The Significance of Politically Correct Language for Society

Sometimes subtle language cues are telling, as in the lede of this AP article:

Massachusetts Environmental Police say an undercover sting operation has nabbed a person who tried to sell an indigenous lizard on social media.

The creature in question is a Nile Monitor Lizard, which (the article goes on to explain) is “indigenous to Africa, but can be found in certain parts of the U.S.”  One suspects Massachusetts is not one of the places in the United States that a hiker might randomly come across an African lizard, so it appears that the lede writer used “indigenous” to mean something more like “non-Western,” which in 2017 Massachusetts is to say that it means pretty much the opposite of “indigenous.”  All that talk about “indigenous people’s day” must have sunk in to change the meaning for the editor.

From a linguistic perspective, this is unfortunate, because it strips the word, “indigenous,” of its particular meaning and adds more weight to the blob of words that simply mean “non-white.”  Just so, for another example, one sometimes sees the word, “diverse,” also used simply to mean “non-white.”

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From a social perspective, this trend is somewhat worse than unfortunate.  The implication of the language that we use is that white people aren’t indigenous to anywhere and can’t increase the diversity of any group.  Indeed, one suspects that the tacit feeling that being white is the default probably underlies the shifts in the language.

We should keep in mind that this conceptual deterioration can flip in two directions, neither healthy.  Either white people are dehumanized and don’t count for as much or non-white people are always the aliens.  Maybe being particular about our language will help us to remain balanced in our thinking.

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