Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

On Language

Since I have been following the Down syndrome community, I have noticed two linguistic crusades running through it.  One is about "People First Language" and the other is about the "r-word".  I realized that I don't feel the same about these 2 themes.

I get that the "r-word" should be eradicated from polite society, just as other slurs are.  It is offensive to use the words "retard" or "retarded" as an insult.  Intentionally or not, it evokes images of people with intellectual disabilities and equates them with something bad and objectionable.

"People First Language", however, is different.  I see that more as "call people the way they wish to be called," just as we refer to other groups as "African Americans" or "Native Americans" if that is their preference, we should call people with Trisomy 21 "People with Down syndrome" rather than "Downs people".  However, it is not a slur to refer to them as "Downs people", any more than it is a slur to refer to African Americans as "Blacks" or "Colored" even as "Negroes".  It is possible to speak respectfully and affectionately about people using non-standard terminology, as long as it is not offensive the way that the n-word and the r-word are.  It is even possible to prefer non-standard terminology, for a variety of reasons.  I have a bi-racial friend who refers to herself as "Colorful".  Here is a persuasive argument against PFL from the inside.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. I think that it is an imposition to expect others to change their language to suit you, and, as such, it should not be done lightly or frivolously.

    Saying we should stop using the R-word, because it's a slur that cuts deep, is one thing. Saying we should switch to "people-first" language seems to be more of a hey-let's-try-this-and-see-what-happens kind of thing.

    And we should be careful of the requests (and demands!) we make of others. Making the request is easy and costs nothing... but fulfilling the request requires action. So we want to distinguish between requests such as "Hey! That really hurts! Please stop doing that" vs. "Hey, I'm hungry, go make me a sandwich".

    If you're going to ask other people to change the way they communicate, I think it makes sense to save it for the important stuff (e.g. the R-word) and not the trendy stuff.


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