LINGUIST List 3.833

Tue 27 Oct 1992

Disc: Objectionable Words?

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  1. mark, Re 3.826 Jew vs. Jewish person
  2. "Ellen F. Prince", Re: 3.826 Japanese; Objectionable words; Gender Studies

Message 1: Re 3.826 Jew vs. Jewish person

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 92 15:00:58 ESRe 3.826 Jew vs. Jewish person
From: mark <markdragonsys.com>
Subject: Re 3.826 Jew vs. Jewish person

In 3.816 (in the discussion of "gay" w.r.t. homosexuality) Geoff
Nunberg wrote that the noun "Jew" is unexceptionable; in 3.826
Biasca Debra Halperin (order of names??) took exception. As a
linguist and a Jew, I have long wondered why so many of my fellow
Jews, in speech and in writing, choose the awkward and
circumlocutory "Jewish person/people" over "Jew(s)", even while I
myself feel an unexplained internal pressure against using the
monosyllable. My speculations range far from "purely" linguistic
considerations, but I cannot therefore declare them off-limits in
the search for an explanation.

Maybe it's that "Jew" has been spat at us so often that we've
associated that context with the word. Although I've been
fortunate not to have experienced significant antisemitism, I've
certainly felt enough of it at second hand, through
identification with literature I've read, stories I've heard,
movies I've seen.

Maybe the well-known (isn't it?) greater affective strength of the
root noun, as compared with the derived adjective, is involved...
but do "Jew"-circumlocutors feel that there's something
unacceptable about Jewishness itself, or something offensive about
mentioning it too directly? I've heard the circumlocution from
plenty of people whom I would not suspect of doubting the value of
their own Jewishness.

Maybe the phenomenon is partially rooted in assimilation to the
American paradigm, in which religion is defined as a system of
beliefs and a group with voluntary membership, in contrast with
the traditional self-definition of "the Jewish people" by descent
and ethnicity: a lump that refuses to melt in the melting pot.

Maybe any of these explanations applies to the gentile majority,
and Jewish circumlocutors have picked up the result as a purely
linguistic phenomenon.

As I said, I can't contribute any answers to this issue, but maybe
these speculations will spark some light on it.

 Mark A. Mandel
 Dragon Systems, Inc. : speech recognition : +1 617 965-5200
 320 Nevada St. : Newton, Mass. 02160, USA
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Message 2: Re: 3.826 Japanese; Objectionable words; Gender Studies

Date: Mon, 26 Oct 92 10:38:09 ESRe: 3.826 Japanese; Objectionable words; Gender Studies
From: "Ellen F. Prince" <ellencentral.cis.upenn.edu>
Subject: Re: 3.826 Japanese; Objectionable words; Gender Studies

>From: BIASCA DEBRA HALPERIN <biascaucsu.Colorado.EDU>
>Subject: Re: 3.816 FYI: Mystery Citation, Diachronic Chinese, Gay
>
>In response to the note about usage of "gay," I am not in agreement that
>usage of "Jew" to refer to individuals is unobjectionable. I definitely
>would use "there were two Jewish people on the panel."

i don't know what ethnic group you are from or where you grew up or how old you
are, but i think there are definite sociolinguistic variables at work here. to
my 40-something brooklyn-bred jewish ears, 'jewish people' is very marked and
indicates one of the following: (a)the speaker is gentile and is afraid that
'jew' tout court is offensive to co-present jews, (b)the speaker is young and,
whether jewish or gentile, grew up hearing more gentiles than jews. for what
it's worth, _my_ private reaction to 'jewish person/people', steemming from
standard gricean inferences, is always 'hey, whatsamatta, you think 'jew' is a
dirty word?'
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