plenary and the technology of language
So right now I’m sitting on the floor of the gym at Plenary, not really listening to what’s going on (sorry SGA!). Part of the reason that I’m bored out of my mind is because almost all of the 7 resolutions have to do with grammatical/semantic amendments to the consititution and various other official documents. As i’m sitting here pondering why anyone would schedule a huge campus-wide meeting for 10am on a Sunday morning, for the sole purpose of discussing semantics, I had a thought. About language. The technology of language, to be precise. It would appear, from this Spring’s plenary at least, that language and wording hold great significance in the way that we live, as individuals, communities and a society. This became especially obvious to me when we were discussing the first resolution, which wanted to make the SGA consitution gender neutral. The writers of the resolution were very adamant about ensuring fellow Mawrters that their purpose was not to undermine the fact that Bryn Mawr is a women’s institution, but instead to make the constitution more inclusive of non-female identifying individuals (this included trans students, Haverford students and Post-Baccs).
In class, we’ve discussed the ways in which various technologies, be they ‘physical’ (i.e. machinery, DNA etc) or more intangible (e.g. the economy), gender society. However, we’ve never really touched upon the technology of language, and how it is used to define and gender the world in which we live. We’ve talked about categories and labeling, their uses, usefulness, and implications, but we’ve never discussed how these categories, the actual words used to categorize, are constructed/chosen. The history of language and the creation and appropriation of words and their meanings can provide incredible insight into the cultures that utilize the language.
One example that I can think of is something that a professor of one my classes last semester told the class. The class was about Third World Feminisms and our professor told us that the definition for the word ‘maid’ in a Greek dictionary was ‘Filipina’. She then pushed us to think about the implications of this (the global commodification of Filipina women as maids and domestic workers) and the history of colonization involved behind it (the Philippines was, for the most part, a colonized nation until 1946). Another sort of example that I discovered while I was browsing Amazon for possible books to read in this course, was the phrase “gender changer”. This, apparently, is the name for one of these things:
I’m guesing that the reason it’s called that is because it switches the ‘male’ (the part with little wire things sticking out of it), into a female (the part with the little holes). They interlock – clearly a reference to male/female sexual intercourse. Anyways, I just find the whole thing kind of interesting, because it’s an example of how the technology of language genders the physical technology that we use everyday. Another obvious example would of course be ‘motherboard’, ‘mothership’… Can you think of anymore examples? There must be thousands…