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Do you mind your language when you speak? Be aware of the words you use, as these can discriminate without you realizing it!
“Sexist language, racist language, theistic language – all are typical of the policing languages of mastery, and cannot, do not permit new knowledge or encourage the mutual exchange of ideas.” – Toni Morrison, Nobel Lecture, 1993
Words are a powerful tool; they can comfort the sad, motivate the uninspired, and calm the agitated. But words can also alienate and exclude in ways that can damage not just individuals but also society as a whole. Racist, sexist, ageist, and heterosexist expressions are some such examples.
Linguist experts Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, who studied the effects of language, proposed that language determines thoughts. For example, racist language express racist attitudes; sexist language puts people down because of their gender; ageist expressions show prejudice against older people; and heterosexist language indicates hate for people who are gays, lesbians, bisexual, etc.
Therefore, changing the way we speak can change our thoughts. It can encourage new ways of thinking, and possibly lead to a positive shift in our attitudes.
Here are some guidelines to eliminate prejudice in your language:
Racism can be direct and deliberate, or sometimes subtle and unintentional. To be mindful of racist expressions:
Sexist language stems from rigid beliefs about gender roles. To remove sexist language from your vocabulary:
Note: There may be situations where it is necessary to mark the sex clearly. In such instances, it is acceptable to specify the gender for purposes of clarity.
Ageist language grows from the belief that older people are physically and mentally incompetent. Some ways to eliminate ageist language are:
If an older person does have communication difficulties, use the guidelines from The American Speech and Hearing Association to adjust your communication style.
Heterosexism perpetuates the belief that only opposite-sex relationships are natural and worthy of respect, but we owe it to humanity to be respectful of people’s preferences and choices. Here are some ways to curb heterosexist tendencies:
Discriminatory language often stems from deep-rooted beliefs about other people. I hope these tips help you align your intentions and language, thus mindfully creating a dignified and equal society for everyone.
Image source: flickr, for representational purposes only.
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