Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

How Language Shapes Us

October 28th, 2010 by G.

Language shapes us. To a point.

But we shape language. We call each other ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ at church, but we don’t really feel that we are literally brothers and sisters (and we don’t call our real brothers and sisters ‘brother’ and ‘sister’) and so the terms have just come to mean ‘someone I know from church.’ “Retarded” and “illegitimate” were originally meant to be clinical terms that lacked the derogatory connotations of “idiot” and “bastard.” Now they sting.

Deliberately using language to engineer changes in attitude is a fool’s errand. The Church has finally admitted that, yes, we’re LDS but we’re also Mormons.

Comments (15)
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October 28th, 2010 09:21:06
15 comments

John Mansfield
October 28, 2010

John McWhorter doesn’t think thought signifcantly follows language. (“Don’t Believe the Hype About Aborigines, Yiddish, or Ebonics”)

“Or–many languages have a word that covers both green and blue. Call it ‘grue.’ Their speakers distinguish blue and green very slightly less quickly than English speakers do. Is this a ‘world view’? I can only quote my erstwhile UC Berkeley colleague Paul Kay with Willett Kempton here: ‘If the differences in world view are to be interesting, they must be sizeable. Minuscule differences are dull.’”


John Mansfield
October 28, 2010

Here’s another McWhorter comparative language piece I happened to read last week: “Is English Special Because It’s ‘Globish’?.”


Rameumptom
October 28, 2010

All LDS are Mormon, but are all Mormons LDS?

And then there’s the part in the song, “High on a Mountaintop” where it states:

“Her light should there attract the gays
Of all the world in latter days.”

Doesn’t quite work the same as it did 50 years ago, eh?


Vader
October 28, 2010

And then there’s

“And we hear the desert singing,

‘Carrion, carrion, carrion!”

Which sounds to me like the Pioneers were dead meat.


Adam G.
October 28, 2010

Ram,
in case you’re serious, the lyric is ‘gaze’


Bookslinger
October 28, 2010

1. The church changed “genealogy” to “family history”, to good effect I believe.

2. I predict new labels/euphemisms for “home teaching” and “(member) missionary work” will come about shortly.

3. The hymn “How Firm a Foundation” had the phrase “Yoo-hoo unto Jesus…” changed to “who unto the Savior…”.

4. And then there are all those Spanish-isms that Spanish-speaking missionaries adopt, sometimes using the literal English translation. One of the favorites was “It fell from me” to avoid saying “I dropped it” and thereby taking some responsibility.

I think the subject is an analogue to the question of whether art imitates life or vice versa. Someone or some group comes up with a pleasant-sounding euphemism to remove the stigma from something negative, and then the term becomes widely adopted, and then the negative thing actually does lose its stigma among the next generation. Ex: all the PC-isms.

The subject also illustrates to a degree how one must sometimes take a multi-generational, not a static, viewpoint to analyze a change.


Vader
October 28, 2010

“Yoo-hoo!” Yeah. A salubriuous change.

The use of the passive voice to distance oneself from oneself is, I suspect, as old as the English language.

On the basic question, do we shape language or does it shape us, I agree with Adam: The answer is yes.


Adam G.
October 28, 2010

Books.,
the change from “genealogy” to “family history” reflected a real chance in what the Church was telling us to do. Yet I still hear both terms used pretty frequently.
You are probably right that the PC-isms have had some social engineering effect, but I would argue that if the new terms stick, its often because they are reflecting a change in attitudes, not causing it.


cantinflas
October 28, 2010

My 4 brothers and I call each other ‘brother,’ but it’s kind of like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eo1pkHKHuts


Bookslinger
October 28, 2010

I wasn’t around for the “genealogy” to “family history” shift. What was the change in the instruction? Hasn’t it always been, “Submit the info on your ancestors so their temple work can be done?”

Re: pc-isms. The talking-heads on TV are often the vanguard of change, and their influence is widespread. The grass roots, especially the young, often take their cue from media and entertainment. IE, there are more outwardly-directed people than there are inwardly-directed people. And for the last 30 years, most families in North America have turned over, or abdicated, child-rearing to public schools and the media/entertainment complex. And for the last 35 to 40 years, liberals/progressives have been in control of both of those.


Bookslinger
October 28, 2010

Yes, many hymns are written in Yoda-speak.


Vader
October 29, 2010

Decide can I not, whether German or Latin Yoda’s birth tongue was.


twiceuponatime
October 29, 2010

I think PC is not as effective as some think. Most euphemisms undergo pejeration, meaning they take on the negative terms, regardless of intents. Think of colored/negro/Afro-American. All very PC in their day, not so PC now. Even “going to the batroom” – which used to mean physically moving yourself to a room containing a bath (and so was meant to avoid unpleasent images) now refers to the actual act of waste removel from the body (I can now asy “he went to the bathroom in the middle of the street” and no one will think that there was an actual bath room in the street).

So, I don’t agree that changing our language will somehow change our thoughts. It can, but it takes some effort, usually.


twiceuponatime
October 29, 2010

“going to the bathroom” above. The batroom may be an interesting place, but no one I know lives in Wayne Manor.


Zen
October 29, 2010

One of the things I have been pondering is how we give cutesy names to horrible things, like “friends with benefits”, instead of uncommitted partners in fornication. It makes me want to start using 4-letter words far more frequently, if only to avoid sugar-coating despicable things.

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