distances, the words start to change as they evolve to fit the new location better. This results in different dialects, and over time new languages. For this reason, there are many different languages around the world, but many of them are related in their roots.

As an international school, we have the opportunity to dig deeper into these linguistic roots. Whether these are our German, English, French or Chinese roots - through the study of language it is possible to explore the similarities and differences of cultures around the world.

ln our German Language and Literature Glass, we took our philosophical investigation of language a step further and analysed the statement:

"We don't live in a country, but in a language." – Elias Canetti

This statement proposes that real living does not depend on the country one is in, but rather which language, or how many languages one speaks. Your language isn't necessarily the national language of the country, simply one that is used to express oneself and is understood by others. This shows that the country isn't the determining factor, but
it is language and how you use it to communicate, form connections, and live with others. This can especially be seen through the progression of language throughout time and the globalization of certain languages.

We all know from the languages that we speak, that through time words and phrases will shift in meaning, or take on influences from other cultures. This often is seen as something negative, as when you travel to a foreign country you expect to only see the language that they originally spoke there. However, in non-­English speaking countries, you will see languages, especially English, take over aspects of life such as advertisements, sometimes suppressing native language and culture.

This begs the question if the shift in language through globalization is something that should be viewed positively and supported, or if it should be looked at negatively and should be discouraged.

Looking through the lens of a student at a multilingual, international school, we believe that we need to focus on keeping different cultures and languages alive and active. lt is so important to keep diverse languages alive because otherwise we will lose the culture that goes hand in hand with the language.