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do people think that changing language changes behavior, or vice versa?

+4 votes
both? neither?

i would say that this question is related to anarchist thinking to the extent that we're trying to change our own behavior sometimes, and other anarchists are trying to change other people's behavior. changing behavior seems like an anarchist thing to me. perhaps that could be another question ;)
asked May 3 by dot (51,120 points)
Changing one's own behavior is pretty much necessary to make life interesting, there's the ultra-interesting concepts of reification and ossification in language, which amor fati talked a lot about. For them, it seemed like it  was related to industrial production. A lot of people's behaviors now adays tend to get super repetitive and annoying, it's like they don't really care much about having an open mind or experimenting.
should i just copy that long ass ramble in here?
also why the hell have you tagged this with 'esperanto'?  did i time warp to the 19th century?

"changing behavior seems like an anarchist thing to me"

interesting, i wouldn't necessarily think of changing behavior as either anarchist or un/anti-anarchist. (of course the particular changes one makes in their behavior might be considered one or the other.) can you elaborate?

i am not currently able to elaborate more than i did in the question.

i like the question.....hmmmm....i'd say "both" and "neither", depending on a lot of factors (which i'll need to give some more thought to before i can come up with anything more satisfying than that!)

to echo ba@, i think both can be the case, and neither is necessarily the case. context.

idpols seem to make the very strong assumption that changing language will somehow change behavior, and i seriously question the usefulness of that approach. as i may have mentioned elsewhere, i do not give words the "power" that many seem to give it. i tend more towards george carlin's take on it:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uL2t24Thjk

@funky i have no idea what an idpols is.... but, do you mean george carlins take that the use of language affects the way we view the world around us?  in that link george carlin talks about the 'softening' of language, the euphemisms used by society to cover up the parts of it that are less ... pretty.  it is precisely because words have power, power that derives from how they are used, that this is even possible.  if words didnt affect how we view the world, then there would be no need for euphemisms.
sms: idpol = "identity politician". i can't believe i finally abbreviated that term.

re george carlin, the point i was referring to was precisely that: words themselves have no power (the first few minutes of that video, but there are tons of others as well). it is only in how they are used - the context - that matters. not so for idpols and other word police.

the comedian bill burr obsesses over how the use of (some) words has become dangerous for comedians. that is precisely because people ignore context; they hear word "x" and immediately assume that the user is automatically and inherently racist/sexist/homo-trans-phobic, etc. in that way, people (idpols, eg) not only give power to words, but they use words to hold power over others.

when words - or ideas - have power over individuals (regardless of context), those individuals have relinquished their autonomy, imo.

language, to me, is a tool. for some/many, it seems like much more. so much of the world i observe today seems far more concerned with using the right words, than actually dealing with issues that threaten their autonomy (on a micro scale) and the lives of billions of living beings (on a macro scale) constantly.
i've just come to the conclusion that i don't quite understand the question enough to answer or comment much more on it (even though i upvoted the question and feel interested in it).

perhaps more discussion of the meaning of  "changing behavior" would help.

and i start feeling confused about "thinking" versus "language" versus "behavior"....and also "what" language one uses versus "how" or "why" they might use it.....it feels hard to separate out each one independently of the other.....

the thoughts, the language, the behavior, the ways how, and the reasons why....all seem to merge and circle around one another....i can't say with much certainty where one ends and the other begins....or how or why my awareness of the whole process might change....sometimes a jolt or traumatic experience might cause a change, and other instances language/behavior/thought patterns change due to a slow and steady weight that eventually breaks them, and some thinking/behavior/language takes hold so hard that seemingly nothing can change it, at least not in one physical human lifetime...

i hear myself rambling now in the dark....
@funky i completely agree, but it seems like the answer to a completely different question, maybe one about 'idpol'.  although, i dont particularly like the wording of this question that much anyways.  perhaps 'how does language impact the way we think and behave' would have been my preferred question, but then again i didnt ask it, so i guess that doesnt really matter.  because the only answer that you can really give to 'does changing language change behaviour' is 'well language is a behaviour, so yes'.  what i think the question is trying to get at is how the structure of our language alters the way we perceive and interact with things around us, but i may be wrong.  its certainly a more interesting question anyway.

i can't speak for dot, but this question was posted after i kind of asked it in a comment to another question. so here's my take on the question (if not an answer):

i don't see it as related to the structure of language, i think if it more as the (coerced?) use - or not use - of particular words. for example, is there an expectation that getting someone to use a non-gendered pronoun (how that happens is another issue, one that i find often problematic) actually changes the way that person behaves - or more importantly imo, thinks - around gender? does getting some white racist to stop using the word "nigger" change their mind/behavior around race relations?

