Mississauga woman’s demand for English-speaking doctor spoke volumes: Paradkar 

Interesting reflections on perceived micro-agressions following the open aggression displayed by the woman asking for a white doctor at a clinic.

My mother bristled at the same question – “where do you come from” – given her slight Russian accent.

Since them, I have been particularly sensitive in not asking that question whenever being served by medical professionals, despite my curiosity in terms of how easy or how hard it was for them to become certified and practice in Canada:

The woman’s behaviour comes as a surprise to some because it shatters the delicate veneer of equality that surrounds the idea of multiculturalism.

While her demand for a “white doctor” has received the most attention, it’s her insistence on one who speaks English — in a clinic where everybody clearly speaks it — that interests me because it sheds light on a language-specific “micro aggression”— a term used to describe seemingly inconsequential offences that stem from deeply biased attitudes.

The most commonly known micro aggression is the otherization implicit in “Where do you come from,” invariably asked to people of colour.

Another — and this one also raises the hackles of some white people — takes the form of a compliment: “How articulate you are. How well-spoken.”

So colonized was I that it took me a while to comprehend the offensiveness behind what I thought was essentially a handshake between two equals.

It was also slow to dawn on me because — confession alert — I was busy turning up my nose at the grammar deficiencies of spoken Canadian English, with dropped g’s and h’s, or mispronunciations; “pome,” for poem, airplane for “aeroplane,” all-timers for “Alzheimers,” or missing prepositions; “He wrote me” as opposed to “He wrote to me” or mistaken tenses; “I wrote him” instead of “I have written to him,” among countless others.

How fuddy-duddy of me, you say?

Very.

Urban Indians, who speak English with varying degrees of fluency, are brought up being constantly upbraided on the “proper” way to speak it. The ultimate authority of “propah” were the old men from the upper ranks of the army, navy and air force. Men who would say things like “brolleh” for umbrella, and whose penchant for propriety would have made the Mississauga woman feel considerably provincial.

While I love the English language and try not to see evolution as transgressions, I see the condescension now, and how it cuts across colonial and class lines.

I understand now that when people tell me, “How well you speak!” it’s an expression of surprise at how fluent I am in the Queen’s language, despite my accent, despite where I come from.

My colleague, feature writer Jim Coyle, has experienced this micro-aggression, too.

“As a son of immigrants whose own parents didn’t go past Grade 7, I have an acute ear for the veiled slurs of my betters,” he once told me. “As I moved up in social class, it was often remarked on with surprise how “well-spoken” I was. As if this was remarkable in an Irish Catholic from the wrong side of the tracks.”

It’s a way of patting you on the head for aspiring towards a benchmark modelled on upper-class English ideals.

The establishment of a narrow expression of English as the standard has come at the cost of suppression and erasure of native languages across this land and world over.

The English spoken in the Mississauga clinic wasn’t the woman’s kind of English. Ergo, it was faulty and invited contempt.

The ranter said what many unconsciously feel but don’t express.

When we judge as unintellectual or uneducated someone who speaks differently, we give meritocracy a sucker punch and place mediocrity with the “right” voice above brilliance with the alternative one.

Linguistic bias blinds us to great ideas, gifted stories and scientific advances. It further marginalizes and silences women who, having faced barriers to English education, are now rejected from the simplest of jobs. This hurts our productivity and leaves us culturally impoverished.

In the end, it leaves us well beneath the promise of the potential true multiculturalism holds.

Source: Mississauga woman’s demand for English-speaking doctor spoke volumes: Paradkar | Toronto Star

To Honor Canadian Natives, a Lawmaker Speaks in Mohawk – The New York Times

Nice:

Cultural appropriation is a touchy topic in Canada these days, with the recent controversy in Canadian media over whether it is appropriate for nonindigenous writers to take on a native voice for artistic expression. But Marc Miller, a member of Canada’s Parliament, decided he was on solid ground in giving a speech in Kanyen’kéha, the language of the Mohawks, in the House of Commons on Thursday.

“Language is one of those things that, if you apply the appropriation rule, would die faster,” Mr. Miller said in a telephone interview. He said he was inspired to learn the language because the district he represents in Quebec covers traditional Mohawk land.

“I stand here to honor the Mohawk language, and I pay my respects to their people,” Mr. Miller said in Kanyen’kéha to mark the beginning of Canada’s National Aboriginal History Month. He said in the short speech that he hoped to hear the language more often in Parliament, and that more Canadians would “be proud to use it to speak to one another.”

