Posted by Elaine on November 20, 1999 at 22:59:33:
In Reply to: Re: words... posted by Chris on November 20, 1999 at 16:11:34:
: Hi Everyone,
: While we're having this discussion, I thought I might step back up on my soapbox too for a moment. Although the term "Eskimo" was originally used in Canada as a derogatory term, by the time the word had spread to Alaska, it had lost its derogatory meaning and is used here freely by Alaskan Natives and Whites alike. It is used to identify the Inuit and differentiate between them and the Aleut and various Indian peoples. I understand it is still considered derogatory in Canada, so should be used with care if at all. As a side note, I had always been told that "Inuit" referred only to the circumpolar people, but this week I saw a Yup'ik video in which they identified themselves as Inuit. That makes the distinctions a little easier, as one can avoid the use of "Eskimo" altogether and use Inuit in its place.
: I have always found languages complicated enough to understand on the surface, and then there are all those sub-surface connotations which keep changing. Eeeek!
Yes, I find that interesting too. I've heard and read comments about this topic by many
different people and each seems to say something different. So, the only thing I conclude
from this is that it's controversial. And if I know that certain people wish or don't wish to be
called by certain words, that's fine with me. I go by what's okay for those I address. That's
why I myself would not use terms like "squaw" or "pappoose", because I know some people
take it as an offense and I cannot know how one person feels about this compared to another,
so I just avoid it. It's not like I need those words in my vocabulary.
As for the offense being in the use of a word, there are of course many examples for that.
And a long history of offensive use can sometimes taint a word so much that it is no good
any more for innocent use. And yet another topic are words that are known to cause
misunderstandings. One example comes to mind in my first language, German: The original
German word for "black person" is "Neger". It is of non-offensive origin and goes back to the
latin word "negro", simply meaning "black". Now, over the last couple of decades, the
German language has been more and more influenced by the English language, and of
course there is much contact with English speaking people. The word "Neger" sounds so
close in pronounciation to the American "N-word" that it is today not used any more by the
younger generation, those who have learned the English language and know about this. But
you can still occasionally hear older or less educated people use this word, and I mean use it
innocently, and it sometimes leads to very unfortunate misunderstandings. I have had a
co-worker years ago who insisted on using this word because of its innocent origin, also with
the argument that there should be education instead of changing language due to people not
knowing a word's true history. While I could see his point, I thought that was just a little too
stubborn. There are more modern words to replace the old term, and why insist on
terminology if I know that the chance of offending someone is high. So, that's just the way I
look at it. But yes, I can see that others may disagree and may want to make a point out of a
certain words' usage.
Hi Dana, Petra, & Chris ...
First let me explain why I removed the article. The author is planning to have it posted on another site & would prefer a link to it once it's up. When that occurs, I'll post the link. I wanted to respect her wishes & will wait until it is posted before further commentary directly on her article.
Petra, while I can understand your point of view on this, the more I think about it the more I disagree. Yes, it is true that one should be sensitive toward perceived offense, however, there are, or should be, limits to that sensitivity. I find something disturbing in gutting languages because some have replaced meaning with sentiment. In this particular instance, the word has origins that are non-derogatory, is necessary within Algonquian languages to express that which it means, has been either misunderstood or misrepresented, & has, in effect, been hijacked by non-Algonquian speakers as a 'hot button' word. Why, when you consider the proper, respectful origin of the word, would you acquiesce to misinformed sentiment?
Your example of the 'N-word' & its origins is a different situation. As you've said, the word derives from the Latin 'negro' simply meaning 'black.' That is a valid, descriptive, expressive word. I assume you would not avoid using the word 'negro' in general & especially within a Latin context. The "N-word" is a bit different. It derives from a particular mispronounciation (which brings its validity into question) & HAS been used specifically to express a derogatory description OR sentiment. Therefore, it is not a proper word & should, given its offensive intent & usage, be avoided. This is very different from the word 'squaw.'
Assuming no one proposes the banishment of the Latin 'negro' I would question why anyone would propose the banishment of the Algonquian 'squaw.' There is no modern equivalent or replacement within the many Algonquian languages, only in other languages. Why should it be replaced, omitted, or avoided at all if its meaning is good? It isn't generally Algonquian people who have been voicing opposition or expressing offense at this word, but non-Algonquians.
You mentioned younger generation Germans deciding to avoid the word 'neger' for sound reasons. I can understand & appreciate that. However, how would you feel if Italians, French, Ethiopians, Phillipinos, etc. were demanding the omission of this German word? Wouldn't that offend you? Would you not see it as a bit arrogant?
Language is so beautiful. The Algonquian languages have variations of this word, all translating to respectful references to females. To gut these languages because some people may feel offended ... I don't know.
Why not educate people? It may be true that you & I have no need of the word in our own English or German vocabulary, but it doesn't belong to us in the first place, other than being an adopted word.
I am trying to think of another similar hypothetical scenario. It's hard ...
Guinea? English gold, bird, or rodent ... a valid word with proper expressive meanings. Also a derogatory word used to describe Italians. Italians DO feel offended when called 'guinea' but would it be acceptable to erase the word from the English language due to its sometimes offensive intent or because of some negative sentiments?
I realize that languages evolve & words become obsolete or take on new adaptations. However, in this case, there is no natural linguistic evolution taking place but rather a mandate from 'foreign' speakers to 'cleanse' allegedly offensive words.
Will have to revisit this one again ... and I KNOW I'm going to take heat for my opinion.
Chris, interesting points you've made regarding the word "Eskimo." In this case, you have a non-Inuit word which was spoken intently to offend Inuits (those Algonquians again!) ... and in time, has been accepted by some whom it was originally meant to deride.
Is this the other side of the linguistic coin?
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