of course i don't know the answer, but i have my doubts. i do think that the manner in which a person comes to change their language can definitely impact whether or not that is accompanied by a change in thought/behavior. when they are pressured or coerced into such a change, i doubt there would be much behavioral change, unless behavior was likewise pressured/coerced into change. but if they arrived at that change in language through their own observations, experiences, relations, desires, etc, then i think there is a good chance that the change in language resulted from a change in ideas and behavior.

i have an old uncle who is gay, and he has always used the word "faggot" more than anyone i have ever known. his use of the word has absolutely nothing to do with sexual preference; he uses it the way i did as a kid (before i even had an understanding of sexuality), to indicate weakness or lack of courage or similar. yet some people never cease trying to get him to change his language. even if he ever did acquiesce and change his language, would it change his behavior? i'm not even sure how it could (get him to stop being sarcastic and acerbic?), but not fucking likely.

shinmin, one of the points of leaving a question vague (although yes, it was a response to f@'s comment on another thread), is to allow people to answer the interpretation of it that they find most interesting.

f@, i think the point of policing language is that when dealing with masses of people, attempting to constrain the worst context becomes justifiable. obviously this is stupid to me on a number of levels. but i think it's worth noting that the difference is in the scale/level of alienation. if someone who doesn't know your uncle is reading something he's written online, then that person can take faggot in a painful way. it's an attempt to homogenize culture, among other things, and that's a way i haven't thought of it before.

"the thoughts, the language, the behavior, the ways how, and the reasons why....all seem to merge and circle around one another"

BAA put where I'm at on this pretty well

I'm not sure if the goal in getting people to stop saying nigger is more to stop someone from being racist or just to stop having to be annoyed by their racist bullshit, but yes I would agree its naïve to assume there is a change in thought on that basis. the other day I asked my dad to not praise the boarding school that treated people who were mentally retarded as subhuman among other things. will this change how he thinks? no.. I'm still tired of hearing it.

interesting about your uncle funky, perfect example of why context matters. obviously this doesn't change your uncles meaning or intentions, the microcontext I suppose, but the macrocontext would be how the word came to mean "weak" in the first place. 

when I think of what can change someone's behaviors, life experience comes to mind. the experience of seeing how these words affect others could affect how someone thinks and uses their language. not sure what to make of that... I think its just a good example of how intertwined these things are

ba@: "the thoughts, the language, the behavior, the ways how, and the reasons why....all seem to merge and circle around one another....i can't say with much certainty where one ends and the other begins"

yeah, i have to say i pretty much agree with that too.

1 Answer

0 votes
I think that changing language can change behavior to some extent, but I don't think it changes thinking. And I think a lot of times changing language can be a way of hiding a continuance of behavior that ought to change.

On the one hand, I can point to the changes in the way that pronouns  are used as a place where there is a change in language that has definitely changed (maybe only marginally, but indisputably) behavior. The increasing acceptance of they/them has led to people being less and less likely to project an assumed gender on to a person.

Also, it can change behavior but leave ideas unchanged. I know at least one friend who uses pronouns that don't match their gender presentation. I know to use those pronouns, and internally I still categorize them as x_ (that is a genetics joke). Get enough drinks in me, and I even slip on what I say because the thought/behavior mediation present when sober is eroded.

Changing language can also mask continued behavior that a person wants to hide. Think of the "feminist" men who know all the right words and quote bell hooks or whatever but are still predators. Or to a lesser extent, the folks who change how they talk, and really want to change how they act, but they see changing language as the same as changing behavior.

I have no idea about esperanto (seems like a failed experiment), but I do recall one of the things I thought about a lot when I was first coming out as an anarchist was how different languages treat genders, in particular how Latin languages gender things, and how that may (or may not) impact the gender roles in cultures using that language. I definitely think it can, but I think it is generational, my job includes lots of working with teens, and I've observed a lot of slow shifts in behavior that seem to be connected to what is "acceptable" behavior.

 How does this relate to anarchy? How doesn't it. The ways we move through the world and how we perceive the world are, well, that's all there is. We can think our thoughts, but how do we live them? That's what matters.