Marc Miller delivers a statement in Kanyen’kéha, the language of the Mohawks. Video by CBC News

Indigenous languages are dying in Canada, as they are in much of the industrialized world, largely as a consequence of past government efforts to stamp out their use and force assimilation into the larger population. In Canada, that was accomplished through residential boarding schools where indigenous students were forbidden to speak their native tongues.

The government has tried to make amends for this history in recent years, after a wrenching Truth and Reconciliation Commission laid bare the amount of abuse some 150,000 indigenous students experienced at the government-financed schools over more than a century. The former prime minister, Stephen Harper, apologized on behalf of the government. His successor, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, followed up with a vow to adopt all 94 recommendations from the commission, known in Canada as calls to action.

The government has promised to spend about $90 million Canadian (in United States currency, about $67 million) over the next three years to support indigenous languages and culture, including $69 million Canadian for such things as classes to keep alive native languages.

It has also committed to work with the indigenous population to codevelop an Indigenous Languages Act that will help ensure the preservation and revitalization of indigenous languages.

Fewer than 600 people in Canada cited Kanyen’kéha as their mother tongue in the country’s 2011 census. All but a few of the 60 indigenous languages that still exist in the country are expected to disappear within the next generation.

ICYMI: Les allophones fréquentent les écoles francophones au Québec: From 15 percent in 1971 to 89 percent

A dramatic shift:

La très grande majorité des élèves dont la langue maternelle est autre que le français ou l’anglais fréquentent les écoles francophones au Québec: au primaire et au secondaire, ils sont passés de 15 à 89 % entre 1971 et 2015, rapporte l’Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF).

«Une progression très marquée», soit six fois plus d’élèves, note l’Office, qui a publié deux rapports vendredi, soit un sur l’enseignement collégial et un autre sur les établissements préscolaires, primaires et secondaires.

L’OQLF relève aussi une hausse importante de près de 20 points de pourcentage depuis 1976 du nombre d’anglophones qui fréquentent l’école en français, cette proportion atteignant même 28 % en 2015.

D’ailleurs, cette année-là, la très grande majorité des élèves du Québec – toutes langues maternelles confondues – apprenaient leur alphabet à l’école en français, soit 90 % de ceux du préscolaire, primaire et secondaire.

Mais cette fréquentation accrue de l’école française n’est pas toujours un choix: ces chiffres s’expliquent en partie par l’adoption par le gouvernement du Québec en 1977 de la Charte de la langue française qui oblige certaines catégories d’enfants à fréquenter l’école en français au primaire et au secondaire. Au niveau collégial toutefois, ils ont la liberté de choisir.

«C’est sûr que le fait que la Charte a été adoptée, et les nouvelles normes pour l’inscription à l’école de la langue française, cela peut être un des facteurs qui a joué», a souligné en entrevue le porte-parole de l’OQLF, Jean-Pierre Le Blanc.

Il est ainsi à noter qu’entre 1986 et 2015, la proportion d’élèves admissibles à l’école anglaise a chuté chez les anglophones et les allophones, respectivement de 12 et de 26 %.

Chez ceux ayant une langue maternelle tierce, la plus grande portion de la hausse de fréquentation de l’école en français est survenue dans les années suivant l’adoption de la Charte, entre 1976 et 1991, est-il noté dans le rapport.

Source: Les allophones fréquentent les écoles francophones au Québec | Stéphanie Marin | Éducation

Michael J. Donnelly and Peter Loewen: Canadians’ feelings about immigration are mixed at best

Interesting new study by political scientists and Peter Loewen, reinforcing in part some of the conclusions of the earlier Angus Reid poll (CBC-Angus Reid poll: Canadians want minorities to do more to ‘fit in’) and subject to some of the same critiques (Angus Reid’s survey actually shows high level of support for our diverse society: CardozoHow Angus Reid, CBC got it wrong about multiculturalism: Jedwab).

That being said, their policy conclusions – our political system reduces the risk, politicians and others should avoid pandering or cultivating xenophobic attitudes – are sound:

Our core conclusion:? Canadian attitudes are not exceptionally pro-immigrant or racially enlightened. Instead, Canadian society contains the potential for the same kinds of hate that we see elsewhere.

One question we asked was whether respondents would support, oppose, or neither support nor oppose cutting off all immigration to Canada. Not surprisingly, only 19 per cent of respondents supported such a step. However, only 46 per cent expressed opposition, with the rest on the fence. How does this compare to our southern neighbours? In 2010, the same question was asked of the American public. There, a similar 42 per cent expressed opposition. When asked about allowing immigrants from poor countries, the Canadian public answered more positively than 9 and less positively than 11 European countries where the same question was asked in 2014 and 2015. In other words, Canadian attitudes are normal for a developed country. Canada is not exceptional on that score.

