Friday, March 10, 2006

"inclusive language"

As most readers here will know, the term "inclusive language" is often used to indicate the purging of gender-specific references to God or people from texts. For example:

Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who fears the Lord.
Psalm 1, "inclusive": Blessed is the one (or "Blessed are they") who fear(s) the Lord.

Psalm 95: If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.
Psalm 95, "inclusive": If today you hear God's voice, harden not your hearts.

I don't mean to comment here on the practice itself, but on the term "inclusive". In short, I mean to demonstrate that this is a poor choice of terminology and that the term "gender-neutral" is a more advisable choice.

It must be understood that nearly all cases of "inclusive language" modifications are more explicitly described as "gender-neutral language": eliminating references to one gender or the other.

No one is in favor of "excluding" anyone from the liturgy. (Non-Catholics exclude themselves, but that's another discussion.) It makes us feel good to think we've been "inclusive" - it's a word that just sounds good and charitable. Calling a language modification "inclusive" has a nicer ring than "gender-neutral"; the latter takes more effort to feel like it's been grasped.

But what of someone who is against (as I generally am) the practice of such modifications? If I say "I do not favor inclusive language", this leads to the following morphings of thought:

he is against inclusive language
he is against inclusivity
he is against including all people
he favors excluding some people
he favors excluding
he excludes, rather than includes

Thus we see the danger of the term "inclusive language": a disagreement on the prudence or necessity of a language modification leads fairly naturally to a presumption of something far different from a matter of linguistic opinion.

It can also be said that eliminating gender-specific references to God "excludes" the language that Jesus Himself used.....so really, the two terms are not even interchageable.

EDIT: Please note before posting comments that this post is NOT an argument for or against gender-neutral language. It is an argument about terminology only, not the practice itself.

7 Comments:

At Friday, March 10, 2006 12:42:00 PM, Blogger Ecclesiastes said...

I, for one, feel excluded by inclusive language.

 
At Friday, March 10, 2006 2:34:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

The point of the post isn't so much to debate gender-neutral language itself, but to illustrate how the very term "inclusive language" is argumentative. It's like calling anti-abortion people "anti-choice".

 
At Friday, March 10, 2006 3:45:00 PM, Blogger Todd said...

Almost all Christians have been excluding the language Jesus himself used from the very beginning of the Church. Clearly, we are not using Aramaic or Hebrew. Given that the liturgy and Bibles are now mostly lensed through the Latin Vulgate, we are at least two sources removed.

If the language itself is changing, the translation should follow.

 
At Friday, March 10, 2006 4:10:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Todd, please read the previous comment - my post is not meant to engage the idea of gender-neutral language itself, but to examine the terminology used for this practice.

Your assertion that translations should adapt to changing use of language is not quite the same issue as gender-neutering anyway, since the former involves practices like eschewing the "thou" form, while the latter specifically focuses on elimination of masculine references - many of which are literal (i.e. Psalm 1).

Your assertions concerning Scripture and liturgy are problematic. All modern Scripture translations use original languages as sources; only the Jersualem Bible and the Douay-Rheims (as far as I know) have the problem to which you're referring. The liturgy itself is Latin, but is not from the Vulgate. Some Latin Scripture texts in the Mass actually predate the Vulgate, like the "Sicut cervus" tract.

 
At Saturday, March 11, 2006 6:49:00 PM, Blogger Ephrem said...

It's like the churches that say they are "open and affirming." (Meaning no one will ever preach against the homosexual lifestyle.) Imaginary conversation, "Hi, I'm looking for a church home. Is your church open and affirming?" Possible responses:
"Yes"
"No, we're closed and condemnatory."

 
At Sunday, March 12, 2006 1:29:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Eph - right on; I've often thought the same.

 
At Saturday, July 14, 2007 12:44:00 PM, Blogger Mara Joy said...

ok, this is like a year late, but I think the problem comes in that those who are pro-inclusive language, are the ones who coined and encourage the term. The rest of us just go along with it because everyone knows what we mean. It's like how those who are pro-abortion are called "pro-choice," and try to call those against it "anti-abortion" instead of pro-life. Or I think that comparison was kind of made above? And is your final point then (what I am agreeing with) that by using the term "inclusive language" instead of "gender-neutral" actually giving in to, and forwarding the agenda of those who advocate it?

 

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