Jargon and Linguistic Discrimination

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They can bring people together and they can just as easily tear them apart.  It comes in so many names:

  • Jargon
  • Slang
  • Ebonics
  • Textspeak
  • Bureaucratese
  • Technobabble
  • Gibberish
  • Idioms

The result, however, remains the same.  The use of words has often served to separate groups of people through a language known only to them.

With the coming holiday (Martin Luther King Jr. Day) my mind turns to the many ways society has of keeping us apart.  I think of how much time I spend decoding the Facebook and text shorthand used by my children and relatives before I can grasp their message.  I ponder how I spend more time googling my doctor’s diagnosis than I spend at the doctor.  And as the election business winds down and inauguration day approaches it crosses my mind that while I watched every debate and as many speeches and analysis as I could handle, I only half understand what the issues and stances were all about.

A Call to Arms

Cartoon illustrating jargon

In the article “A call to arms: let’s get rid of all the jargon!” Badun Eunson talks about the stages jargon goes through.  Depending on its use jargon can move from a simple sub-language that reinforces solidarity and promotes clarity to the dense jungle of a private language for the “in-crowd” to a culture of jargon vs. counter-jargon complete with ridicule and offense.

Sometimes it seems as if groups of people work so hard to promote solidarity within them that they create isolation from everyone else. At this point words can become an unintentional weapon of oppression.  The term for this is Linguistic Discrimination. 

Linguistic Discrimination

Linguistic discrimination, in a nutshell, implies that if you don’t speak how I speak you aren’t as good.  This term can be applied to situations as broad as workplace English only policies or as specific as being left out for a failure to decode the 100,000+ acronyms that make up normal federal government conversation.  The techniques may differ, but the result is the same: separation.

My point is this: communication should be a mindful activity.  The words people use, the words we use, matter.  When you communicate, either through spoken or written language, its important to keep your audience in mind and consider if the words and message you are sending will promote a spirit of inclusion or a sense of exclusion.

Think before you speak

Cartoon: Here's where you give me non-comprehending nods of approvalThink about the reading level of your audience.  Consider any slang or jargon terms that they may not understand. Think about your use of shorthand you’re your audience may or may not be familiar with.  Finally, during this week when minds turn to one of our heroes of equality and inclusion, think before you speak or write about whether or not your choice of words will serve to build bridges or build walls.

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