Monday, September 28, 2009

Critical Thinking and Reading Blog Post: Lauren Wozny and Jenny Nielsen

Before reading Rosalie Magglio's essay "Bias Free Language: Some Guidelines," we assumed that it was a straightforward essay dealing with some of the more common linguistic biases such as gender and race. It seemed to us that Magglio would point out a few common errors and give some general guidelines for improvement. The essay was more critical and in depth than we had initially anticipated; it became more than a few guidelines but also an in depth critique of the evolution of language and some darker moments in history. Writes Magglio, "Biased language can also harm people, as amply demonstrated by bigots' and tyrants' deliberate attempts to dehumanize and demean groups they intend to exploit, oppress or exterminate. Calling Asians 'gooks' made it easier to kill them. Calling blacks 'niggers' made it simpler to enslave and brutalize them".

"The Word Police," by Michiko Kukatani was easier to discern through the meaning of the title. We anticipated some humour which would involve a commentary on the English language and those who desire to enforce certain rules, expectations and limitations. Our initial presumptions were rewarded with her sense of wit and style. Within the first paragraphs of her essay we are introduced to the idea that "the Coppertone Suntan Lotion People" are looking for a male equivalent, Little Mr. Sunshine.

Magglio points out four noteworthy excuses that people make to avoid using unbiased language. The first one is "There's no fun in limiting what you say." She explains that although most people do not protest to using a dictionary, or checking the correct use of grammar; some protest that any other editing may "spoil their fun". Magglio clearly makes the point that bias-free writing should be thoughtfully considered within the editing and crafting process of any mature writing.

She explains that other people fear losing words and dryly comments on the supposed famine of words. She points out that "Vague, inaccurate, and disrespectful words can be thrown overboard with no loss to society and no impoverishment of the language."

The third reason that Magglio expands upon is "People are tired of having to watch what they say." She reasons that "From childhood onward we all learn to watch 'what we say': we don't swear around our parents, we don't bring up certain topics around certain people...". It's not that we are tired of watching what we say, but rather we are tired of being sensitive to others requests.

The final and greatest objection to using bias-free language is that it will lead to absurdities. Critics argue that we may become so ridiculous that we begin to make obsessive changes to our language such as changing manhole cover to "personhole cover". She argues that "Using a particular to condemn a universal is a fault in logic."

In addition to these arguments, Maggio promotes the use of non-biased language by stating that it has the ability to improve our writing style. When these generalizations and cliches are abandoned we can create room for more convincing descriptions backed with concrete examples and even personal anecdotes. Our imaginations can thrive and we are not limited to a "one-word-fits-all" style.

According to Kakutani, within Maya Angelou's inauguration poem she symbolically embraces a new era of inclusion and political correctness through her address to various groups of "humankind".

It is easy to empathize with Maggio's ideas especially when we can find sound proof on a day to day basis. Terms such as "midget" and "dwarf" can seem demeaning where a term such as "short of stature" may not be seen as so offensive. A word such as "man-hours" may give an unfair impression that only men are capable of working so a word like "work-hours" can be substituted as a more ambiguous politically correct alternative. These phrases help us from offending, but where do we draw the line?

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