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5D Thinking Team
Dehabitualization of Language (Bilal A. Malik is expert at Alternative Perspective and Global Concern (ap-gc.net). He can be mailed at gazibilal@ymail.com)
Bilal A. Malik
5D Thinking Team
04 Aug 2021 1:28

Let me begin with a beautiful Prophetic expression, “speak beneficial or keep silent”. We all talk. And, we all talk differently. We act and interact through the medium of “talk” or call it language. We talk conversations, we talk discourses, we talk narratives, we talk meanings and we talk ideas. Does all this “talking” happen in isolation? No, surely, it doesn’t. There are talks, talks and talks all around. Everything related to talk including text: controlled and organized form of talk between pen and mind; falls inside the encompassing circle of talk. We develop our “linguistic behaviour”: expressive sense of self, in the vast inextricably intertwined “web of talks”. Inferring, whatsoever we talk can either be in agreement (construction) or disagreement (deconstruction) to what has been talked or what is being talked. There is nothing called “neutral” in-between. In case of disagreement, there is scope for reformation (reconstruction). For example, political discourse is nothing but the inclusive political talk of all the stake holders who are directly or indirectly involved in the making of a political process. Let me explain, in the annals of history, for over a period of centuries, political discourse was controlled by the royal (king/monarch/czar) political talk (construction phase). In the later period, people became conscious of their rights and they challenged the royal political talk (deconstruction phase). As result, political democracy i.e., people’s political talk became the new political discourse (reconstruction phase). Similarly, decolonization discourse is the product of decolonial talk. This too happened in three phases. In the first phase, colonizers legitimatized colonization (construction phase). In the second phase, locals resisted colonization and demanded freedom (deconstruction phase). In the third phase, there was an organized movement to liberate the local worldview, thought process, knowledge production and cultural dynamics from the chronic imprints of colonization.


Habitually we reflect, applying the sociolinguistic premise “language reflects society”, our “self”: embodying the rational, spiritual, emotional and material spectrum of our being, through the structure and pattern of the “web of talks” around us. This “web of talks” has three characteristic; mass (physical existence), movement and direction. Apply simple physics; mass will move in the nature of direction. Here, movement and direction are referred in the social context. These two qualities are fundamental to comprehend and describe the enigmatic equation between time, space and language. Controlled by the “web of talks”, seldom people talk through their “inner reflection”: ability to perceive the “outside” in the mirror of “reflective self”. The psychological function of “reflective self” is absolute opposite of the “deflective self”. The former encourages, borrowing from John Mezirow’s critical reflection theory, “critical self-reflection”. While as the later encourages obsession of self with facades that justify self’s position of “everything is going right”. Such exceptional “linguistic performances” break the habitualized course of language and revitalize the “web of talks” with renewed articulation, purposeful expression, and relevant interpretation. 

In the journey of life we are part of different patterns of talks. In the beginning, there is entire engrossment in the family talk or call it “family discussion”. This pattern of talk is produced in an environment encumbered with the three qualities viz; emotion, expectation and control. Psychologically speaking, family talk is so impactful that its effect remains throughout one’s life to a certain degree. For example, if the family talk is permeated with “positivity”, children most likely will learn to develop “positive attitude”. Through “positivity”, as a parenting method, children will learn to deal with negative behavioural tendencies such as anxiety, hopelessness, nervousness and fear. Children with “positive attitude” are critical, innovative, intrepid and active. Negativity, producing converse effect, operates in the same way. Children with “negative attitude” are emotional, despair, fearful and passive.

As we grow-up, we become part of friendly talk, public talk and work talk. Although these talks come from different domains but there are convergence points as well. As a result of convergence, there are talks which may be called as inter-pattern talks or inter-structural talks. Finally, we get entangled to the whole “web of talks”. Implying, we get habitualizedto talk along a wide-range of experiences. I call this process as the “habitual performance of language”. In other words, we adopt talking as a habit similar to other ordinary habits. We talk like a “commanded” or call it “trained” talking robot. Different “commands” signify different situations such as anger, excitement, love, hatred and etc. The whole process happens in the upper-surface. Thus, we merely perform to respond to a particular sort of command which is nothing but habitualization.

Habitualization means that our everyday “performance of language” is opaque, illusive and repetitive. It doesn’t epitomize, borrowing the Quranic term, “bayān”: the perfect form or the deep structure of language through which meaning and purpose is mobilized in the social context. Habitualization converts the everyday “performance of language” into “habitualized performative talk”. Let me clarify; I call it performative in the sense of performing the routine practice i.e., speaking habitual words for habitual actions and habitual interactions. Applying Nursian conceptualization, “habitualized performative talk” is the mana-i ismi form of language that disguises unreal to appear as the real. For example, the popular talk in most of the Muslim societies has been rendered to victimhood, lament, rhetoric and utopia. The negligible element, speaking quantitatively, is rational, objective and critical talk (including self-critique). I consider it to be one of the vital factors responsible for the decline of Muslim civilization. If we critically look at the “Golden Period” of Muslim civilization, we find that popular talk was inquisitive, critical and scientific. Look at the first word of first revelation: “Read”. The command to “Read”-acquire knowledge- categorically hit at the root of “ignorant talk”- popular talk of Arab’s before Islam.