The study, a project of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (MISC), also found that while attitudes among Canadians towards refugees and immigrants range largely from positive to benign, those views are not necessarily strongly held.

Study author Michael Donnelly, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, concludes that, as a result, there is potential for intolerant, anti-immigrant, and anti-refugee sentiment to increase.

None of this means that Canadian politics will inevitably go the way of populist rhetoric and action. Canadian institutions and — especially — Canadian leaders have the ability to guide politics, to maintain the norms of non-racism and to pursue policies of inclusion and cooperation. Attitudes do not lead inexorably to policies or even to politics. As two of the three largest Canadian political parties choose new leaders, those party elites and activists who have a say in the process have a duty to avoid the mistakes of the U.S. Republican Party. There, a fractured elite and the use of primary elections meant that Donald Trump could use racist demagoguery to capture the leadership of a party that contains many for whom such rhetoric was not attractive. That, in turn, meant that when the normal processes of partisanship and retrospective voting took over in the general election, he had a roughly 50/50 chance of capturing the presidency.

To see if this could happen in Canada, we asked respondents who expressed support for one of the four largest parties to choose between hypothetical candidates for leadership, based only on their names, ages, province of residence and positions on the CPP, immigration and refugees. What we found is, in some ways encouraging, but contains hints of danger for the Canadian model of openness and multiculturalism. We saw no evidence of discrimination against candidates with Indian or Francophone names, and no evidence of discrimination against female names. However, among none of the parties was there clear evidence of an electoral benefit to more open immigration or refugee policies. Indeed, among Conservatives, accepting zero Syrian refugees is a “winning” strategy, and among NDP partisans, a candidate that called for increasing economic immigration appears to suffer a large electoral penalty.

We do not write this to encourage candidates to pursue such policies in their respective leadership contests. After all, public surveys offer little insight into the opinions of the small slice of Canadians who will select leaders in both parties. Rather we offer this as evidence of two claims. First, Canadian institutions of leader selection may lead to better, less divisive leaders. Second, politicians and those selecting them have a responsibility to avoid xenophobic pandering and to reinforce the norms of behavior that have allowed the Canadian model, for all its faults, to create the open, exciting and peaceful society we enjoy.

Source: Michael J. Donnelly and Peter Loewen: Canadians’ feelings about immigration are mixed at best | National Post

Another poll from Pew provides a slightly different picture:

Most Canadians don’t care where residents are born, but they do care about whether they speak English or French.

A global study of national identity by Pew Research has discovered that Canadians are among the least inclined to think place of birth defines whether someone is an authentic citizen.

Only 21 per cent of Canadians said place of birth is important. That compares to 32 per cent of those in the U.S. and more than 50 per cent of the population in Greece and Japan who believe birthplace is crucial to national identity.

The Pew Research study was done in the wake of growing concerns in the U.S. and Europe about globalization, high migration rates and protectionism, factors that have contributed to the rise of Donald Trump and immigration-skeptic parties.

pew-graph-identity-place-of-birth

Canada under the Liberals has gone a different direction, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talking about this being the world’s “first post-national country.”

Even though Canadians did not emphasize place of birth in the Pew poll, they did care about whether residents can speak English or French, the official languages.

Three in five Canadians agreed that “being able to speak our national language(s) is very important for being truly Canadian.”

Canadians’ language expectations, however, were still quite a bit lower than they are the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan and the U.S. (See chart below.)

In Canada, one out of five people do not have English or French as their mother tongue.

Source: ‘True’ Canadians don’t need to be born here, but language matters: Poll

‘Th’ sound to vanish from English language by 2066 because of multiculturalism, say linguists 

Languages either evolve or they decline. Fascinating:

By 2066, linguists are predicting that the “th” sound will vanish completely in the capital because there are so many foreigners who struggle to pronounce interdental consonants – the term for a sound created by pushing the tongue against the upper teeth.

Already Estuary English – a hybrid of Cockney and received pronunciation (RP) which is prevalent in the South East – is being replaced by Multicultural London English (MLE) which is heavily influenced by Caribbean, West African and Asian Communities.

But within the next few decades immigration will have fundamentally altered the language, according to experts at the University of York.

We can expect to see significant changes between now and the middle of the century.Dr Dominic Watt, University of York

The “th” sound – also called the voiced dental nonsibliant fricative – is likely to change to be replaced an “f”, “d”, or “v” meaning “mother” will be pronounced “muvver” and “thick” will be voiced as “fick”.

