LINGUIST List 11.928

Sun Apr 23 2000

Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Editor for this issue: Anthony Rodrigues Aristar <aristarlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Claire Bowern, Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  2. proto-language, Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  3. Geoffrey Sampson, Re: 11.755, Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
  4. Trace Mansfield, Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Message 1: Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Sat, 08 Apr 2000 22:40:22 -0400
From: Claire Bowern <bowernfas.harvard.edu>
Subject: Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

I wasn't going to rise to the bait of such a letter, but if Pat wants us to 
keep to linguistic issues, here's one for him.

At 05:23 PM 04/8/00 +0000, Patrick Ryan wrote:
> 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?

I completely disagree on the meaning of "racist". Both its legal, and I 
believe its common, definition involves not only racial superiority but 
racial denegration (to be a racist is to denegrate other cultures/races, 
not only to elevate one's own, and as we can see here, one does not 
necessarily always imply the other). A quick check of a dictionary or two 
confirmed my intuitions. The first attestation of the word appears to be in 
1936, when no doubt it was associated with ideas of racial superiority ... 
but there is such a thing as semantic change, much as it may offend Pat 
(who seems to describe it as a corruption of the English tongue). I 
apologise; I didn't think that linguists were much into proscription these 
days. In future I will be more culturally sensitive to Pat's linguistic needs.

Claire Bowern




_________________________
Department of Linguistics
Harvard University
305 Boylston Hall
Cambridge, MA 02138
ph: 617-493-4230
fax: 617-496-4447
http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~lingdept/
http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~bowern/
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Message 2: Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Sun, 9 Apr 2000 12:03:11 -0500
From: proto-language <proto-languageemail.msn.com>
Subject: Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations


 ----- Original Message -----
From: "The LINGUIST Network" <linguistlinguistlist.org>
To: <LINGUISTLISTSERV.LINGUISTLIST.ORG>
Sent: Saturday, April 08, 2000 9:18 PM
Subject: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations


> LINGUIST List: Vol-11-807. Sat Apr 8 2000. ISSN: 1068-4875.
>
> Subject: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
 > -------------------------------- Message
2 -------------------------------

> Date: Sat, 8 Apr 2000 16:13:02 -0500 (CDT)
> From: "James L. Fidelholtz" <jfidelsiu.buap.mx>
> Subject: Re: 11.806, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations
>
> Dear All:
> While I strongly disagree with Pat Ryan, his opinion has
> obviously been thought about carefully.
> Unfortunately, in this era of Political Correctness, there are
> other factors to consider. PC means that most of us are, and we
> should all be, overly sensitive to the reactions of others to the way
> we phrase things, do things, and to the symbols that we use [NB, Pat,
> not just the Sound ones]. I used to resist the blandishments about
> nonsexist language use, until I realized that (a) the nonsexists
> actually had some linguistic points, and more cogently, some
> psychological ones; and (b) completely independently of (a), my
> ignoring their points was needlessly pissing off a substantial segment
> of people. So I now normally use forms of 'them' [sic] as the neutral
> pronoun, even though I'm not from one of those dialect groups. (Of
> course, I do still resist 'he/she', but that's on purely aesthetic
> grounds.)

Dear James and Linguists:

Thank you for your contrastingly balanced comments.

There are really three questions here:

1) whether Political Correctness is a worthwhile objective; I will not
address that because I am sure that readers can anticipate my position; and
it is a subject on which legitimate differences of opinion can exist;

2) whether "Political Correctness" properly applies to a mascot/symbol like
the "Chief"; I have addressed that question in a previous post;

3) given that PC is worthwhile, and the "Chief" is Politically Incorrect,
whether the LSA should become involved in the controversy.

What I think is obvious is that, if any sizable number of non-affiliated
persons were truly concerned about the "Chief', an action committee or even
PAC would have already been formed, the numbers of which would have caused
more serious consideration of the question by the authorities.

But, that has not happened; only a few Amerindians evidently have
protested --- and that in a country where probably 50-60% of
multi-generation Americans have some Amerindian genetic material in their
backgrounds.

