Another Way Language Excludes People

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It is no secret that language can be used to exclude people.  We’ve been talking about exclusionary and ableist language for a while now.  It is very easy to make an entire population feel completely othered just by using a word you may think is harmless.  While we are fighting against ableist language within the English language, there is another group of people who are being ignored – non-English speakers.

The quickest way to exclude someone is to start speaking in a language they don’t understand.  We learn this at a very young age: we write diaries, journals, notes to friends in coded language; we use discourse our parents and teachers may not understand; we learn languages like “pig latin” with our friends.  My students do this all the time – if they’re talking about something private, they switch from English to another language.  This is all part of forming a community, but an unfortunate part of forming a community is also being able to exclude people from it.  A community that really does good – a truly feminist community – must not exclude people.

In Feminist Theory From Margin to Center, bell hooks speaks very eloquently about feminists excluding women from the movement; white, upper class, college-educated feminists were excluding poor and/or black feminists from the women’s liberation movement.  She says: “Like Friedan before them, white women who dominate feminist discourse today rarely question whether or not their perspective on women’s reality is true to the lived experiences of women as a collective group” (3).  Although I think we are moving beyond this, especially with all of the discussions about ableist language, I fear we are still excluding those whose primary language is not English.

The wonderful thing about feminism on the internet is that both the fight for women’s rights and the internet are borderless – women everywhere are fighting for their rights in different ways, and we are using the internet to spread the word because anyone anywhere can find us! – which is all well and good, but only if they can understand us.

I want to point out this issue because so many people either assume a site is useless to them because it is not in English, or write about women’s rights issues from a strictly English-speaking cultural standpoint.  And I think we really need to be aware of that and accomodate fo it.  My first step (and I urge you to follow) is installing a translator on my blog to make it accessible to others.  I would also love to read feminist blogs in another language (and translate them into English) and link to them from here.  Do you know of any blogs that aren’t in English that I could read?  What else can I do?  What do you do to break down the cultural/language barriers?  I’m completely open to suggestions.  Let’s all do what we can to break down barriers.  Who’s with me?

17 thoughts on “Another Way Language Excludes People

  1. You make some really great points, Ashley! It’s something that I never really thought about before but I really should have. As someone who pretty much only speaks English (I know some French and a few words on Spanish), I’ve never really been on a situation where I was
    excluded based on the language that I speak (there have been some instances, but none of them were really that important and I was still usually in a position of power).

    I am definitely going to look into putting a translator on my blog. Thanks for a great post!

  2. I highly suggest the one I use – the link is in the post. It seems pretty good. @challyzatb recommended it, so I trust it. :)

    And thanks so much for the compliments!

  3. It’s funny you should mention bell hooks – as a non-native English speaker, I found that ‘Feminism is for Everybody’ uses academical-level English, which is too high for my family and friends (whose English is at a lower level than mine). My main intention in acquiring the book was not just to educate myself, but to show friends and family that feminism truly is for everybody – but now, they find it hard to understand even a single sentence. Even I have to work hard to understand the gist of whole chapters, and read slowly. And I have been writing and reading in English for the past ten years.

    In comparison, many blogs about feminism are a lot more accessible, and written in English that is more conversational, informal, and easier to understand.

    • Ashley on

      bell hooks is extremely difficult to understand, even for someone like myself whose native language is English and is used to highly academic English.

      Blogs are great for learning, disseminating information quickly and getting accessible information, but theory is important – according to bell hooks, anyway! :)

  4. I’ve been trying to find a translation widget that a) works b) for a variety of languages c) is disability friendly and d) WordPress.com likes for a while now, and the one I found stopped working so I took it down. Time to try again! Anyway, that’s one I found in my research that is supposed to be good and works with WordPress.org blogs, so I hope you find it useful. Glad to see language exclusion is something you’re concerned with, too. :)

    Also maybe it’d be a good idea if some of us Anglosphere feminists tried to access some non-English feminist blogs. Hmm…

    And I hope people actually take this ableist language thing SERIOUSLY, because though I often can’t watch TV without being on edge, I would like to be safe in the social justice blogosphere, for goodness sake.

    • Ashley on

      I agree – ableist language is a serious issue in our society. I admittedly don’t speak any other languages very well, and I often wonder if ableist language is present in other languages and cultures. I also wonder how feminist issues are similar/different between different cultures. Reading bell hooks has really opened my eyes to this stuff – very interesting!

  5. John O'Dwyer on

    Great post Ashley. Hopefully,translators on blogs will become the norm before too long.

  6. Vera on

    Great post! I’ve been thinking about this for a while, actually, since there’s a very few feminist sites written in my native language, Czech, and not everyone understands English well enough to read foreign blogs on regular basis (and, you know, the translator translates very roughly). I myself don’t write my own stuff (yet), but I’d like to raise some issues which haven’t been properly visible and discussed within Czech feminist internet community (and society in general), such as, for example, ablism (Which is reflected by the fact that common words used to describe a disabled person are, in fact, an invalid or, literally translated, an afflicted person. With basically no alternatives. Not satisfying at all, damn!) and so much more I can find on the web. Unfortunatelly only English-written one. So, the question is, is it okay with you if I translate this article and possibly others from your site and post it in my virtual space, all that with crediting & linking, of course?

    • Ashley on

      As long as you link back to me, you may use some things. Can you send me the links once you post them? I’d love to work on a project here with non-native English speakers and their take on feminism.

      Perhaps you’d like to write a guest-post for me in English on the subject?

      Also, does my translator translate into Czech? Is it decent?

      • Of course! I’m going to launch a blog devoted primarily to English-Czech translations starting with this article; as soon as it’s ready, I’ll let you know.

        Why not. You know, my personal take on feminism doesn’t really differ that much from (for example) the American one since we don’t live in a drastically different cultural environment anymore, but I could definetely write about general approach to feminism by Czech society and the Czech feminist movement itself if you’re interested. And if you’re willing to check my grammar mistakes (and there might be a lot of them) ’cause I can’t say I’m entirely sure of my writing skills in English. :-)

        The translator does translate into Czech; sometimes it’s easy to understand a traslated sentense, sometimes it’s just too rough. That’s why I’d like to every now and then translate something myself. Or at least offer links to English-written feminist and human rights blogs to Czech and Slovak* folks who might just not know where to look for them.

        * Czech and Slovak languages are very similar and most of the Czechs and Slovaks understands both.

        • Ashley on

          This is all very cool! I can’t read Czech, but I can tell that’s my post, so… awesome!

          And of course I’d be willing to check grammar mistakes on a guest post from you. I’m a teacher, so it’s sort of my job anyway. :) It would be very interesting to hear your take on feminism. Please feel free to e-mail me a post!

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