I’ve finished a biography of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein really sparked the idea of how language expresses how we see the world. So language-users see the world when they use a different language, or as Wittgenstein would say, a “form of life.” Here are some examples that I use for my class:
- Gua in Chinese means watermelon, papaya, melon. In short, it means having that shape. Asian languages split up words like that. Thus, they see the world differently than we do. Chinese language-users see the world starting with shape first and then they go into specifics.
- Define father. English users define it as a male that has biological DNA. Some cultures define father more functional rather than biological. So a brother or a friend can be a father according to some languages. Imagine seeing the world like that.
- “Everyone is going to Paris.” Imagine a world where everyone’s goal was to get to Paris. It doesn’t matter what they’re doing now. The entire goal is to get to Paris. You would look at the world in a totally different way.
Thus, when you speak a different language or phrase it differently, you literally see the world differently.
Now, I was wondering if offensive language influences how we look at the world and perhaps our social attitudes towards people. Consider this, which do you find most offensive:
- “You’re such a fag.”
- “You’re such a bitch.”
- “You’re such a nigger.”
Now which is most offensive? To me, number three is the most offensive, then number two, then number one. Indeed, I think this fits with my worldview: my friends jokeingly say these phrases, with the exception of number three. So how does this relate to the world? Because number three is the most offensive, I think any form of race inequality is seen as crude and bad. Now this doesn’t mean that racism is gone. By no means. But to be honest, when I watch the news or even simply observing my surroundings, I notice more gender inequality than racial inequality. We can even look at the recent election: 79 % of college students say they’re ready for a black President, whereas 63% of college students say that they’re ready for a female president. With this, I think calling someone a “nigger” is considered more offensive than “bitch.” But what about “fag?” I think this word is thrown around casually which means it’s hardly seen as offensive, and since this is a prejorative term for homosexuals, they seem to get the worst end when it comes to respect. With this, homosexuals have it bad because our language is constructed in a way to not treat them with respect. Imagine a world where the word “nigger” was thrown around casually. Our world would be where we see black people as not equal to us. But because our culture and language has deemed that word to be bad, race relations have gotten better.
It seems like a stretch, but based on this, if “bitch” has the same connotations as “nigger” then there might be more gender equality. Same thing with “fag.” Imagine where “fag” has that same negative connotation as “nigger.” Perhaps they would gain more equal status. I don’t mean simply rights or privledges, but getting along with people in general.
In short, I think that on some level, if you want to aim for equality and respect, you must change the way people use language.