The connection between love and language is connection. What is love? Connection. What is language? Connection.
When you love someone, you are connected to them. If that person is in your presence, you are likely to connect with them physically – a touch on the arm, a pat on the back, a hug. If romantic love is involved, the physical connection becomes more intense and intimate.
If that person is not in your presence, you are likely to connect with them through email, skype, texting, or calling.
When you love someone, you are in dialogue with them. Your contact is through language. For me the heart of a good romance novel is the dialogic relationship between the two main characters. Dialogue creates a meeting of the minds, even if the two are in some other kind of conflict. A good laugh together creates yet another kind of connection, belly to belly, head to head, even if the two people sharing the laugh are not physically touching.
We humans need the hormone oxytocin for the proper regulation of mental and physical health. Oxytocin is produced through touch: cuddling, holding hands, kissing, having sex, giving birth, breastfeeding.
When you speak a language, you have a connection to all the other speakers of that language. You have an identity. You belong.
The connection between love and language comes into high relief when the connection provided by one or the other of them is lost.
There is hardly a worse pain than the loss of a loved one. The possible negative health consequences for the person experiencing grief are well known.
A difficult mental and physical condition to treat is an adult who did not receive love as a child. If an individual isn’t given the proper physical/hormonal start, then as they grow older they will certainly find some way to mask the pain of their lack of connection. It will often be through substance abuse.
Note: See my blog post Boost Your Mood: Read a Romance.
When it comes to language, there is also pain associated with loss. The reason to be interested in the loss of indigenous languages now occurring on a global scale is that these losses come with a heavy health cost.
I offer two examples:
- In New Zealand, until fairly recently most Māori people spoke Māori as their first language. By the 1980s, however, fewer than 20% of Māori spoke the language well enough to be classed as native speakers. The causes of the decline included the switch from using Māori to using English in schools and increasing urbanization, which disconnected younger generations from their extended families and in particular their grandparents, who traditionally played a large part in family life.The loss of the Māori language came with the loss of connection to their extended families, to their land, to their traditional way of life, beliefs, activities, food. In short, they lost connection to their identity.
What we’re now discovering is that with the relative success of the Māori language revival comes an overall improvement in the health of the Māori population.
- The article “Aboriginal language knowledge and youth suicide” by Darcy Hallett, Michael Chandler, and Christopher Lalonde (Cognitive Development 2007) studied the status of Native American languages in British Columbia, Canada. These researchers were able to demonstrate that in places where at least half the community members reported knowledge of their own native language, youth suicide rates dropped to zero. And they were able to demonstrate that language-use was the one indicator with predictive power over and above other cultural continuity factors.
The Māori and British Columbia outcomes make perfect sense to me. When your identity is intact and not under threat – that is, when you are connected to all the resources that provide connection – it is likely that your cardiovascular system, your neurotransmitters, and your immune system in general will also be intact.
Health outcomes are also affected when people perceive to be under chronic discrimination, and these populations have higher rates of hypertension, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, and substance abuse. I have to include in this kind of discrimination the widespread and false ideas that a variety of English known as African-American English is somehow defective, grammatically incorrect, not a real languages, something lesser. This is completely wrong.
When you discriminate against an individuals by the way they talk, you are discriminating against their fundamental identity. You erode their connection to themselves. You erode their health. When a government takes away an entire population’s language, it endangers the health of that population.
Love and language are health issues.
This post was written by Julie Andresen