Today, majority of Muslims see “victimhood talk” as a solution to all sorts of sufferings. Related to playing the “victim attitude” for everything, I’m reminded of a joke. It goes like this. Once a Muslim man was asked that why did he fight with his wife? The answer was, “it is the conspiracy of the West”. In case “victimhood talk” doesn’t work, Muslims do “lament talk”. And, if the two solutions fail to solve the problem, do “rhetorical talk”. Make your talk full of manoeuvre and manipulation. In case everything fails, do “utopian talk”. It will keep people wondering for amazingly false hopes. Unfortunately, the type of talk that can critically analyse (and then communicate) the real nature of the problem- problematization - is still not perceptible in the “web of talks” Muslims do. We don’t talk in the pursuit of “transmitting the reality in the nature of reality” since it is an arduous task. Instead, we prefer to “go with the flow” i.e., we compromise to get easily compromised further. This is how dehabitualization controls our mind and action. In Bennabian expression, it is called colonizability: a tendency developed “inside” the colonial subject to get colonized. Thus, to acquire the real freedom of expression, it is vital to acquire the real value and purpose of expression.

Habitualization restrains one’s ability to defamiliarize the habitualized talk. This means the bulk of talk that is being continuously added to the “web of talks” is nothing but overload of khuṣūmah talk. According to Malaysian scholar Hashim Kamali, khuṣūmah is excessive indulgence in “talking” to create confusion. For example, toady’s Muslims are confused between lament, meaningful talk and action. To illustrate this point, let me bring Ali Shariati, a prominent Iranian sociologist, into the discussion. While responding to those Muslim scholars who believe that Muslims have talked too much and now it is time to act, Shariati in his book titled On the Sociology of Islam writes, “[…] in reality we have not talked up to now, we have not spoken of our sufferings, we have not closely and scientifically analysed our sufferings. All we have done is to moan in our misery, and it is obvious that such moaning is of no value”. He continues, “[u]p to now we have not discussed our psychological and social problems at all correctly.” 

Interpreting Shariati crudely, lamenting is not something that one consciously ‘does’, but rather something one is ‘habitualized’ to do. Lamenting undermines the power of purposeful talk which, eventually, leads to result-oriented action. Habitualization relinquishes the idea that it is possible to go beyond the surface structure of “web of talks’ and produce meaning and purpose through language. Thus, habitualization determines all subsequent action. This isn’t a hypothetical assumption. Infact, our societies explicitly stand as practical references to validate the argument.

Let me bring the example of Kashmir; the place where I was born and brought up. I feel a deep-layered ignorance and oblivion in the “web of talks” of which we are an inevitable part. Like other Muslim societies, everyday “performance of language” is profoundly overtaken by the murky meld of negative traits such as lament, victimhood, hopelessness, bigotry, cliché and utopia. The “bayān”, as I said above, is no more the functional language. Ironically, there is a fallacious notion of relating “bayān” with a “fixed” intellectual expression of language. Although “bayān” is the highest form of language, which is only possible through intelligent expression, nevertheless, intelligent expression doesn’t necessarily mean the expression of a particular class, community or a group of people. I’m trying to simplify the equation that bayān: the meticulous art of transmitting meaning and purpose through the “performance of language”, can’t be monopolized by acquiring any sort of “power”. For example, the power of knowledge (e.g. academic degrees) or power of “legitimacy” (e.g. religious legitimacy) can’t monopolize bayān. 

Bayān is an innate human quality. It is not a caste, colour or gender related quality. The distinctive quality of bayān is that it differentiates humans from other living beings. See, animals of one species communicate through same sounds since their communication is limited to certain emotions. For example, all dogs, from America to Africa to Asia, bark in the same way to express anger. But, humans talk in different languages for communicating the same emotion. Let’s not overlook the dialectical variations within a language. This shows the power and comprehensiveness in the form of bayān. Similarly, in mobilizing the purpose, bayān has been classified into different types. For example, the bayān of philosophy is different from the bayān of law. The common property among all the forms and types of bayan is the transmission of “meaning”; the dynamic of change. If this purpose isn’t served, language renders to physical mechanism of sounds. “Meaning-free” language is incapable of producing a cognitive social function or, borrowing Noam Chomsky’s expression, the “creative activity”. Arguably, in the spectrum of the social, meaning imbibed in words- talking phenomena- is the foundation of human evolution. 

Unfortunately, our routine talks resonate in the direction of “habitualized performative talk” which is a terrible level of corruption and injustice. Actually, it is the degradation of our “expressive being”; representative of our innate interactive ability. What is needed at the moment to regenerate a value-based, meaning-based and purpose-based communication is to challenge, question and deconstruct the network of “habitualized performative talk” through dehabitualization process. Let me reiterate, dehabitualization of “web of talks” is the urgent need of the hour to restore the civilizational action. I suggest, it is through bayān we will be able to rationalize, prioritize and harmonize our expression. In short, bayān will reconnect us with the realities which otherwise remain veiled in the web of habitualized talks. Let’s not exhaust this incredible quality by getting habitual to it. Let’s not even “loose” it in the “web of talks” surrounding us. Let’s recognise its power, channelize its energy and respect its miraculous nature. I will stop by quoting John B. Thompson from his work tilted Language and Ideology: A Framework for Analysis. He writes, “'ideas' or 'meanings' do not drift aimlessly through the social world, like so many shapeless clouds in a summer sky. Rather, ideas circulate in the social world as utterances, as expressions, as words which are spoken or inscribed.” This quote emphasizes the relation between “idea” “meaning” and “language”.

There is another dimension of bayan, which in the classical usage as a technical term to refer to lucidity, distinctness of language and speech. It is through such usage that clarity is attained with bayan. It is considered as a sub branch of ‘ilm al-balagha. In this sense it is considered as ilm al-bayan which is a science that deals with the certain possible ways of usage in the language expressing the same idea in various degrees of directness or clarity.

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