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Language is Beautifully Broken
I have always had a love of language, be it the written word, song, speeches, my tongue (English) and others. As someone who has struggled with reading and writing. “I am dyslexic.” Hence, in a way, be it my own, I have always seen a weakness in the written word. Nonetheless, I have come to understand that this weakness is part of communicating in general.
What do I mean?
Let’s start with the written word. Homonyms, a particular category, being words which are spelt and sound alike, yet have different meanings. Homographs, yet another category, are words that are spelt the same way but have different meanings. Homophones are words which are pronounced the same, yet meanings can vary. These are the beginning of language’s weakness.
Often, when speaking and writing to each other; we assume that the other has the same or similar vocabulary and we both use the same meaning for each word. Here is where the weakness becomes a crack. When words sound the same and have different definitions or when different words have the same meaning but are different, confusion ensues. The crack in language is breaking.
Now, let’s look at a couple of words the media, politicians, and society toss around:
What I, my friend down the block, the news anchor, or the academician mean by these words may not be the same. How we understand those words, and then how we react to them intellectually and emotionally, will all vary. Looking at "racism," "discrimination" and "prejudice" some will use these word as interchangeable. Others will use each to define the other. Factors like education, religion, race, socioeconomic status, and vocabulary effect how we use, react and understand words.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary states "racism" appears to be a word of recent origin with no use earlier than the 20th century. Webster indicated that the dictionary should not be the arbiter of language, this is the job of the lexicographer. Here is one example of why definitions alone cannot determine the meaning of words.
Next time, you have a discussion about racism, discrimination, or prejudice stop and consider; if, the person you are talking to is using these words the same way as you, and if they have a clear understanding of how you are using these words. To be sure, this is not easy. But, it can allow cooler heads to dissuade heated hearts and even hotter mindsets.
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