Man and Culture, Language, Esperanto

Pavel Gurevich

What is culture? When did it emerge? What is the genesis of this concept? Are the relations between nature and culture hostile or harmonious? How are the relations between man and nature developing? These are the problems that are now being discussed in philosophical literature with animation. Specialists say that there exist more than two hundred definitions of this phenomenon, which are not infrequently quite contradictory. I'll not attempt to offer still another one, but instead confine myself to a definition stemming from the origin of the word, from the meaning of its Latin original. Culture is cultivation, development, improvement.

In Western philosophy, culture is usually identified with an arsenal of spiritual standards—values, traditions, and distinctive features of social intercourse. I recall the report delivered by Professor Glosson of Southern Illinois University at the 17th World Congress on Philosophy held in Montreal in the autumn of 1983. His address was more like an appeal than a scientific report, not, however, that I criticise him for his ardour.

He said that culture was related to many aspects of life, naming language as one of the most decisive among them. His line of argument was as follows. What is the most essential for preserving French culture in Quebec? The French language is. If the language is preserved, quite a few things may be borrowed from other cultures and yet the culture will remain essentially French. If the language is renounced, if French is replaced by English, then the French national nucleus itself will be lost. The same applies to other cultures as well. Hence language is the central factor in a culture.

Of course, the essential part played by language in the rise and development of the culture of a people cannot be denied. But to reduce the entire problem of preserving a culture to that of preserving the language alone seems incorrect to me.

During a recess, I approached Professor Glosson.

“Don’t you think that orienting cultural creativity is only possible with the aid of language?” I asked him.

“This is precisely what I was trying to show in my address. . .”

“But there also exist other causes of spiritual corrosion. . . What inference does your logic lead to? For example, on whom does the decreeing of a language and, therefore, of other cultural canons depend? And what is to be preferred? You imply that culture is capable of taking any course laid out for it. But is it? And what is to be done about intercultural contacts? They cannot be banned. . .”

“I would suggest using a common language, such as Esperanto, for this purpose. . .”

Well, I do not deny the significance of artificial languages in general cultural practice. But in reality, cultures interact with one another—and sometimes confront one another—on a far more complicated level than that of formal language. Does it lie within man's power to direct this process or is it largely spontaneous?

SOURCE: Gurevich, Pavel. Man and Culture (Reflections of a Philosopher); translated by Mikhail Nikolsky, edited by Thomas Crane (Moscow: Novosti Press Agency Publishing House, 1989), pp. 12-13.

Note: I am sure that Gurevich is referring to Professor Ronald J. Glossop. Title of this extract is my creation. – RD

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