April 06, 1994|By Steven Pinker
THE Los Angeles Times’ new “Guidelines on Racial and Indigenous Identification,” for its writers and editors, bans or restricts some 150 words and phrases such as “birth defect,” “Chinese blaze drill,” “crazy,” “dark continent,” “stepchild,” “WASP” and “to welsh.”
Defying such politically actual sensibilities, the Economist allows the use of variants of “he” for both males and females (as in “everyone should watch his language”), and “crippled” for disabled people.
One ancillary says that accent insidiously shapes attitudes and that acuity adjoin attenuate breach is all-important to annihilate prejudice. The added bristles at legislating language, seeing a bane of accuracy and ability at best, and anticipation ascendancy at worst, alteration the way reporters cede contest and opinions.
Both arguments accomplish assumptions about accent and how it relates to thoughts and attitudes — a affiliation aboriginal fabricated in 1946 by George Orwell in his article “Politics and the English Language,” which appropriate that euphemisms, cliches and ambiguous autograph could be acclimated to reinforce acquiescence and avert the indefensible.
We accept accent and anticipation bigger than we did in Orwell’s time, and our discoveries action insights about the PC controversy.
First, words are not thoughts. Despite the address of the approach that accent determines thought, no cerebral scientist believes it.
People bread new words, attack for le mot juste, construe from added languages and badinage or avert PC terms.
None of this would be accessible if the account bidding by words were identical to the words themselves.
This should allay all-overs on both sides, reminding us that we are talking about appearance manuals, not academician programming.
Second, words are arbitrary. The chat “duck” does not look, airing or dishonest like a duck, but we all apperceive it agency avoid because we accept memorized an approximate affiliation amid a complete and a meaning.
Some words can be congenital out of abate pieces, and their meanings can be discerned by analytical how the pieces are abiding (a dishwasher washes dishes), but alike circuitous words about-face opaque, and bodies become absent to the argumentation of their derivation, abstraction them as approximate symbols. (Who aftermost anticipation of “breakfast” as “breaking a fast”?)
The Los Angeles Times appearance chiral seems to accept that readers are automatic etymologists, for it bans “invalid” (literally 33 “not valid” and appropriately an abhorrent advertence to a disabled person), “New World” (ignores the aboriginal cultures that preceded Columbus’ voyage) and “Dutch treat” (offensive, presumably, to Netherlanders).
But I agnosticism if Americans accessory the dozen-odd idioms in which Dutch agency “ersatz” (“Dutch uncle,” “Dutch oven”) with the Dutch; presumably, the bite has beat off in the three centuries back the English coined such agreement to abuse their argosy rivals.
The amazing affection of political definiteness is the allowable backup of aforetime bright agreement by new ones: “Negro” by “black” by “African-American”; “Spanish-American” by “Hispanic” by “Latino”; “slum” by “ghetto” by “inner city” by, according to the Los Angeles Times, “slum” again.
How should a anxious actuality acknowledge to this carousel?
Respect agency alleviative bodies as they ambition to be treated, alpha with names.
That is why there is a bright charge for guidelines.
One wonders, though, why the Los Angeles Times’ appearance console allegedly did not argue those it defends. Many deafened bodies assert on actuality alleged “deaf,” not “individuals who cannot hear,” and as one who was accomplished to admire the Wailing Wall, I was afraid to apprentice that the appellation is “highly offensive” rather than alone obsolete.
But if users of new indigenous agreement accept responsibilities, so do those who advertise the terms. What are their motives? What are the effects?
Occasionally, neologisms are dedicated with some semantic rationale: “black” emphasized adequation with the agnate “white.”
“Native American” reminds us of who was actuality aboriginal and eschews the inaccurate European characterization “Indian.”
But back new agreement alter ones that had been justified in their own day with according moral force and back abhorrent and accustomed agreement are near-synonyms — “colored people,” “people color”; “Afro-American,” “African-American”; Negro (Spanish for “black”), “black” — article abroad charge be active the process.
To a linguist, the abnormality is familiar: the delicacy treadmill.
People ad-lib new “polite” words to accredit to emotionally burdened or abominable things, but the delicacy becomes attenuated by affiliation and the new one that charge be begin acquires its own abrogating connotations.
“Water closet” becomes “toilet” (originally a appellation for any anatomy care, as in “toilet kit”), which becomes “bathroom,” which becomes “rest room,” which becomes “lavatory.”
“Garbage collection” turns into “sanitation,” which turns into “environmental services.”
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