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The Concept Of Tradition In Mac Intyre

2291 words - 10 pages

The concept of tradition as defined by Alasdair MacIntyre in his 1988 essay Tradition and Translation (19th part of Whose Justice? Which Rationality?) insists on the importance of language. A certain language embodies a certain tradition; communities are linguistic ones; commensurability among traditions is measured through translatability of their languages, and a language transmits history. However, language might not be so crucial in the conception of tradition: some languages embody no tradition at all while some might represent communities that go beyond the share of a common tradition. Commensurability among traditions might almost be always possible thanks to “languages of ...view middle of the document...

That is why when a “linguistic innovation” occurs in a language, that is to say, when a language adopts a word from another one, it is also in this way adopting a part of the tradition of the past originating language. The same thing also happens when a conceptual or a social progress occurs in a culture: it is always through language that the evolution is marked. Language therefore is a way of remembering the past and thus of transmitting tradition, both one’s own tradition and a “new” tradition. Language enables tradition to “preserve its relationship to its past through a recognition of the presence of the originating language” (p.372).
Language being one of the defining characteristics of a tradition, a language spoken in a certain linguistic community is also defining a social community: “The boundaries of a language are the boundaries of some linguistic community which is also the boundaries of a social community” (p.373). A common language unites community. What makes people belong to a same community is the common language that they speak: in many countries, the national identity was built on the spread of a common language for every inhabitant by school systems, without the common imposed language, there would not be any sense of unity in the community of the country. MacIntyre takes the example of naming: in a society, names are used as identification to the traditions of the society, “names are used as identification for those who share the same beliefs, the same justifications of legitimate authority” (p.378). Calling the Belgian capital ‘Brussel’ or ‘Bruxelles’ shows your opinion on whether it is a Flemish city or not; having, for instance, a German speaking first name and changing it into its Spanish speaking equivalent shows to what community you want to belong; the naming process is thus crucial in the identification to a certain community.
However, this does not apply to so-called “internationalized languages of modernity”, those languages do not define any society with share of common beliefs and customs, it is “rootless” (p.388), and such languages thus seem to embody no tradition at all. So is their spread leading to the death of traditions?

An example of an internationalized language of modernity can be the English language. This language, in its use all over the globe as a second language embodies no particular tradition. It is only used as a means to communicate by people who do not belong to the same traditions. Its example can be contradicting Macintyre’s definition of tradition because this language is not a tradition; on the contrary, it unites people who do not have the same backgrounds. Nevertheless, English language in its modern internationalized form still has a linguistic community and therefore a sort of social community. However, this social community united by the use of English does not seem to have any tradition: people who use English around the world do not necessarily share the same beliefs, values or...

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