Don’t Believe a Word


David Shariatmadari’s book explodes language myths:

’Each chapter explodes a common myth about language. Shariatmadari begins with the most common myth: that standards of English are declining. This is a centuries-old lament for which, he points out, there has never been any evidence. Older people buy into the myth because young people, who are more mobile and have wider social networks, are innovators in language as in other walks of life. Their habit of saying “aks” instead of “ask”, for instance, is a perfectly respectable example of metathesis, a natural linguistic process where the sounds in words swap round. (The word “wasp” used to be “waps” and “horse” used to be “hros”.) Youth is the driver of linguistic change. This means that older people feel linguistic alienation even as they control the institutions – universities, publishers, newspapers, broadcasters – that define standard English.

Another myth Shariatmadari dismantles is that foreign languages are full of untranslatable words. This misconception serves to exoticise other nationalities and cultures, making them sound quaint or bizarre. It amuses us to think that there are 27 words for eyebrow in Albanian. But we only really think this because of our grammar-blindness about Albanian, which can easily form adjectival compounds by joining two words together…

…He also rescues nonstandard forms, such as African American Vernacular English (AAVE), from the routine condescension meted out to them. AAVE misses out the linking “to be” verb (“you late”) but then so do many other languages. The AAVE construction “he be singing” does not mean “he is singing” but “he sings [as a hobby, professionally]”. It is an efficient means of marking the habitual aspect. “Imma” for “I’m going to” is another standard linguistic move: cutting a word or phrase that is just a grammatical marker. “Imma” doesn’t work with the more literal sense of “going to”, which is why you can say “Imma let you finish” (I’m going to let you finish) but not “Imma the shops” (I’m going to the shops).…’

Via The Guardian

America Wasn’t a Democracy, Until Black Americans Made It One

Unknown‘The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals.…’

Via 3 Quarks Daily

The Complicated Issue of Transableism

The complicated issue of transableism 1050x700I’ve written here a few times about a condition to which I referred as apotemnophilia, a craving to have a body part amputated. I had never considered the parallels, as this article does, to gender dysphoria and gender transition. Being transabled, or having body integrity identity dysphoria, refers to the feeling that one is a disabled person trapped in an able body, that one is meant to be an amputee. The anthropologist Jenny Davis has written about the variety of ways transabled people express what she has called their “impairment needs”:

The term wannabe refers to those who want/need to have a physical impairment. Pretenders act out their impairment-needs by, for example, folding an appendage, inserting ear plugs, wearing opaque contacts, walking on crutches, wheeling themselves in a chair, or wearing neck/leg/back braces. Devotees experience fetishistic attractions toward the physically impaired bodies of others…

The natural reaction to transablism (which I admit I felt when I wrote about apotemnophilia) is one of incredulity or abhorrence. Exploring that reaction, it seems to be based on the assumption that amputation is a choice, or a learned preference, for the affected person. And the choice of such a “socially devalued bodily state” as disability is stigmatized. But Davis’ investigation suggests that it might rather be thought of as essential. Again, this is in many ways parallel to the experiences of transgendered people as I understand them. Until gender dysphoria was understood and accepted, it seemed to many that the choice to transition was the problem, or the disorder, rather than the solution for the affected person. In both the transgender and the transable situations, wanting to transition is a route toward being one’s true self rather than departing from it. Transable people, observes Davis, often initially resisted a notion of wanting to stable themselves which they found abhorrent, but lost the battle. In the subset of “wannabes” who had sought psychotherapy for their amputation urges, therapy was never successful in changing the desires or relieving the distress. In contrast, it appears that those who have obtained a desired amputation find relief in ways they have been unable to get by other means.

So accepting the concept of body integrity identity dysphoria challenges us to consider the assertion that transabled people seeking amputation ought to be able to get them from reputable surgeons. If denied, many may either patronize disreputable back alley surgeons, injure a limb to compel medical amputation, or attempt to do it to themselves. Other elective surgical procedures are used to make the body conform better to social ideals; why shouldn’t people be allowed to change in ways with which society is less comfortable?

Of course, the parallel to gender transition may break down in at least one way. Satisfying the desire to maim or disable the body may entail enormous financial costs to care for the resultant lifelong disability. Thus, it may not merely be a matter of respecting the right to autonomy.


Via JSTOR Daily