Monday, March 16, 2009

What's in a word?

I admit I get in a tear over stupid things. Needless sexist jokes. Using "man" when you don't mean a male-gendered person. And so on. I try not to shove it down people's throats, really.

Since there's a budding linguist in the house, I am learning that the words we use have a power beyond their use. Because they are used, they infer a specific purpose and/or meaning beyond their choice. And when they fall into disuse, they change the expressive capacity of a language. The recent flurry of Tweets about gender-inclusive language has been fascinating to me.

A recent article at CNN illustrates what I'm talking about...

(CNN) -- Twitter users may value brevity in their messages, but that doesn't mean they don't think about the social implications of language.

Is this sign sexist? Some say our language should be more inclusive of both genders.

Is this sign sexist? Some say our language should be more inclusive of both genders.

"Can't we English-speakers just agree upon a gender-neutral pronoun?" attorney Paul Easton recently Twittered. "Tired of PC grammar gymnastics."

Easton isn't alone. There have been at least 18 recent tweets about the fact that English has no grammatically correct substitutes for words like "he," "him," and "his" that do not have a gender implied.

Consider the sentence "Everyone loves his mother." The word "his" may be seen as both sexist and inaccurate, but replacing it with "his or her" seems cumbersome, and "their" is grammatically incorrect.

"I find myself spending a lot of time reworking or obsessing over sentences to avoid sexist language, and wonder why we settled on these burdensome conventions rather than popularizing a gender-neutral pronoun," Easton said in an e-mail.

It turns out that an English speaker's mind can't instantly adopt an imposed new gender-neutral system of pronouns, linguists say. A sudden change in the system of pronouns or other auxiliary words in any language is very difficult to achieve.

(You can see the rest of the article HERE.)

This was all the sweeter to my ears as I had to read Grudem's interpretation of church government for my Systematics class this week. (Here's a shocker. He thinks only men can be pastors or elders.)

Poor dude. He can't help it. For years he's got his mind made up, and no amount of exegetical discussions will help.

I'm past arguing, though I did state a firm, but polite counter argument in a class disucssion in response to Grudem's opinions. And yes, I have written my Dean. I think that it is a crime that a whole class is forced to read Grudem without any counter-balancing presentations.

Where Talk Isn't

Where talk isn't
is nowhere.
Even in silence
my soul speaks in the language
of my culture.
So that's why,
dear friends,
I do not want to hear
freshman, you guys, chairman, man and his world, man the tables.
It's time to turn the tables
and sit down together
as equals.

from the YOUALL website

My bra ain't burned and I do have a life. Just in case you wondered. ;)


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