An interesting thing to explore (in comments, in another question) is code switching.
answered May 6 by ingrate (21,620 points)

"I think that changing language can change behavior to some extent, but I don't think it changes thinking. And I think a lot of times changing language can be a way of hiding a continuance of behavior that ought to change."

this is interesting, talked to my friend about it last night, at first we both immediately thought 1984 and newspeak, and in case you don't know the idea was to bend the meanings of plenty, truth, ignorance, slavery, freedom to where they mean nothing or refer to a definition beneficial to the government. she posited that yes not knowing a term for freedom or gay or trans could lead one to not be capable of conceiving of it. I disagree however, imagine you are in a cage, you will still have a desire to get out and be free, regardless of knowing the word freedom. that does affect your ability to communicate those ideas or about them with others​.

she mentioned how not having a word for something like gay or transgender could indicate a non accepting environment or potentially cause one of these people to not be able to "solidify their identity" or "adjust or come to terms with themselves". I disagree with a few of these notions, there would be no adjusting or coming to terms in a truly accepting environment, it would just be another mundane activity or another thing that someone does to groom or decorate themselves.

in fact, I would bet that having words for these things significantly contributes these particular things to being a part of someones identity more so than any random thing they would like to do and do. or maybe the chicken came before the egg.

if one applies the same principle to race it honestly looks kind of ridiculous. "we should continue to have racial categories because that helps racial minorities to accept themselves for who they are". well that doesn't make any fucking sense, and kinda sounds racist. I would argue the categories of race and gender (as the role or behaviors you are expected to show) do a lot more harm than good even if those statements were true. it also shows how those categories have been reified by language. as dot said on a question I asked long ago, we could have just as easily grouped ourselves on something like hair color or eye color.

as for changing behavior in the long run, I do believe that over time continuing gendered pronouns but using them as people ask you to, will lead to an erosion in the importance of gender but perpetuates the idea that certain behaviors "add up" to being this or that identifying group. for that we would need totally gender neutral language which is a huge can of worms for any language other than English as ingrate mentioned. I also think it would take generations for reasons ingrate mentioned, but I do think that language would be the first step towards a world in which when a black and white person approach each other, they don't view that as being an important distinction, just like if another person has different eye colors they aren't a different "group". one could argue that cultural differences can be significant between races but I think this is actually a result of segregation be it enforced or not, not talking about a specific example, any of them. in fact, seeing behavioral, dress, taste in music, or food, as being things that add up to being a certain racial category isn't that far off from a group of expressions or physical characteristics making you a man or woman.

I'm not saying we should never talk about race, but when we do maybe work how we got here into the discussion and solution, instead of solutions that reinforce and perpetuate these categories.

with the romance languages, the perceived masculinity or femininity of the objects actually seems to not be so important always, example: dress in Spanish is vestidO, with an o, so actually calling them nouns that end in a, nouns that end in o, and irregular nouns, would take away the arbitrary assignment of gender to the sounds aahh and Oh. will I still think of it as masculine and feminine for the rest of my life? probably, but If I teach a young child using that language and that is all they are exposed to, I think they would find the assignment of gender quite ridiculous if introduced later on. actually you can see that in English speakers who know nothing of Spanish, when they hear nouns are all masculine or feminine, even pens and pencils, they are shocked and think its weird. 

can you elaborate on changes you saw in the teens you work with? were things language oriented or related?
for fun on this topic, i suggest reading suzette haden elgin's native tongue series.

science fiction has tasted all our topics already. :)
DD - I don't know if I can pinpoint a thing, but there are aspects of how teens use language now, vs. when I started my job a bunch of years ago... There is a proliferation of what I would call care/consent speak, by which I mean a lot of teens have learned the social worker-speak that I put on when my job requires it, but mostly abhore. There's lot of "I" messaging, though mostly just about "me", ie " I feel like you hurt me when you...." People offer trigger warnings for things that, in my old and grumpy opinion don't deserve it.

On the other hand, examples of changes related to gender, sexuality and race point to the youth of today being far more open minded than the youth of my day. Cart? Horse? I am unsure which comes first, I expect it is actually more like the cart and the horse skidding sideways down a steep muddy hil.l
ive only heard a trigger warning once in person, and ya it was cringe worthy, it makes more sense to me to not talk about heroin around my friend who may literally be triggered by it, than to warn him that he may be triggered. even if you very much want or for some reason need to discuss things that may upset someone you can ease into it with euphemisms and other linguistic devices to gage their reaction to it. makes more sense than going "trigger warning" and jumping right into a description of a rape or something. personally I don't think a trigger warning of that form is necessary even for things like this, better to just know your audience, but that's just me..
DD - I don't disagree. I am reflecting what I see when I work with the youths, which I do almost every day. That work isn't anarchy, but I think dot's original question delves beyond anarchyists.
"a lot of times changing language can be a way of hiding a continuance of behavior that ought to change"

yes! that is maybe my biggest beef with the idea.

also, where thinking/ideas/mindsets fits into this discussion is huge as well. changed behavior that is not accompanied by changed thinking is not likely to be very relevant in the long run.
this reminds me of pretentious political correct speech that isn't actually based on a desire for respect and comraderie.
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