inclusive or exclusive language?
Lief M. Hendrickson (hendrick@NOSC.MIL)
Mon, 2 Jan 1995 18:56:59 PST
The current thread on inclusive language (if that's what it is!)
reveals some more important trends which should warrant our
attention. Seems to me, in this context, a more appropriate term
would be exclusive language.
The discussion started with a post by Bjorn Fry on "human rights
/ culture". In it, he used the word "mankind". I have no doubt
from the context and from what else I've read by this particular
author that the term was meant to be gender inclusive. The
response from Rohrlich, a genderless alleged educator, was an
intense flame that all his "talk about human rights is garbage"
merely because of usage of the word "mankind". Danny Yee stated
the response of people like me to things like that is
predictable. My initial comment to the earlier flame had been a
short three-liner, pointing out that "human" ends in "man" though
I don't think that's what Danny meant. I take it as a complement
if he regards me as one who opposes abusive manipulation of word
As I've indicated before, I tend to believe language usage
describes life more than language usage dictates what happens.
The cart could pull the horse (well, if it was downhill using
gravity!), but usually it's the other way around. This is an
opinion; thought out but not cast in concrete- and also not
likely to be changed by ubiquitous insults of certain small-
minded educators. If you want to kill the horse, then the issue
becomes moot; then there's nothing left to discuss. I, for one,
don't wish to be part of the poisonous polarization of "pro- vs.
anti-" inclusive language. I have no problem in using inclusive
language, but I also don't feel compelled to erase certain words
from my vocabulary- especially ones that I and many others
consider gender-inclusive in every respect.
Concerning the "Museum of Man" in San Diego, there was a recent
survey of the members about changing the name. The issue was
whether gender is implied. I can't tell you the exact
demography of the membership but can say there are about equal
numbers of both gender. The members also represent many
different professions. The consensus was that "Man" in this
usage definitely did not exclude females and the silly idea was
resoundingly defeated. I'm not the only one that regards "Man"
in this type of usage as being gender-inclusive.
Unfortunately, there are certain brainwashed people who have
picked up an irrational bias, possibly from playing word games in
classrooms. For example, Michael Forstadt "can't even imagine
using the term 'mankind' with a straight face". This type of
thinking excludes them from seeing places like San Diego's Museum
of Man where "man" and "mankind" are openly used in a gender-
inclusive sense. To "dignify" the museum with their presence
would brand them as hypocrites by their own self-imposed
standards. I suppose this means they must also ignore and avoid
looking at the moon? On the moon is a sign planted by astronauts
from the U.S.A., that says, "We came in peace for all mankind".
Sally Ride was not on the space expedition that forever
memorialized use of the word "mankind". If she was, I don't
think she would have been hung-up on the wording. I've heard her
speak. She was an excellent astronaut and is an accomplished
physicist. This is how women advance- by doing things, not by
dictating language. Do you want jobs or do you want words? The
immediate meaning of a word is not that important anyway;
language changes all the time- for as long as we continue to use
I've taught on the community college and university level and
would never have considered recruiting my students to some social
agenda by coercive control of their language. The faculty is
there to help the students; the students are not there to recruit
to some cause. I've noticed there are some teachers who are
there because "teaching" is all they can do. Unfortunately, some
of them feel they have to justify their existence by creating
their own little reality and stock it with a separate language.
On looking at the effect, look beyond the number of converts in
terms of numbers. Consider the derision and setbacks it causes
elsewhere. With this process, academia simply ends up with an
exclusive language which must be left behind when dealing with
people in the real world.
The important issue of language here is- who is to be the master?
The speakers (and writers) or the words they use. To a certain
extent, there are limitations on both scores as some things are
difficult to say due to a limitation of appropriate wording that
has shared meaning. Usually, the motivation to communicate leads
to change in language in order to convey some particular message.
The change can be addition or incorporation of new words.
Control of behavior through limiting the exercise of free speech
is the flip side.
In the case of language in the civil rights context, I see no
problem with eliminating usage of certain racially motivated
derogatory terms. I also see no problem in forbidding someone
from shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater. In these cases, the
meaning of the words is clear and generally shared by all
persons. There's no bickering about what a word means. Use of
the word has clear intent, and it's the intent that's at issue.
Some gender-inclusive words, however, are a different matter. If
use of the word "mailman" is intended to exclude females from the
job, then it should be eliminated. I, however, merely see it as
a word with it's origin based on history- when all
"correspondence delivery specialists" were male. Thank you,
Frank Metcalf, for your courteous remark calling attention to my
misspelling of "mail carrier" as "male carrier". It really was a
mistake, which I hadn't noticed. If you'd seen my subsequent
post, it would have been obvious for I stated, "The example of
'mail carrier' was cited earlier". I wasn't testing to see if
you were reading but am glad you were!
Congratulations to Cathy Luther on your "de-lurking". Your tone
is refreshing. If you ever visit San Diego, I'll treat you to an
admission ticket to the "Museum of Man". It really is a great
museum covering early civilizations of all mankind. I hope this
invitation doesn't make it look like you sided with all those
nasty "boys"! You stated that "language changes with culture and
society and vice versa". After reading your other thoughts, I
will be more observant to the "vice versa" part. I share your
appreciation of "this new way to learn".
And now, alas, 'tis time to part til another day. Yet I see-
"Hope, like the gleaming taper's light,
Adorns and cheers our way;
And still, as darker grows the night,
Emits a brighter ray."
Hey guys! The sun has gone down, and it's a bit chilly in this
lair. How 'bout some nice Ruby hot flames to warm the air!