However the ‘h’ that fell silent in Cockney dialect is set to return allowing ‘ere’ to become ‘here’ once more.

Dr Dominic Watt, a sociolinguistics expert from the University of York, said: “Given the status of London as the linguistically most influential city in the English-speaking world, we can expect to see significant changes between now and the middle of the century.

“The major changes in the way we speak over the next 50 years will involve a simplification of the sound structure of words, they’ll become shorter probably

“By looking at how English has changed over the last 50 years we can identify patterns that seem to repeat. British accents seem to be less based on class these days.

“Languages also change when they come into contact with one another. English has borrowed thousands of words from other languages: mainly French, Latin and Greek, but there are ‘loan words’ from dozens of other languages in the mix.”

The Sounds of The Future report was produced from a study involving analysis of recordings from the last 50 years as well as social media language use.

Other changes likely to become widespread by 2066 include a habit known as “yod dropping” in which the “u” sound is replaced with an “oo”. It means that “duke” becomes “dook”, “news” is pronounced “nooze” and “beauty” changes to “booty”.

Consonant “smushing” is also predicted where two sounds collapse together completely so that “wed” and “red” will soon be indistinguishable.

Likewise the “l” at the end of words will be dropped so that the words “Paul”, “paw” and “pool” all sound the same. Similiarly, “text” will lose the final “t” to become “tex”.

And, the glottal stop pronunciation of “t” – a brief catch in the throat when the tongue tip closed against the roof of the mouth – will be the default pronunciation.

Brendan Gunn, a voice coach who is currently working with Pierce Brosnan on his new US series said: “The younger generation always wants to be different from the older generation and that process will continue throughout history.

“Text speak which is a form of shortening will become ordinary speak, so you may end of saying ‘tagLOL’ or ‘toteschill’ which means hashtag laugh out loud or totally chilled.

“Even in the Royal family it is probable that Prince George will speak much differently to the Queen. In London I think we will see the ‘th’ becoming an ‘f’ all the time.”

 Technology will also change the way people speak, and the experts predict that as artificial intelligence emerges the, computers could begin to invent new words.

Dr Watt added: “It is conceivable that some of the words that will come into English in the next 50 years will have been invented by computers because as computers become more intelligent it may be they start creating words of their own and feeding the, back to us.

“Already we’re seeing text words phrases coming into respected dictionaries. As time goes on we’re going to see more and more of that kind of thing.

“The traditional dialects will die out and others will morph into the speech of large urban centres.”

Source: ‘Th’ sound to vanish from English language by 2066 because of multiculturalism, say linguists 

When does Islam generate Western anxiety? – The Washington Post

Interesting and relevant analysis, an interesting suggestion for further research and some likely controversial advice for Muslim groups in terms of their use of words:

In recent years, the United States and its “Western” allies have faced countless foreign policy choices involving the Islamic world, from engaging with Islamist governments in Egypt and Tunisia to negotiating with Iran to managing drone campaigns in at least three countries. While foreign policy decisions are shaped by many factors, public opinion is a major input. So how does the perceived Islamic character of actors influence foreign policy attitudes toward them?

Unfortunately, our existing understanding of these perceptions is limited. Research shows that religious differences are an important ingredient in foreign policy attitudes — recent survey experiments have shown that Western citizens were more willing to start a war against “Muslim” than “Christian” adversaries. But religious differences are often more complex.

Consider the key participants in the Syrian civil war: The Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, the “moderate” Free Syrian Army, Kurdish rebel groups, Hezbollah and the Bashar al-Assad regime are all broadly “Muslim,” but their Islamic character is portrayed — by themselves as well as by Western media — quite differently. Do these differences shape foreign policy attitudes toward them? When are Western populations really fearful and mistrustful of Islamic political actors?

Our new study in Political Research Quarterly explores these dynamics. In an original survey experiment, we randomly assigned subjects different news stories about the ongoing Syrian conflict in which we manipulated the Islamic character of a fictitious yet realistic foreign actor — the “Free Syria Movement” (FSM) — seeking U.S. military assistance. Specifically, we examined whether giving the actor common Islamic language like “Allahu akbar,” policy goals such as sharia law, and/or labels including “Islamist” affected the respondents’ social affect, political attitudes and foreign policy preferences toward the group. Conducted in May 2015 via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk) platform, the survey was completed by 1,095 respondents, with at least 120 in each of the eight conditions.

