The word games people play: Xiaoran Shi

Language is dearer to us than any means of sensory perception, any bleeding secret, any familiar childhood trinket. We could not hold the sights and sounds, memories and fears we do were we denied it.

Try to possess knowledge of the world without a framework of comprehension and communication at your disposal, and you’d be in trouble. It takes a feckless fool to attempt escape from the bounds of language, and perhaps a madman to succeed.

Don’t turn the page yet. Although it is true such sentiments are too readily regurgitated in weary epithets and attention-grabbing bombast such as this one, the linguistic narrative — inextricable as it is from lived experience — has survived countless retellings and retained certain immortality.

The omnipotence of language lives on in the tale of the Dalai Lama and the University administration; a fable for the ages if ever there was one.

Disclosure of select correspondence between the two parties would ostensibly put the controversy to rest, but the University is insistent on asserting its own thrust of events.

Like any interest group, the University is retreating to the refuge of politically expedient rhetoric. This drew my sympathy until I realised the University is no longer acting on my behalf or in my favour when a foreign government continues to be a stakeholder in my education.

However, the politics of language do not necessarily serve to enslave us. Semantic analysis can offer us more than pedantic debate, and in fact, constitutes the first step towards a re-evaluation of the discourse surrounding paedophilia and child sexual abuse.

Merely a few words’ difference separates psychiatric disorder from deviant criminality in popular consciousness; “a life of torment” from “a life of tormenting”. A similar case can be made for the normativisation of sexist discourse, which is equally damaging. Lest I be branded a PC thug, research has increasingly supported a correlation between acceptance of a sexist lexicon and acceptance of sexual violence.

Variously this semester, we have urged you to make some noise, to strike, to share your stories, and to start a conversation. It may be time to pause for a moment of reflection.

A young and ambitious Icarus sought to flee Crete by way of his father’s handmade wings. Choosing not to heed paternal advice, he flew too close to the sun, plummeted into the sea and drowned. Traditionally a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of hubris, the fall of Icarus still stands.

Sometimes, the evidence speaks for itself. Choose your words wisely.

Xiaoran Shi

Xiaoran Shi

Xiaoran Shi is an editor of Honi Soit and currently in the fourth year throes of an Arts/Law degree. She once set her sights on writing the Next Great American Novel, but is now clinically half-blind.

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