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Semantee Chattopadhyay
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Language is a beautiful thing and from the wisdom of cognitive scientists, language shapes us early, broadly and guides reasoning. So when it comes to speaking about people and their identities specifically we should make sure we are being respectful and empathetic. Though language can shape how we think we can also shape language because it is a living, breathing thing. The words we use every day have a tremendous amount of power whether we are describing other people or events or ideas or the things around us. When people are telling us to say something different, it’s not because they think they know better they just trying to help make our words more accurate and meaningful. For different communities being specific and accurate is about respect that is owed to them. Using words that are historically loaded with violence, injustice and prosecution feel like an act of violence in itself. Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from consequences or judgement.
Many of us are familiar with the idea of saying “firefighter” instead of “fireman” or mail carrier instead of “mailman”. The great thing about using this sort of language is that it includes men and women and includes non-binary people. Being non-binary means that they don’t fit completely into the category of men or women. For some non-binary people that may mean that they feel like a combination of the two. Other non-binary people may feel like a third gender altogether. Some non-binary people are also genderfluid and feel more like one gender and some days and another gender on other days. Much of our everyday language reinforces the false concept of a gender binary. When we create an audience by saying “ladies and gentlemen”, believe out people who aren’t ladies or gentlemen. Instead of saying “ladies and gentlemen”, we could say “honoured guest” or just “welcome, everyone!”. Instead of asking someone if they have brothers and sisters we can ask them if they have siblings. When writing about a single person we can use gender-neutral pronouns like “they” instead of saying “he or she”.