So, the activists, frustrated by a lack of popular support, seek to attach
their cause with the prestige of a large, recognized organization --- like
the LSA. And many members, reticient to be tagged as 'racists', acquiesce.

Blackmail and coercion by slander is what I see.

It is not the proper purpose of a linguistic organization to fight such
battles, however worthy or unworthy to be fought they may be.

> The point I am slowly getting at is that we are treating so
> many ethnic, language, color, etc. groups with the kiddest of gloves
> that NOT treating some other group the same way, familiar as they may
> be, smacks at the very least of superciliousness, and certainly will
> look to members of the group like racism (OK, in its current popular
> acceptation, but that still makes it racism--ask any sociolinguist).
> I don't doubt that Chief I. will in the medium term become
> extinct just so the President, the Board of Regents et al. can move on
> to the academic infighting they probably all miss. But if I can do
> anything to speed up the process, I'll be happy to, inevitable though
> it may be. Why prolong the agony of those who consider this imagery
> personally and or culturally insulting?

Well, if one grants the premise that minority groups have a "right" to be
hypersensitive, then your logic is impeccable.

I do not. And I think it is time for minorities, like the Amerindians, to
identify themselves as Americans --- at which point the controversy becomes
moot.

Pat

PATRICK C. RYAN | PROTO-LANGUAGEemail.msn.com (501) 227-9947 * 9115 W. 34th
St. Little Rock, AR 72204-4441 USA WEBPAGES: PROTO-LANGUAGE:
http://www.geocities.com/proto-language/ and PROTO-RELIGION:
http://www.geocities.com/proto-language/proto-religion/indexR.html "Veit ek,
at ek hekk, vindga mei�i, n�tr allar n�u, geiri unda�r . . . a �eim mei�i er
mangi veit hvers hann af r�tum renn." (H�vamal 138)

> LINGUIST List: Vol-11-807
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Message 3: Re: 11.755, Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2000 08:45:49 +0100
From: Geoffrey Sampson <geoffscogs.susx.ac.uk>
Subject: Re: 11.755, Disc: New: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations


I couldn't agree more. As a Briton I don't keep up with the activities of
the LSA other than publication of _Language_, but it seems to me quite
wrong for the Association's funds to be used for such purposes.


Prof. Geoffrey Sampson

School of Cognitive & Computing Sciences
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton BN1 9QH, GB

e-mail geoffscogs.susx.ac.uk
tel. +44 1273 678525
fax +44 1273 671320
Web site http://www.grs.u-net.com
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Message 4: Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations

Date: Mon, 10 Apr 2000 06:49:37 -0400
From: Trace Mansfield <tmansfieineural.com>
Subject: Re: 11.807, Disc: Political Action/Linguistic Organizations


As a side note to my earlier response about the mascot issue, I would
appreciate being told whether anyone has asked the Native American group in
question if they *want* the LSA's involvement. (I apologize for my
inconsistent memory if this information has already appeared in the thread.)
They might want to fight their own battle, or their cultural standards might
not favor the LSA's tactics, or they might not want to dilute the attention
paid to their in-group representatives, or they might have any of a number
of other objections. For the LSA (or anyone else) to become directly/openly
involved *uninvited* would risk misinterpretation as their being
patronizing, however well-intentioned the gesture, especially considering
that historically, people outside of their group have "helped" the Native
American cultures (if not the Native Americans themselves) nearly into
extinction, *despite* cases in which they have asked to be accorded the
respect of *not* being helped.

I realize that the better field linguists seem to have a greater ability to
empathize with the people they are associating with, and that empathy can
foster feelings of protectiveness when that group (and perhaps the
associated linguists) feel pain, but it seems like a slippery enough slope
that care should be taken before any such linguist rides to "their" group's
rescue, because a lack of such care could be taken in support of the (false)
contention that the members of the group are not mature enough to take care
of themselves, or something of that sort.

Again, please do not read this as if I were making accusations. I am *not*
contending that care has not been taken in this case, but rather my intent
is to make some general observations about the perils of championing, and to
*ask* what has been done in this case to avoid those potential pitfalls.

- Trace

P.S.: Maybe the LSA should get some linguists to volunteer to work in the
field among the group of people who associate themselves with the mascot.
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