"All right?" and the Underlying Conservative Construction of Language

"All right?"

Speaking to my husband these days, this innocent sentence suddenly called my attention for the first time. Is it really innocent that the idea of "correct" became related to "right"? Why the concept of something appropriate couldn't be said "left"? Why is "left" the semantically deviating form, and "right", the mainstream? When and how these correlations between right, left, correct and incorrect happened? Not to forget that, for a long time, left handed people were forced to write with the right hand - the only hand allowed to register language away from the devil.

In English, the word "right" is often used as a confirmation, or as a way to express how things 'should' be done. In Portuguese, there is not an expression like "alright." Often, we say "certo", which is literally translated into English as right. We can also say "correto" (correct) or "sim" (yes). However, instead of studying "Law", in Portuguese one studies "Direito", that is, "Right", from which derives sentences like "faz isso direito" (do it right). In other Latin languages such as Spanish, it happens the same: "Derecho" (Right) is the field of studies that promotes codes of social conduct in a certain society, and therefore, a way of doing things right (hágalo derecho).

Nevertheless, maybe English is the language that took this relationship to its extreme. Expressions such as "alright" or asking "right?" in the end of a sentence are immensely common among native speakers - which, for me, is quite intriguing. I have never thought that, maybe, there is an underlying conservative drive in language itself. And this twist makes even clearer what the French philosopher Michel Foucault pointed out as the productive impact of language. For him, language is not a neutral mediator that objectively talks about things: it is a political force capable of producing reality and effects in the world. Therefore, if rockets existed, they only existed because science fiction, and someone like Jules Verne, long ago created the conditions of possibility for them to become reality.

Along with this perspective, in the book Language and Reality, the philosopher Vilém Flusser does a definitive statement: language is reality. As a polyglot who fluently spoke and translated his texts into German, French, English, Spanish, Czech, and Portuguese, Flusser was able to make such an assertion. Besides his declared passion for the world of words, there was also his own experience: at a very young age he ran away to Brazil, due to the ascension of the Nazi regime in Europe. All of a sudden, he lost his whole family and, with his wife Edith, had to learn a different reality, articulated by a system of symbols that was completely unknown.

In the peculiar way that Flusser experienced his own sense of reality falling apart and, through language, being rebuilt resides his uniqueness: such radical de-territorialisation of the self was crucial to place the linguistic substrate as the kernel of the human existence. Therefore, with the intent to present a theory of translation as a broader part of his philosophy of language, Flusser structured this premise along four arguments: 1) language is reality; 2) language shapes reality; 3) language creates reality; and finally, 4) language propagates reality.

Immersed in the ‘Linguistic Turn’ disseminated in the beginning of the 1950’s and the rising of post-structuralist thinking, Language and Reality is a mark of this new relationship with language. Hence, it is up to us to be aware of this linguistic construction if we want to build more inclusive societies. Maybe, instead of reverbarating the conservative "all right", we can start saying "all explained", "all equal", or even "all equivalent?". Language, as a strong force of reality construction, is also a field in which we have the power to bent and reframe structures of exclusion in the current far right growing scenario.