1. Islamic cues do indeed matter.

Under normal circumstances, we found that respondents’ attitudes towards the FSM were relatively benign. Although they knew the group was Muslim, they tended to give neutral or mixed responses about its level of trustworthiness, compatibility with American values, emotional impact on them and potential role as an American regional ally. Likewise, respondents had mixed views about sending FSM the requested American military aid, although they leaned slightly against doing so overall.

In contrast, with the three cues incorporated, all of these responses shifted in a significantly negative direction. Respondents tended to see the group as untrustworthy, incompatible with their values and interests, a source of fear and a potential regional adversary. Their willingness to give it aid moved firmly toward opposition, dropping on average by more than seven percentage points. And other attitudes saw even larger negative shifts, with the average trust in the group dropping by 10 percentage points. Essentially, respondents did not inherently have hostile attitudes toward the Islamic actor, only when “cued” to do so.

2. Some cues matter more than others.

Yet we also found that some of the Islamic cues harmed attitudes toward the group far more than others. Of the three, insertion of “sharia law” as a policy goal had the most harmful impact, while use of the “Islamist” label did not yield any statistically significant negative effects on any of the outcomes. This is not wholly surprising. Although sharia can have many different meanings in the Muslim world — from inclusive welfare states to punitive morality codes — Western elites have characterized this concept solely in terms of violence and oppression. In the words of Newt Gingrich, sharia is “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the rest of the world as we know it.” In fact, anti-sharia legislation had been proposed in 23 American states by 2011. This “sharia-phobia” is not unique: other broad Islamic political goals such as the pursuit of a caliphate have been received with similar apprehension in Western political discourse.

3. The influence of these cues depends on partisanship.

Finally, we found that the impact of the cues depends on party identification. With all three cues activated, for example, we see a 22 percentage point drop in trust in the group among Republicans, a 10 percentage point drop among independents and a 5 percentage point drop among Democrats. This also is not wholly unexpected. Republican political elites often describe national security threats in more explicitly Islamic terms — with a greater willingness to label terrorist groups as “Islamic” and invoke concepts such as sharia and the caliphate to characterize their goals. We interpret this mostly as Republican identifiers taking cues from their elites. Yet, as indicated above, independents and Democrats are not immune from these reactions either.

This study suggests at least two promising areas of future research. First, we can examine the flip side of the coin: how adopting Christian language, policies and labels in the West influences foreign policy views in the Islamic world. This could help determine whether these processes mirror each other, in a Sisyphean cycle of religious politicization. Second, we could research whether and how these negative reactions to Islamic cues can be effectively countered. Does including brief translations and explanations of these cues that highlight their positive aspects, diverse meanings and/or Judeo-Christian equivalents ameliorate Western apprehension?

For now, we know that politicized Islamic cues such as sharia spark deeply negative Western perceptions and preferences toward their users. In the foreseeable future, Muslim actors seeking Western assistance or support would be wise to use them with great care.

Source: When does Islam generate Western anxiety? – The Washington Post

Euphemisms are like underwear – best changed frequently | McWhorter

Another good piece on the use of words and language by John McWhorter (see The big problem with calling it ‘radical Islam’ – CNN.com):

What the cognitive psychologist and linguist Steven Pinker has artfully termed ‘the euphemism treadmill’ is not a tic or a stunt. It is an inevitable and, more to the point, healthy process, necessary in view of the eternal gulf between language and opinion. We think of euphemisms as one-time events, where one prissily coins a way of saying something that detracts from something unpleasant about it. That serves perfectly well as a definition of what euphemism is, but misses the point that euphemism tends to require regular renewal. This is because thought changes more slowly than we can change the words for it, and has a way of catching up with our new coinages. Since that is likely eternal, we must accept that we’ll change our terms just like we change our underwear, as a part of linguistic life in a civilised society.

The reason for this rolling semantic renewal is that the meanings of words are, in actual usage, messier than their dictionary definitions, cast in the tidy eternity of print, might make them seem. We store words in our brains amid webs of association, with experiences, impressions and other words. As a result, a word is always redolent of various associations, metaphorical extensions, beyond its core meaning.

For example, generous once meant noble, with no connection to sharing. It’s what William Shakespeare meant when he used the term. So when Edmund in King Lear defends himself against dismissal as low-born by insisting that

… my dimensions are as well compact,

My mind as generous, and my shape as true,

As honest madam’s issue

it can throw us a bit, making us wonder how a mind can be generous, and we find it a bit curious that someone would defend himself against a charge of bastardy by pointing out his magnanimity. However, in earlier societies, the noble person was often responsible for a degree of charity to the ordinary population, such that magnanimity was a trait associated with nobility. Over time, especially as formal nobility itself had ever less importance (think of the fate of the Crawleys in Downton Abbey), the meaning of magnanimity changed from a resonance of generous to the meaning it has today.

