LINGUIST List 11.806

Sat Apr 8 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. proto-language, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 10:18:27 -0500
From: proto-language <>
Subject: Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Re: 11.771, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

> Since the question has been raised, and since some LINGUIST
> readers aren't LSA members and therefore won't have received
> the LSA Bulletin in which the issue is explained, it might be
> useful to have a bit of background for the discussion about the
> resolution and motions that I proposed at the LSA Business
> Meeting in January for the consideration by the LSA membership.

The proposes of a professional organization are inunitably different
from that of a political action committee. However worthy or unworthy
this "cause" might be, it has not even a tangential relationship to


 > At our summer meeting, the SSILA members present voted unanimously
 > to censure UI for maintaining this racist mascot in spite of ten
 > years of protest by Native American students and in spite of votes
 > by (for instance) over 700 UI faculty members.

 Many "political activists" have no hesitation in twisting a word so
tortuously that its original signficance is totally lost.
"Racist" means pertaining to a notion that one's own racial stock is
superior. And that is all it should mean for anyone who wishes to
communicate by using words in a standardized way. There is absolutely
nothing about the "Chief" which suggests this notion of racial
superiority in any way; and to characterize it as "racist" is to
betray the common but unjustifiable habit of mischaracterizing an idea
or action with a label that would, if correctly applied, mandate
automatic condemnation. That any member of an organization like the
LSA is incapable of applying English words correctly is obviously
surprising. What happened to semantics?

> <snip>

 > Here's part of the text of the supporting statement published in
 > the March 2000 LSA Bulletin with the ballot, to show non-LSA readers
 > what the issue is:
 > "There are two reasons for supporting [the resolution and
 > a broad one and a more narrowly professional one. First, the 
 > whose depiction is historically and culturally inaccurate as well as
 > anachronistic, has a negative impact on our efforts as educators to
 > make the public aware of the history and present situation of Native
 > Americans.... 

If anyone thinks that students are forming academic
opinions about Native Americans from the portrayal of the "Chief",
that person has a very low opinion of students. What happened to
reading a well-written book on the subject of native American dress,
customs, and history --- if one is interested.

 > "The second that "Chief
Illiniwek", like other Native American stereotypes, harms Native
American members of the LSA and also non-Native LSA members whose
professional life is devoted to work with Native American and
other minority communities: anything that increases the level of
hostility felt by Native Americans toward insensitive Anglos makes
it more difficult for linguists to carry out research and
contribute to language preservation efforts in Native American
communities. The "Chief" has a demonstrable negative effect on
the quality of education that students at the University of Illinois
receive. Non-Native LSA members who are affiliated with the 
university are also potential sufferers from the "Chief", given
the strong negative reaction to the "Chief" by Native American
students at the university. 

I wonder if the activists promoting such radical agenda realize how
much hostility among non-native Americans is being generated by this
supercilious hypersensitivity. Far from promoting understanding,
by actions such as seeking to "outlaw" harmless traditional symbols
of group fun such as the "Chief", such misbegotten iniatives
foster feelings of antagonism and contempt where before there were
I certainly hope the Illinois University
System and Legislature will maintain their lack of interest for
measures that will enflame passions rather than lead to



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