Questioning professional vocabulary

I’m currently in the process of writing a post about how librarians and libraries can act as enablers for the dominant culture (yeah, not really selling it there am I?). One of my key thoughts on this topic is the use of language and how it enables dominant ideologies by normalising certain terminology (ie by making certain words ubiquitous, we make them seem acceptable in contexts where they perhaps they should not be acceptable). Language is a big bugbear of mine for this reason. Corrupt the language and you corrupt the ethos.

Anyway, all of this got me to thinking what questions we should ask of language utilised in our professional discourse to help identify whether they are appropriate to use within the context of our professional values. In a not very well thought through process, I sort of came up with the following questions that we could (should?) ask:

  1. What does it mean?
  2. What are its origins?
  3. In what context is it usually deployed?
  4. Who does this language benefit?
  5. Does it reflect our values?

I sort of think they are a good starting point when considering the use of language across the profession. I’m sure there are better questions to ask. Would be interested to hear if anyone has any advance on these as a way to help us unpick some of the language we often see utilised.

  • Rosie Hare

    I have SO MANY THINGS I want to say on this but need to have a proper think. All of the management speak and ‘businessy’ speak for a start really gets to me. But even how we offer many of our services in our ‘professional’ language which others will not necessary understand, such as ‘information literacy training’ etc.

    • Ian

      I’d love to hear your thoughts, Rosie! Away from the political language, I’m also not a fan of some of the more…particular language we use…

  • Booksurfer

    This is an important topic you have started to explore -It’s not only professional language, but it’s also the decisions people make (eg abdicating book selection to book suppliers, rarely purchasing books that challenge the status quo, failure to counterbalance the growing secrecy of local government, and the rise of neoliberalism media monopoly)

    • Ian

      Thanks Booksurfer! I care passionately about the way language is utilised in this respect. I think it enables much of the other things you mention. It seems to me it’s about the culture…and culture is enabled through the words we use. Until we address that, we are doomed to continue our downward spiral.

  • Simon Barron

    Reading a lot of George Saunders at the moment. This is from ‘Thank You, Esther Forbes’:

    “Working with language is a means by which we can identify the bullshit within ourselves (and others). If we learn what a truthful sentence looks like, a little flag goes up at a false one. False prose can mark an attempt to evade responsibility…, or something more diabolical…; the process of improving our prose disciplines the mind, hones the logic, and, most important of all, tells us what we really think. But this process takes time, and immersion in prior models of beautiful compression.”

    • Ian

      Nice quote, Simon. Thanks.