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 American Sign Language: ""


QUESTION:
In a message dated 9/29/2015 3:03:48 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time, a colleague writes:

... I am determined to revise my vocabulary of terms regarding 'deaf' and related topics -- in order to be as inoffensive and non-oppressive as possible.

So I am researching various terms particularly the term 'deafness' and how it is perceived as offensive or oppressive by some Deaf people.

To me the term 'deafness' is neither offensive nor oppressive for this reason. The suffix -ness simply means a 'state of being' (the suffix conveys neither a positive nor negative connotation).

My understanding is that the suffix -ness is simply added to an adjective (or some other part of speech) for the purpose of converting it to a noun.

Happy (adjective)
Happiness (noun)

Peaceful (adjective)
Peacefulness (noun)

Gentle (adjective)
Gentleness (noun)

Shy (adjective)
Shyness (noun)

Deaf (adjective)
Deafness (noun)

Now, perhaps unbeknownst to me, the suffix -ness also indicates a medical or mental 'pathology?' Or a 'pathological' condition or some other sort?

I have to do more research so I have a better understanding of why some Deaf people prefer that the term 'deafness' not be used.

Once I have a better understanding of various terms that are perceived by some to be offensive or oppressive, I want to share what I learn with my ASL students and Deaf friends who often use those terms.

But I won't do that until I have a good, solid grip on the logic for 'not using' those terms.

As I said, I'm just thinking out loud here and thanking you for the inspiration to 'clean up' my vocabulary when it comes to certain terms :)

-- NAME ON FILE


REPLY:

Dear _______,

Sometimes labels are eschewed not because of the label itself but because of who is doing the labeling. Suppose two people decide to have a baby together and they are considering naming their baby "John." Then someone they don't like comes along and announces, "You should name your baby John. You are lucky I came by and gave you a good strong name for your baby. From now on when you call your baby John you can be grateful to me for having named your baby."
 

Do you think that the couple will go ahead and name their baby John?  Not likely.

Do you see terms such as: Spanishness, Asianness, Mexicanness, Canadianness, etc. being used?  Never. (Or at least never beyond poetic license or epigrammatic usage.)

How about "blackness" applied to Black people? Rarely if ever and even then it would be strange.

When the "-ness" suffix is combined with "deaf" it is almost always to call attention to a "lack" of hearing -- rather than an attribute of being.

- Dr. Bill

 


 


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