Monday, September 28, 2009

Critical Thinking and Reading Blog Post, by Andrew Heck and Brent Stempfle

Prior to reading the essays of Rosalie Maggio and Michiko Kakutani, some immediate things stick out in the titles. In "Bias-Free Language: Some Guidelines," the term "guidelines" sticks out with a domineering effect. Guidelines are a set of expectations, or rules, if it is taken far enough. This sounds somewhat unfair in nature, as bias itself is something that must be considered quite subjectively. In a way, almost all language contains bias, so it is difficult to set universal laws for all to follow. In "The Word Police," this same impression is felt. The prospect of the hypothetical enforcement of word usage that comes with policing is very daunting and autocratic, which serves as an impairment to creative expression through text--something that comes off as very stifling to writers.
In Maggio's essay, she mentions a few reasons that some people avoid using bias-free langauge. First, she criticizes the political incorrectness that comes with using old and simple terminology and lack of foresight in writing, like using the term "Indian" for a Canadian First Nations' person. Although thoughts may come quickly into our minds, it is important that we search for the best possible way to put the words to paper, which can require alteration of terms and careful placement in the context of a sentence. Second, she attacks the fear of "losing" words that could possibly fall out of touch with audiences who do not actively use them. This may be true, but she advocates the evolution of words to fit the contemporary conscience as a way to more effective communication. Third, she exposes the irresponsibility and neglect of people who use certain terms that are deemed inappropriate or unfit for common use. Calling a homosexual person a "queer" implies an unfair fickleness that a person might not embrace. The laziness and lack of consideration of some writers becomes obvious when they refer to people or ideas with terms that they are familiar and comfortable with, as opposed to close consideration of the effect that these words will have on readers. Fourth, she points out the myth of absurdities that might arise from becoming overly gender neutral or inclusive. She explains that the use of bias-free language does not need to be awkward and can easily be assimilated in writing. The fact that people purposely choose to avoid unbiased terms for this reason shows their willful ignorance and carelessness. In addition to these main reasons, she argues that avoiding them will not only increase the level of acceptability of writing, but can also contribute to the growth of a writer's style. This is something that is definitely worth considering for anyone who wishes to improve their skill and development as a writer.
In Kakutani's essay, the author mentions a poem by Maya Angelou that expresses a view of "humankind" that we are adopting in modern times. The changing demographics of Western society has forced a phenomenon of multiculturalism and created a cultural mosaic that would not have been predicted fifty years ago. In describing the different people, Angelou creates a new sense of unity in our population, which Kakutani believes has led us to an excessive desire to create unbiased terminology and forced social acceptance. The degree to which we are experiencing the shift has caused much hype to be around word usage, to an over-bearing extent, instead of naturally and gradually accepting the change. By using satire, Kakutani shows us the reality of the situation with specific examples.

In this video, Mark Steyn explains how our excessive use of unbiased, vague terms can lead to confusion:

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