Gudrun Dahl (Gudrun.Dahl@TELE.SU.SE)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 11:09:05 +0100

I find the debates on correct language use tiresome, and usually very
US-centric. It is our duty as anthropologists to analyze what concepts mean
to different people in different contexts, but the thing is that there is
nothing fixed in a word=B4s meaning and politically correct phrases are not
immune against being used in new contexts where they acquire derogatory
meanings. For example, in Swedish we used to have two terms "in-f=F6dd" and
"in-f=F6ding" corresponding to your term "native". "Inf=F6dd" can either=
the same as "in-f=F6ding" or just "born in the place". Thus you can say of
somebody that he is "en inf=F6dd New-Yorker" and he might be a German, Dutch
or Chinese who just happened to be born there. What we hear when you use the
term "native" are however the connotations of "in-f=F6ding" which are more=
less "primitive people, wild wo/men". No Swedish anthropologist would use
that expression today, even though in popular thought some "others" are
still depicted as "inf=F6dingar". So, whatever Americans (in-born or
immigrants, Caucasian, Asian or "Native Americans") think they say when they
use the term "native", Swedish listeners will hear you talking in racist
terms. Then the issue arises of who is given the privilege of
interpretation, the speaker or the audience?=20

Who is a native and who is not? If my ancestors immigrated from Asia 50.000
years ago, does that me more "born in the place" than one whose ancestors
immigrated in 1714? If you do not mean actually personally born in a place,
I think the category tends to invite stereotypization.=20

I am not telling you to change your language, just want to indicate the
futility of language reformism. Whatever way we turn, the tail is at the
back. As long as we are on the level of small scale ethnic communities, I
think we should stick to what people call themselves. When we turn to larger
"imagined communities" we will however find that any categorization which is
today unbiased, will sooner or later be turned into a derogatory term and be
loaded with negative connotations by some, and seen as honorific by others.
Let us try to be aware of our own language, analyze that of our study
objects, and leave it to others to decide on their own language. Be
generous, and remember that it is more important to communicate than to
discipline each others.

Gudrun Dahl=20