Language and conflict (Janicki)Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz
In Language and Conflict. Selected issues, the sociolinguist Karol Janicki constructs bridges between linguistics, communication studies, philosophy, social psychology and conflict studies. The result is a highly original structure. We integrate it into our #RetroConflictsInspirations due to a number of reasons. Historians study past conflicts through language in #primary sources, so the role of language in conflict and of conflict is crucial.
Language activates frames in the mind, and as such can both fan the flames of conflict and remove the fuel. Also, the same words can mean different things to people due to the underpinning that personal life experience provides. The use of symbolic language by humans is thus a mixed blessing. We know it for the present and the past, though it does not mean we pay enough attention to it. In our project, this translates into a conscious effort to analyse the conflict discourse, with a caveat. As Janicki also points out, somewhat tongue in cheek for a linguist, that symbolic language is overrated in communication: p. 44 'Language is extremely simple compared to the complexity of the non-linguistic world'. It has a tendency to organize the world into binaries like us/them, good/wrong, though in fact there is a range of experience in between. He adds an important remark for historians: when looking at the past, all the complexities of the use and interpretation of language are amplified. What is the way forward, then? For the present, Janicki posits that we have to take this fuzziness of language in conflict into account. For us as historians of conflict, it is of interest to see to what extent people in the past were aware of it.