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Last night as I pored over Edward Sapir's (a name which any anthro major should recognize) horribly dense writing in the confines of Lehman Library, I found this:

"The average person unconsciously interprets the phonetic material of other languages in terms imposed upon him by the habits of his own language."

For those of you who don't read this stuff every night: The above claim is one of Sapir's many that link a complicated relationship between language and culture. He later goes on to give the example of "the naive Frenchman" who does not separate "the two sounds 's' of 'sick' and 'th' of thick… not because he is really unable to hear the difference, but because the setting up of such a difference disturbs his feeling."

On The Blaaag, that all translates into, "blah blah blah." But Sapir is worth quoting anyway because the idea of language and its ability to be patterned by culture rings true to the injustice that immigrants in America face as they are chided for their difficulty speaking "proper (North American) English".

Even problematic, colonialist thinkers of the 19th Century believe that forcing a person to adjust to new linguistic habits causes a disturbance in one's innate patterning; yet this fact is overlooked and language still serves as an easy target for racial attacks, coupled with various other general impressions to create some sort of rice papery, ink brushed stereotype. ("...stlawbelly, lasbelly, chelly, alange, lemon, lime...")

Let this be a lesson learned for you who think that evidence towards racial injustice can't be found in unexpected places.

(p.s. Since we're talking academia – Ethnic Studies: support it now.)



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