The politics of pronouns, the language of abuse and democracy - blog by Gurdur


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The politics of pronouns, the language of abuse and democracy
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Posted 19-May-2016 at 09:32 PM (21:32) by Gurdur

You can make anything political, from cheese to pronouns. Whether you can do that in any worthwhile way is a different matter. An exchange on Twitter caught my eye, since it touched upon linguistics. The New York City Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR) is demanding that employers, landlords, professionals and 'all businesses' in New York City ask people their preferred gender pronoun from their first interaction. It appears the NYCCHR is also prescribing what pronounds can be used; in other words, not a matter of whatever the person randomly invents and demands in address, but a small list of prescribed new pronouns. There was an argument about it on Twitter; one of the participants alleged it was about linguistics, which it isn't. I Storified the whole exchange; the Storify is embedded below.

The issue supposedly under immediate contention is the use of newly invented pronouns, and their attempted legal enforcement. There is lots to say how different human languages treat pronouns very differently, but that can wait for another post. What the real issue here is, is how much right do you have to demand others change grammar to suit you. What is ethical, and exactly why; and ... democracy, not dictatorship. The sane introduction of law on clearly explained grounds, that kind of thing and more.

There are deeper questions of ethics. You may use the 'correct' pronoun to someone, yet still be rude and abusive to them; you may use an 'incorrect' pronoun, but still show through your actions you are trying to treat the other person with respect. Then there are large questions about the faddish fuss about inventing new pronouns; Freud comes to mind here, and a guideline of his, that there is often a great amount of fuss and bother, which covers up that there is no real change at all. Other things come to mind too; I personally care much more about poverty and womens' rights in Third-World countries (specifically Tanzania, which is where I most devote my actions) than I care about newly invented pronouns in some city of a First-World, rich country, and its inhabitants' grossly inflated sense of entitlement.

Without further ado, here is the Storify with all relevant links; simply click for each new page of the embedded Storify. At the end of the Storify, I also give a link to a good blog post by @wordspinster on the deeper linguistics and psycholinguistics of change in social use of pronouns.

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    An update:

    Posted 21-May-2016 at 01:17 AM (01:17) by Gurdur Gurdur is offline
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