Celebrate differences rather than let them divide

Published 9:55 pm Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To the Editor:

The holiday season, especially Christmas, has long been a season of goodwill, where even opposing armies have stilled their guns and wished that someday, the peace of those moments would continue for a lifetime.

It is a time to celebrate our differences rather than be divided by them, which is truer this season than any other as we celebrate our cultural differences by preparing to welcome an African-American president for the first time in history.

Regardless of your individual political views, that fact alone is ground-breaking. Everywhere we look, we see people of different skin colors, religious backgrounds and ways of speaking, differences that are the sources of innumerable conflicts.

However, as we decorate our trees and set up our menorahs, we chose to put all those differences aside. As we appreciate our cultural and traditional differences this year, I humbly suggest we take the time to celebrate our language differences as well. After all, everyone speaks differently. That’s the rule rather than the exception. Even without the colorful language differences brought to this country by immigrants, we would still have differences among ourselves based on our regions.

Language is a cultural expression and can be more colorful and unique even than skin tone; but we often take it for granted, because, although we must be taught to write, we learn to speak as a natural phase of our development.

It is too easy to be prejudiced against someone because they do not speak the same way, even when individuals speak differently themselves from one decade to the next. One need only speak with someone who grew up in the seventies, to realize how many terms have already faded from use or been redefined.

America is a large country that rivals Europe for land mass. According to the linguistic society of America, approximately 230 languages are spoken in Europe. Mathematically speaking, that means at least that many languages could conceivably be spoken here. Language differentiation is part of what makes Europe so culturally rich and fascinating. The many varieties of English are a great part of what makes America so culturally rich and fascinating as well.

Linguists, a.k.a the scientists of language, treat all dialects equally. They are the language peacemakers. This season, let’s follow their example and before making a potentially pejorative comment, take a moment to appreciate the differences in a person that cause them to speak the way that they do.

I’m thankful for my neighbor and I’m thankful for his accent, even though it’s different from mine. Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with what we say and acceptance of how we say it. Happy Holidays.

Shannon L. Pannell