More Than Words: Why Language Matters in Communication
November 18, 2013
November 18, 2013
Communication is crucial in shaping public perception of social issues. From the words we use in corporate communications and advertising, to our tone of voice in interpersonal communication, the way we talk about subjects inevitably relays our opinion of them. This communication not only describes our opinions; it shapes the opinions of others and contributes to a larger social narrative.
A few prominent examples of the importance of language come to mind. The phrase ‘illegal immigrant,’ for instance, has received much criticism as a derogatory and dehumanizing term. Though it may seem relatively innocuous, it has contributed greatly to public perception of undocumented immigrants. By demarcating human beings as ‘illegal,’ the term reduces a large, diverse group of individuals to one single shared attribute – their supposed criminality.
Another example of the importance of language can be found in the phrase ‘both genders.’ It is a term that has been criticized by LGBTQ advocates for perpetuating the gender binary and contributing to the erasure of Trans* and gender non-conforming individuals. In other words, use of this phrase furthers the concept that there are only two genders, ignoring the fact that plenty of people identify as neither, both, or some combination thereof.
To that point, last year, the Associated Press, USA Today, and L.A. Times updated their policies to no longer include the term ‘illegal immigrant.’ And internationally, Sweden has introduced a third gender neutral pronoun while Germany has officially made a third gender option available on all birth certificates. But the point remains: language matters and as long as we are communicating, it’s our duty to do so in a socially responsible and ethical way.