August 18th, 2009

lisbeth

Thought-Stirring Question: Language

As a German teacher, I have always found it fascinating how much a language reflects an individual culture.  I remember someone telling me years ago that Eskimos have tens of different words for "snow" because they have so much of it.  I'm not so sure that's actually true, but it definitely got me thinking about how different people around the world contributed to the development of their mother tongues via their cultural ideals and regularities.

It might come as no surprise to you that German tends to neatly and efficiently create single compound words in order to avoid lengthier phrases... ;-)  In some Native American tribes, the words for colors are based on prisms and only include three or four colors plus black and white.  And there is a tribe in Sudan with 400-some words for cattle.

While training to become a rape crisis advocate, the counselors in charge asked us to think about what our language reflects about our culture.  They did this by showing us a list of phrases and asking us to associate them with an emotion... before explaining why.  That list included things like "nailing it", "pounding it into someone's head", "when push comes to shove", "adding insult to injury", "taking a stab at it", "killing time" and "kicking around an idea".  

(Here is a list I found online in case you want to see more examples, but be careful for violence-related and victim-blaming triggers:
http://docs.google.com/gview?a=v&q=cache:hm-BZI-DL_4J:www.co.linn.or.us/victims/Violent_Language.pdf+violent+phrases+english&hl=en&gl=us)


With that in mind...

*Which "violent" words and phrases do you use?  Are you conscious of your use of them?
*Which words and phrases do you purposefully avoid?  Why?
*How do you think the use of this language reflects our culture?
*How do you think it relates to or affects rape, abuse, torture and other violence in our culture?
*What are your thoughts on the use of these phrases by others around you?