Have you ever noticed how you alter the way you speak when you talk to different people? The words you use, the way you present your story?
The choices we make when we communicate can tell us and others about our identities, our cultures, and the communities with which we are trying to align. From the way we produce certain vowels to the words or sentence structures we use.
That’s why there’s a whole field dedicating to studying it: Sociolinguistics. It deserves attention from all of us because of what it can teach us about the power of language.
Love them or loathe them, politicians and the media are fantastic at using language to promote their viewpoint and encourage us to believe a certain narrative.
We are all increasingly aware of big, bold statements from politicians designed to influence (not naming any names but, for example: ‘Stop the Boats’, ‘Get Brexit Done’, etc.) and hopefully we are becoming wiser to them. However, we are influenced by much subtler messaging too. Think of the famous phrase repeated over the years by numerous politicians, “mistakes were made”. This passive construction presents the problem as agentless and thus the speaker carries less blame than if they were to say, “I made a mistake”.
As PR and communications professionals, we have a responsibility to understand the power of language and the words we use. And that includes understanding the importance of inclusivity in language.
Have you ever talked negatively about being in a ‘black mood’ or described someone wholesome as ‘whiter than white’? These words reinforce racist connotations and yet many of us probably don’t even register them. A guide released last week by Reframing Race, ‘Contains Strong Language’, looks at the power of words in the context of working towards an anti-racist future.
There is a lot to learn in this space, but there are some immediate steps we can all take:
- Raise awareness of how language is used to further particular agendas, particularly by (but not limited to) politicians and certain media outlets. This will enable us all to interpret social issues through a more critical lens and make better informed opinions.
- Consciously use inclusive language in our communications. Be more aware of how language can exclude, marginalise, and maintain divisions.
- Recognise we have a lot to learn still and understand it’s okay to ask questions and get things wrong along the way. We definitely recommend reading Reframing Race’s guide, and also highly recommend this feminist blog about language.
There will be those that deem this as ‘left-wing woke’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’ (again, not naming any names…), but using inclusive language means actively choosing to use empowering and welcoming language. It doesn’t mean restricting what we can say but, instead, speaking with thought.