A word, then, is like a bell tone, with a central pitch seasoned by overtones. As the tone fades away, the overtones can hang in the air. Words are similar, with opinion, assumption and, more to the point, bias as equivalents to the overtones. Crippled began as a sympathetic term. However, a sad reality of human society is that there are negative associations and even dismissal harboured against those with disabilities. Thus crippled became accreted with those overtones, so to speak, to the point that handicapped was fashioned as a replacement term free from such baggage.

What a warm, charitable word welfare is at its core, and how much static and bile we must peel away to hear it that way again

However, because humans stayed human, it was impossible that handicappedwould not, over time, become accreted with similar gunk. Enter disabled, which is now long-lived enough that many process it, too, as harbouring shades of abuse, which conditions a replacement such as differently abled. Notably, the International Society for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled later changed its name again to Rehabilitation, International; today, the organisation prefers to be known simply as ‘RI’, bypassing the inconvenience of actual words altogether. The story has been similar for retarded being replaced by cognitively impaired; for welfare, which today is more often referred to as cash assistance; or by the faceless initials of programmes disbursing it, such as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families).

Opinion can permeate a euphemism to such an extent that it becomes difficult to conceive of how it once sounded. Welfare was a replacement for what was once commonly referred to as home relief. The empathy in that term was soon blunted by associations with the people granted relief, such that older generations will recall home relief practically uttered as a negative epithet by the 1950s and ’60s. Meanwhile, reflect on what a warm, charitable word welfare is at its core, and how much static and bile we must peel away to hear it that way again. Similar is affirmative action: a term that 50 years ago resounded with a clean, stalwart clang of high-minded social justice now sounds freighted, sour, vague and tired to many on both sides of the political spectrum. Racial preferences was an attempt at a replacement – and note its similar fate.

As a lad decades ago, I worked briefly in the production of a magazine about family planning. Unfamiliar with the terminology, I spent months in this job before fully understanding that family planning referred to contraception, not just people musing over when they ‘planned’ to have children. Why the obliqueness? Because family planning was a replacement euphemism for birth control, coined in 1914 by the US contraception activist Margaret Sanger. Note that birth control was in itself as elliptical and abstract a terminology as family planning. Yet today, birth controlsummons the concrete image of a contraceptive pill or other device. It was inevitable that this would become the case for birth control given the controversy over its use.

This sheds light on the linguist George Lakoff’s briefly acclaimed proposal during the George W Bush administration that Democrats could regain influence by changing the terms for things reviled by Republicans. Taxes could be membership fees; trial lawyers could be public protection attorneys. As fresh as this idea seemed, it could have only worked temporarily, as the history of words such as welfaredemonstrates. The nature of language and humanity is such that, after about 20 years, those criticising taxation rates would have come to process and discuss ‘membership fees’ with the same contempt with which they once discussed ‘taxes’, just as it has got to the point that custodian now has roughly the same feel as janitor, for which it emerged as a euphemism in the 1940s. Custodian makes one think not of ‘custody’ but of a mop.

Thought will always catch up with the word. Make no mistake, the thoughts can be ones that many would consider welcome. A hundred years ago, in industry, efficiency was associated with the ‘scientific management’ theories of Frederick Taylor, the US mechanical engineer and one of the first management consultants, in search of the maximum output from factory labourers. However, as this kind of efficiency often led to the need for fewer workers, a question arose as to whom the efficiency was intended most to benefit.

Today, efficiency carries a faintly minatory air, in contrast to its first neutral, and then glamorous, feel as the 20th century got underway. Downsizing, an attempt to euphemise the dismissal of workers for the purposes of the bottom line, rapidly lost any impartial connotation it was crafted to purvey. In the mid-20th century, urban renewal was a term of art for what on the ground displaced millions of Americans, often from low-income but stable neighbourhoods deemed ‘slums’ and razed down. Today, that reality has been aired amply and publicly, such that urban renewal calls to mind a bulldozer mowing down innocent people’s homes. Notably, there seems to be no replacement term for urban renewal, partly because the policies of urban czars such as New York’s city planner Robert Moses have been so thoroughly repudiated that public officials no longer espouse any similar doctrine. Ultimately, words alone cannot do this: urban renewal itself began as a euphemism for the more direct slum clearance, but the practice only burgeoned for decades thereafter. It took thought changing to truly transform.

