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What we say, and how we say it, matters much more than we think.

Por Mariel Fiori
March 2018
The only constant in life is change. Understanding that everything, including language, is always evolving, I propose today that we reflect on how we express ourselves in 2018. Language is culture. Language shapes the way we think, the way we interpret life, and the ways in which we perceive time and space. Incidentally, several scientific studies have proven that being bilingual, in addition to benefiting the brain, helps us to see the world from different points of view, from different mindsets.

What we say and how we say it matters much more than we think.  Over the past several years, for example, we have seen how undocumented immigrants are denigrated and dehumanized by the use of the adjective “illegal,” wrongly converted into a noun. Of course, no human being is illegal. The act of crossing the border without permission is indeed illegal; however it is a civil offense, not a crime, just like staying in a country after one’s visa has expired. To label someone “illegal” however, is to unfairly criminalize them a priori (all are innocent until proven otherwise).

The term ‘undocumented immigrants’ has been proposed as an alternative. However, we must consider the situations faced by millions of honest, hard working people (did you know that this type of immigrants represent 5% of the labor force in the United States?), people who have lived here for decades, opened businesses, formed families. People still cannot regularize their situations, despite the thousands of dollars they have payed to unscrupulous lawyers, attempting to achieve a goal which, within the current system, is impossible. Instead of undocumented immigrants, I suggest we call these people unprotected immigrants, because that is nearly always the case.

What we say and how we say it matters much more than we think. Our beautiful Spanish language has a failure of origin: it is sexist, but there are ways to correct his. Every day, we wake up with the idea that today is a new, better day, that our daughters and women have and will continue to have more opportunities. Certainly, there are women in every profession that you can imagine, from doctors and police officers to judges and presidents (especially in Latin America), but there is still a very long way to go.

In our language, one typically uses the masculine gender as a means to generalize. From psychology books to our own mouths, we speak of hombres (men) and niños (boys) to refer to humanity as a whole. If it were simply a matter of language’s economy, that one says hombres, and not hombres y mujeres (men and women), we should say women in order to refer to all creatures, as woman, in Spanish mujer, has one less letter than man, hombre. My recommendation is to say human being, or people, instead of erasing one half of humanity due to the supposed economy of words. Those are only a couple of examples of the daily lack of respect we women face: a lack of respect that, although at times subconscious, impacts us all the same.  

The philologist of the University of Alcala in Spain, Mercedes Bengoechea, explains it like this: “from a young age, girls have to learn that saying “children” (in Spanish the masculine niños) will at times represent others who are not necessarily male. In this way, they enter a process of self-censorship, of absenting themselves from reality on certain occasions, since the language does not take them into account.” As I stated earlier, everything changes, everything evolves; even language changes through the way is used by its speakers. In March 2018 (women's history month) I think it is time for the excluded and forgotten to be remembered and included more and more, through actions and through words.

The only constant in life is change. Everything is evolving, including our language. What we say and how we say it matters much more than we think, because it inevitably affects our behavior; the way we see ourselves and the way we see others. Since all change begins in the mind, where ideas, words, and actions begin, positive thoughts and words can attract positive realities. So, what changes in your way of speaking will you enact this month?

Write to [email protected] and let your voice be heard!

Mariel Fiori
Managing Editor

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