g.v.simson at g.v.simson at
Wed Mar 12 14:35:41 UTC 1997

George Thompson said on 12-03-97
>I myself wonder about the "agenda" of people who are more disturbed by
>political correctness than they are by what Dominique Thillaud eloquently
>calls "nazionalism".  It's a matter of personal preference, I guess.
>We all know that languages change [*even* one's own, by the way], and
>sometimes for poltiical reasons.  American English has not suffered, as far
>as I can see, from the disappearance of the "semantically inoffensive" word
>"Negro" but I haven't heard or seen anyone use it, except quotatively, in a
>very long time.
>I apologize to Georg von Simson and others, because I know that this thread
>has annoyed them, but to tell the truth sneers at political correctness
>annoy me.

Well, I did not 'sneer' at political correctness which I believe is in
principle a good thing. But there may be differences of opinion about where
the limits should go (political correctness vs. truth and truthfulness
sometimes creates trouble, for example) and what tactics to follow. I am
sceptical about the hasty and thoughtless banishing of words just because
they have been used in an offensive way by certain groups of language
users. This has often a devastating effect on our languages, making them
poorer without necessity. The recent development of German abounds in
examples (and it is perhaps therefore I react against attempts to abolish
the term 'indo-germanisch' and its derivatives). To mention only one of the
most grotesque ones: Because of the low status of apprentices in society,
it was decided to replace the term 'Lehrling' (apprentice) by
'Auszubildende', lit.'(a person who is) to be educated', a substantivated
gerundive that is difficult to handle and to pronounce. It was, therefore,
immediately replaced by the - from an aesthetical point of view repulsive -
more or less ironically used abbreviation 'Azubi'. The situation of the
apprentices has not changed, of course, but the German language has
suffered a perceptible loss. There were years after the war when the words
'Jude' and 'juedisch' (Jew, Jewish) tended to be tabooed (and serious
attempts were made to replace them), but, fortunately, the words were
conserved and are now politically correct again, whereas 'Zigeuner' (Gipsy)
was banished and replaced by 'Sinti' and 'Roma', making it rather
complicated to talk about them now and confronting scholars writing about
their languages with serious terminological problems. Sure, unambiguously
derogatory terms like 'nigger' have to be avoided, but I cannot see why
'negro' had to be abolished. 'Negro spirituals' have always been in good
repute, and the effect of banning the term has been nicely illustrated by
Dan Lusthaus (whose communication just arrived when I was writing this). I
think we should oppose these desperate attempts to show morally correct
attitudes by changing the vocabulary of our languages. They do not really
help, whereas the damage they do in many cases is quite perceptible (just
read German newspapers nowadays, with their frantic attempts to do justice
to women by creating linguistic monsters like 'Professor/Innen'). What
really helps is to change the use of words, not to abolish them because
they have been misused. C'est le ton qui fait la musique, n'est-ce-pas?

Emil Hersak wrote on 11-03-97:

>First of all, if we could accept Indo-Germanic as a neutral term (and I am
>not entering the >discussion as whether it is or not), the problem seems
>to be in its very logic. Combined forms such >as Indo-Iranian
>(Indo-Iranic) or even Balto-Slavic are linguistically justified since they
>do refer to >common, or presumable common phases between two language
>grouping. But in analogy, what >about Indo-Germanic? Two extreme spatial
>ends of a language family? OK. But if "Indo-" is to be >taken as a
>geographic term (to refer to the subcontinent), then the only logical
>western equivalent >is "European", and nothing else. Likewise, this
>eliminates any  terminological confusion with >linguistic constructions
>such as Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic, the Italo-Celtic theory, etc. However,
>I >can accept criticism that I don't like Indo-Germanic because it
>eliminates from the picture my own >"linguistic ancestors", who were most
>probably (East) European, but not Germanic, unless in a >still very
>hypothetical Germano-Balto-Slavic stage (when Germanic was not yet

But it is only when you start to etymologize the term that it becomes
offensive to you. Nobody who uses the term Anglo-Saxon (first meaning
according to Webster's Dictionary: 'a person whose native language is
English'!) today really thinks of the Angles and Saxons any longer, and the
German scholar who uses the term 'indogermanisch' does not think of Indian
and Germanic in the first place, but of Lithuanian, Greek or Armenian or
whatever are the most exiting languages for him or her. So your logical
argument does not convince, because the term does not lead to any
confusion. It is used in academic contexts only, where everybody knows its
precise extension. I do not think we would coin the term today, but to
demand that the Germans should abolish it because you do not like it, does
not seem very realistic to me.

Best wishes
                        Georg v. Simson

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