‘Innovation’ has been fashionable for long enough among corporate and political types that it has taken on their hucksterish associations

The euphemism treadmill, then, is neither just a form of bureaucratese, nor of identity politics. It is a symptom of the fact that, however much we would like it to be otherwise, it’s easier to change language than to change thought. Moreover, the euphemism treadmill is neither new nor does it churn faster than it once did. When you ask someone Where’s the men’s?, you are using a replacement for the restroom that can summon a vision of a certain undersanitised room in the back of a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant. Yet the very idea of it being a ‘rest’ room began as an exquisite attempt to wave away miasmic associations after bathroom ceased to do the job any better than had toilet or lavatory, deflecting attention to grooming and cleansing over what else happens in the room. Historically, lavatory is first attested in 1864, restroom followed hot on its heels a few decades later, at the turn of the 20th century, and then men’s room came into fashion in the 1920s.

This means that, in a linguistically mature society, we should expect that the terms we introduce to help us kick off new ways of thinking will require periodic replacement, like tyres. In our moment, special-needs student would appear about due for a swap-out. Meanwhile, the term innovation has been fashionable for just long enough among corporate and political types that it has taken on their hucksterish associations. Invention, for their purposes, would be better, although by about 2035 we can assume that this word too will sound, from the mouths of that era’s managers and mayors, equally fulsome.

Reality persists. It’s language we have control over – at least, for a while.

Source: Euphemisms are like underwear – best changed frequently | Aeon Essays

Québec dit avoir été trop «passif» | Le Devoir

Suspect the reasons are deeper than what a small advertising campaign can fix:

La désaffection des immigrants envers les cours de francisation est en partie la faute de Québec, a reconnu lundi la ministre Kathleen Weil, qui dit que le gouvernement « a été passif ». Pour corriger la situation, Québec mise sur une campagne estivale de promotion des cours.

Québec investira 250 000 $ d’ici le 30 août en publicité dans différents journaux, radios et sites Internet — de même que dans le métro et les autobus de Montréal — pour inciter les immigrants à s’inscrire à des cours qui, souligne-t-on, ne coûtent rien. « Apprendre le français, c’est gratuit et c’est gagnant », vante ainsi le slogan de la campagne.

L’objectif est d’augmenter de 10 % le nombre d’immigrants qui suivent des cours de francisation, a indiqué la ministre de l’Immigration. Selon le rapport annuel de gestion 2014-2015 du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Diversité et de l’Inclusion [MIDI], 26 109 personnes ont participé à un ou des cours de français l’an dernier.

C’est là une baisse de 6,1 % par rapport à l’année précédente — résultant notamment d’un recul de fréquentation des cours de français à temps plein (-6,3 %) et des cours en ligne (-30 %). Dans les faits, si l’objectif est atteint, Québec retrouvera le niveau atteint en 2011-2012, mais demeurera sous celui de 2012-2013 (29 200 personnes).

En janvier, Le Devoir révélait que près de 60 % des immigrants adultes qui ne connaissent pas le français en arrivant au Québec refusent de suivre des cours. Or, si l’apprentissage du français est évidemment important pour l’intégration à la société québécoise, il l’est aussi pour aider à la rétention des immigrants. Une étude du MIDI dévoilée en avril montrait que 46 % des immigrants admis entre 2004 et 2013, sélectionnés en raison de leurs qualifications professionnelles et ne parlant pas français à leur arrivée, avaient quitté le Québec en 2015.

Méconnaissance

« Nous avons noté que pas assez de personnes immigrantes se prévalaient de notre offre en francisation », a indiqué Mme Weil. Elle a fait valoir que cette offre est « complète, variée et flexible » en fonction des besoins et des horaires, et que le gouvernement offre jusqu’à 115 $ par semaine à ceux qui sont inscrits à temps plein et ne peuvent donc pas travailler en même temps. « Ces éléments sont méconnus », pense Mme Weil.

Source: Québec dit avoir été trop «passif» | Le Devoir

Arabic, English language exchange creates community connections

Good small initiative bringing people together:

“With the influx of Syrian refugees and the outpouring of public desire to help, I thought it was a right time to try and start a language exchange program focussing on Arabic and English. So I started networking.”

