Monday, January 24

The language does not care about the historical conditions

  • Finn-Erik Vinje

    Professor emeritus in modern Nordic languages

Language activists with a politically correct mindset have exaggerated notions about the language’s opportunities to influence reality, writes Finn-Erik Vinje.

Words mean what they mean and what we let them mean.

Chronicle
This is a chronicle. Opinions in the text are at the writer’s expense.

When I went to primary school, we had two handsome boys in the class. Their fiction books so true to say really muddy.

We write from left to right, and that arrangement is very impractical for the key-handed. In return, the two classmates were some racers in ball throwing!

40 years later, I learned that it was heartless and ruthless to refer to Rolf and Kjell as keivhendte, it was discriminatory wording, bordering on bullying. Left-handed should it be called. Thus, life would be easier to endure for those who were created that way.

When the time came for me to stand on my head in etymological dictionaries, I realized that the critics were right on one point: The seducer in the word keivhendt originally means ‘wrong, clumsy’. So we get to see and get rid of the word keivhendt, it’s discriminatory!

Basically indifferent

But the thing is that the language is in principle indifferent to the historical conditions. Fatherland is not just the land of fathers, mother tongue is not just the mother’s goal; fraternization is not just about brothers.

Keib-handed people are not necessarily clowns. That they are keivhånded just means that they write with their left hand, with keiva, as it is called.

Some programmers in NRK have gotten on the hump because they have talked about whites and Brown children. It is politically incorrect to talk like that.

And in Aftenposten on Christmas Eve, a doctor with a Polish name is dissatisfied with the word “Poles” being used about those who have a Polish passport. Offensive critics mumble their mantra that “language is power”; the wording is in fact a disgraceful abuse of the groups mentioned.

Euphemizing exercises

But here you have become too hot at the top. Some children have red hair, others have black hair – I do not know what ranks highest, but let’s assume that redheads do.

Thus, the black-haired get in trouble, and especially if they constitute a minority. Then you have to start with linguistic euphemistic exercises of the type we eventually know so well: crippled, disabled, handicapped, disabled, handicapped. And in the United States – that’s where it all comes from – one should not say blind, it should be called visually impaired!

Suppose then that one decided that Brown children is a phrase that must be avoided. Suppose that a brand new name was invented with the same reference, but with more pleasant connotations.

Such linguistic maneuvers – similar to euphemisms of the type ability retarded instead of evneveik – has a limited effect. Language activists with a politically correct mindset have exaggerated notions about the language’s possibilities for influencing reality. One does not change reality by changing linguistic labels on the phenomena.

One does not change reality by changing linguistic labels on the phenomena.

General semantics

A direction in American linguistics that was called general semantics, had in its time (1960s) wind in the sails. It is particularly associated with the American linguist SI Hayakawa (professor of English).

This direction (in the scientific context preferably called the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis after the American linguists E. Sapir and BI Whorf) is also referred to as the theory of linguistic relativitet.

The spokesmen of the direction envisioned that language had decisive power over thought. The boring slogan “language is power” is rooted in these circles.

But the strong version of the hypothesis of the power of language over thought today finds weak support in research. (Cf. Ingrid Björk’s doctoral dissertation «Relativizing linguistic relativity» (Uppsala 2008).)

The strangest thing is that the activists believe that they are creating the world with words.

Change the world with words?

It is too easy to believe that the prejudices that complicate a frictionless relationship between people can be removed by linguistic hygiene and semantic clean-up. That the Swedes refer to person with the feminine pronoun she, hardly affects equality between the sexes, nor do the Finns’ use of the gender-neutral he in the third person singular.

The strangest thing is that the activists believe that they are creating the world with words. They can take very seriously that word like tigger and immigrant creates real beggars and immigrants.

If I understand the activists correctly, it is important to follow the principle “person first” and make qualities a by-product. Thus, it is not correct to use the connection a deaf, it should be called person with hearing loss.

However, such clumsy paraphrases come into play by referring to undesirable properties. We say, for example the geni, not a person with genius qualities.

The king wants cleanup

King Harald shall in one New Year’s speech have said that he wants to “remove the term ‘society’s weakest’ about drug addicts”.

There we have it again, this superstition that manipulation of words will change reality. Notice that the king says he wants to remove term society’s weakest – implied: If you make the verbal adjustments that are proposed, this contributes to the vulnerable group getting better living conditions.

Well-meaning people have condemned conventional words and expressions of the type negro, Gypsy. The slogan is that these expressions must be banned completely. Away with them!

In his New Year’s speech, the king also said this: “In reality, some of them are [= de som blir omtalt som ’samfunnets svakeste’] the strongest among us. ” The king’s dictation is undeniably appealing, but sorry, should it be allowed to talk about “the strongest among us”? If there are some who are stronger, they must be stronger than anyone else, who is weaker.

Compassion for people who are worse off than the majority is, from all points of view, sympathetic. Those who are in pain may need support. But we should not cling to the notion that manipulation of words does wonders from or to.

The nature of language

We gather the threads. It is the nature of language that words remain unchanged while things change and the conditions that the words originally denote cease to exist. Et eraser is not of leather, a drinking glasses can be made of plastic, and a free time can last for ten minutes. Et murder does not have to mean that someone is killed.

The language is in principle indifferent to the historical conditions.

Words mean what they mean and what we let them mean. By the way, we can do with them what suits us.


Reference-www.aftenposten.no

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