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Syntax Training | Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

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June 04, 2019

Comments

Camilla

Thank you for such a nice post, Lynn! Words are indeed very important and we need to be aware of the way we use them.

Laura

Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. I had to share this link with my friends, too!

Chris

I wholeheartedly agree with your premise. I work in a field where "People First" is an important rule. For instance, we encourage people to say that someone has autism, not that he or she is autistic, because they are so much more than their autism. We don't want to define them so narrowly, not only by their disorder. In using People First language, we not only expand our own definition of the person we are speaking of but also offer that expanded view to our listeners.

Virginia Sowell

Thank you! We are becoming more aware of this use of language and its importance. We have changed "special needs children" to "children with special needs." It's a subtle change but recognizes the child first. Years ago I used the expression, "slaving over a hot stove." A friend pointed out the offensive reference to the memory of slavery. I haven't used it since.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Camilla, Laura, Chris, and Virginia, thank you all for responding!

Camilla, I appreciate your thoughtful comment.

Laura, thanks for sharing the link! I am glad you liked the post.

Chris, thank you for telling us about People First language. Inspired by your information, I quickly found this site, which has many examples that people can learn from:
https://tcdd.texas.gov/resources/people-first-language

Virginia, I appreciate your excellent example and your helpful anecdote. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

Lynn

April

Great post! Thanks for the insights!

Deborah

This post is going to be useful even if English is not my first language. It's the idea behind it that matters, it goes beyond language.

Chris' comment ("someone has autism, not that he or she is autistic)" made me think about a book by Erich Fromm - To have or to be?.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_Have_or_to_Be%3F

The author noted how our language changed over time, as we've become more materialist: "to be" has been replaced by "to have". I don't know if this applies to English, but it's quite evident in Latin languages. His examples are: "I have an idea" means "I think"; "I have an ambition" means "I deside" or "I want". In medical context, he suggests that a patient in the past would have said "I'm upset" instead of "I have a problem", or "I can't sleep" instead of "I have imsomnia". And again "I'm happily married" instead of "I have a happy marriage".

He saw this as a negative evolution, an alienation. Honestly in this case I must disagree with this renowned psychoanalyst and agree with Chris and you! Or probably they're just two totally different things and I'm making too much of nothing.

Lionel Dyck

Have we become a people who don't think or reason and who only believe things on the most basic level? Are we so thin-skinned that we let words that were not intended to offend, to offend (aka trigger) us?

Just because someone is noted as a subordinate does not in any way define them other than their position, which is one who reports, and takes direction, from another. It does not define them as less capable, less knowledgable, or even of a lower class.

The same for the slave label - that only defines a characteristic but not the individual. Slavery has been around for thousands of year and didn't start with the importation of black slaves from Africa - the first slaves in the Colonies were whites from Ireland. Slavery is wrong, that can never be argued, but it is also not something that defines the individual who is a slave - they are still people with families, friends, skills, and all have something to offer.

Sometimes I believe that rather than using words to communicate, to influence, to entertain, or to educate, we use words to intimidate others. The entire Political Correct movement seems to have become one that strives to intimidate any, and all, who they disagree with. It forces everyone to be careful with their words so as not to offend, even when no offense is intended, simply because those reading or hearing the words are reading individual words and not thoughts, thus taking things out of context.

Just my $0.01

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Deborah,

Thank you for taking the time to share Fromm's ideas about language. Now I am thinking about the Spanish that I study, for example, "Tengo sueño" ("I have dream") for "I am sleepy." Interesting! I haven't read the link information yet, but I look forward to it.

Lynn

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Hi Lionel,

You are a thoughtful person, and I am going to assume that your intent is not to offend. But intent doesn't matter if a person is indeed offended by certain language. If someone tells me he does not like being called a "subordinate" (or if I notice that the first definition of the word in my dictionary is "belonging to a lower or inferior class"), I am not going to use the word "subordinate" because of what it communicates or could communicate. I do not choose to offend.

If people who are descended from slaves tell me that they prefer the term "enslaved people" rather than "slaves" because it describes who they were more accurately, I am going to use the language they prefer. I want to be heard and received, so I will use the language that reaches my audience most effectively. I do not choose to offend.

You said that political correctness "forces everyone to be careful with their words so as not to offend, even when no offense is intended." I'm not sure about the forcing part, but I do believe that all of us will be more successful and happier if we are careful with our words.

If I ran into you while cycling, I wouldn't have intended to knock you down and hurt you, but I would hurt you nevertheless. If I use language that hurts you, it hurts you whether I intended to hurt you or not. And if I keep using that language, then I DO intend to hurt you--because now I know better.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Lynn

Deborah

This subject is really interesting, so I've got something more to add.

I once saw a man on TV who happened to be born blind. The presenter introduced him saying he was a "non vedente", that is translated as "not-seeing person" which is a polite way to say "blind" in Italian. The man replied "just say I'm blind, because that's the word, don't sugar it up! You don't play "not-seeing person buff", it's "blindman's buff", right?".

And he wasn't say this in a mean or resentful way, he was genuinely smiling and trying to make everyone comfortable. He didn't want people to be worried about offending him just by saying the word "blind" because that's just a word and not an insult.

So my point is that you risk offending someone either way (using the politically correct word or not) because not everyone thinks the same.

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Interesting, Deborah! I like your thinking, and I believe we can get a lot from your story.

One point is to ask people, privately or publicly, which language they prefer. Doing it publicly gives the advantage that the audience gets to hear and understand the exchange. If the presenter had introduced the man as blind, the audience might have wondered why he was not using the more delicate expression.

Also, I think about the fact that the man was born blind--he has always been blind and has--I assume--been hearing that word since childhood. So "not-seeing person" seems silly to him. In the United States, we typically use the expression "visually impaired." It's especially apt for people who have difficulty seeing but are not totally blind.

Both "blind" and "visually impaired" are adjectives (although we can say "the blind," making it a noun). With either adjective, we can use the word "people," that is, "people who are blind," "people who are visually impaired." With that phrasing, we are still acknowledging their humanity rather than only their condition.

Thanks for exploring this topic.

Lynn

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