She got a $2,500 grant from UBC’s Global Responses to the Refugee Crisis for rental costs and language materials. She found a meeting space at the Ajyal Islamic Centre in downtown Vancouver. She put the word out for participants. Twenty women signed up for the course — 10 English-speaking Canadians and 10 Arabic speakers. The participants were then divided into pairs — one English speaker to one Arabic speaker — and were told they would be responsible for each other’s instruction. Over the course’s 10-week term, each session would be divided in half between English speakers helping the Arabic speakers learn English, and then the Arabic speakers helping the English speakers learn Arabic.

For the English speakers, who knew little or no Arabic, it was tough going. But what they did find instructive were the Arabic-speaking women themselves. They hailed from Eqypt, Kuwait, Libya, Iraq and Syria. They confounded stereotype. Several were professionals. Several were refugees. Hazar AlSibaai, a civil engineer, and her 16-year-old daughter, Sana AlAyoubi, were Syrians who had spent three years in a Jordanian refugee camp before coming to Canada. Michelle Kaczmarek, a Masters student in library and information studies at UBC, was partnered with Hazar, and Shalene Takara, a clinical counsellor, partnered Sana.

“I found them very friendly and incredibly joyous,” said Kaczmarek, “and the group very diverse as well. It was important to recognize that diversity in this massive Arabic-speaking world.”

“In every class we did,” Takara said, “we focussed on a theme. One of them, for example, was about food, and Hazar and I talked about what we cooked, where we shopped, where we came from … everyday things. It was quite playful and fun, and we joked a lot, and that part was unexpected for me. I think how much we shared beyond the language exchange came as a surprise.”

Hazar, whose English is halting, said she wanted to improve her English so she might go back to school and eventually find work as an engineer here. But that, she said, would be difficult. Sana, who took English in school in Syria, spoke much more fluently, and attends high school here now. (At one point, she brought in her physics homework so Kaczmarek could help her with it.) She took the class, she said, not only to improve her English but “to engage the community here.” She hopes to go on to university and become a pharmacologist.

But life here was very different from what she knew, she said. “It’s very difficult. I need time. It’s not just about the language; it’s everything that’s different.”

Not too much can be made of 10 weeks of language lessons, of course. A feel-good story is one thing, but it doesn’t make it any easier for Hazar to find work or Sana to pass her exams. It doesn’t guarantee what little Arabic they learned would stay with Kaczmarek or Takara, or that lasting relationships would blossom between any of the 20 women. It won’t stop wars, or doors from closing.

On the other hand, they were 20 women who, despite the cultural gulf, enjoyed each other’s company. And at the end of the last session, everyone stayed late after class, sat down to a meal and broke bread together.

Source: Arabic, English language exchange creates community connections | Vancouver Sun

When a Phrase Takes On New Meaning: ‘Radical Islam,’ Explained – The New York Times

More on language and terminology, another good piece:

When I asked Mr. Hamid [a scholar at the Brookings Institution] this, he countered with a different question. Given how many labels already exist to describe terrorists that draw on Islam, why insist on this one?

He listed several — “radical jihadists, Salafis, Islamist extremists, jihadis, jihadi-Salafists” — none of which, he said, carry the baggage of “radical Islam.”

But if it’s that baggage that repels scholars, it may also be what draws others. “Radical Islam” has come to imply certain things about issues that are closer to home than abstract terrorist ideology: political correctness, migration, and the question of who belongs.

Those same issues have animated debates over terrorism and terminology in other societies. In Germany, “multiculturalism” has become shorthand for larger questions of how to absorb migrants and whether there is a degree of minimum assimilation. There is endless sparring over “British values,” and what sort of burden this puts on migrants before they will be welcomed into society.

France has had its own parsing of “radical Islam,” though the fight over “secularism” is even fiercer.

Even majority Muslim societies have had versions of this same argument, Mr. Hamid pointed out. In Egypt, he said, the struggle over terms is, in part, a way of litigating whether parties like the Muslim Brotherhood are ideologically akin to terror groups — and therefore whether they should be allowed to participate in society.

What these debates have in common is that arguing about how to define terrorism becomes a way to push and pull the contours of national identity, determining who is invited in to that identity and who is kept out.

In every case, the debate is framed as one of pluralism versus security. Pinning terrorism on “multiculturalism” or non-secularism or foreign values or “radical Islam” all portray inclusiveness as somehow threatening and exclusiveness as safer.

The question of whether pluralism and security are indeed in tension, or whether pluralism in fact enhances security, is one that people around the world have long grappled with. But it’s hard to discuss because it is so core to national identity. Debating semantics is much easier.

Source: When a Phrase Takes On New Meaning: ‘Radical Islam,’ Explained – The New York Times