In December 2017, the news came out that officials at the nation’s top public health agency were being prohibited from using a list of seven words in official documents being prepared for next year’s budget. The forbidden words were “vulnerable,“ "entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” This Orwellian piece of news reveals that words are not only important conveyers of ideas and concepts, but also a powerful mirror of the society that uses them. We use words to navigate expectations, to engage in interpersonal interaction, and to go along with or to speak out against social structures and systems. Therefore, the particular choice of words which we use (and do not use) reflects changes in cultural perspective, social composition, and political circumstances. Moreover, in a 2016 book titled “Words on the Move”, Columbia scholar John Hamilton McWhorter wrote that “changes in meaning are as natural to words as changes of pitch are to music”. In this salon, we will delve into the symphony of words that makes up our dictionary in order to better understand how we, as speakers, use words to inhabit and negotiate our many personal, cultural, and social identities and roles.
Some of the questions we strived to answer: Can words ever be neutral? In which ways do the words that we use to communicate reflect, affect and infect our reality? What about the words that we choose to omit? How does our personal patois – our vocabulary, syntax and linguistic quirks – function as a tool to legitimise, perpetuate and reinforce the status quo? And how can it be used to undermine it? If history is written by the winners, which words could compile a more thorough and comprehensive narration of history? If “to define is to limit”, as Oscar Wilde famously said, can we do without definitions? Where should we draw the line between political correctness and self-censorship? If we are striving for accuracy, how can we balance the ambition to be as precise as possible, without drowning in a sea of qualifications? At which point does an assemblage of words become a language? Is the extinction of languages an inevitable phenomenon? Should we treat certain words as endangered species? Are emojis comparable to words? Do we really know what we are saying when we use them? Are they impoverishing our vocabulary; or are they expanding the potential of our communication outreach?
This salon took place on May 16th, 2018.
Lena Herzog is a Russian-born American artist based in Los Angeles and New York. She is the author of six books of photography. Her work has appeared in and was reviewed by The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, the Los Angeles Times, The Paris Review and Cabinet, among other publications. Lena’s work has been widely exhibited in Europe and the United States. She is the Director and Producer of Last Whispers, a project on the mass extinction of languages which premiered at the British Museum.
Jenna Freedman is the Associate Director of Communications and Zine Librarian at the Barnard College Library and has worked there since 2003. She is a founding member of the Zine Librarians Yahoo Group and of Radical Reference and writes and speaks frequently for trade and scholarly publications, and library and academic conferences about zines. Jenna founded and edited the quarterly Zine Reviews column in Library Journal, which ran from 2008-2012.
Isha Datar has been the CEO of New Harvest since 2013. She has been pioneering the field of cellular agriculture since 2009, when she published “Possibilities for an in-vitro meat production system” in the food science journal Innovative Food Science and Emerging Technologies. She co-founded Muufri, making milk without cows, in April 2014 and Clara Foods, making eggs without chickens, in November 2014. She was recognized as one of 13 women leading the life sciences movement in Silicon Valley in TechCrunch in 2016.
Fred Benenson is a Kickstarter Fellow and emoji translation expert. With the support of Kickstarter fundraising, Fred published Emoji Dick, an emoji translation of Herman Melville’s classic Moby Dick, which in 2013 became the first emoji book acquired by The Library of Congress. He is also the author of How to Speak Emoji. Founder of Free Culture @ NYU and a former Creative Commons representative, he occasionally teaches copyrights and cyberlaw at NYU.
Mark Fettes is Associate Professor, Faculty of Education and Associate Director, Imaginative Education Research Group (IERG). He is also the President of the World Esperanto Association, an organization that works to promote the Esperanto language while also stimulating discussion of the world language problem and to call attention to the necessity of equality among languages. He has previously worked with First Nations organizations around issues of language maintenance and revitalization. This in turn is related to his long-term interest in cultural diversity and intercultural communication, and particularly the management of multilingualism in a globalized world.
Emma Ramadan is a literary translator based in Providence, Rhode Island. She attended Brown University and later earned her Master’s degree in Cultural Translation at the American University of Paris. She specializes in translating French to English, and has received various honors and awards for her work, having been the recipient of an NEA Translation Fellowship, a PEN/Heim grant, and a Fulbright scholarship. In 2015 she completed a Fulbright Fellowship in Marrakech, Morocco, where she catalogued and translated the archives of the late Moroccan author Ahmed Bouanani.
Karthik Dinakar is a research scientist and Reid Hoffman Fellow at MIT who started the Applied Machine Learning and the Cambridge Computational Clinical Psychology Org interest groups at MIT and Harvard. He is interested in large scale bayesian data science - scalable machine learning, probabilistic graphical models, human-in-the-loop computation and fail-soft computing. Before his work at MIT he ‘machine learnified’ large scale query-entity relationships for the Bing search engine’s knowledge graph Satori. He has previously held positions at Deustche Bank and at Yahoo R&D, where he worked with a team on the Enthusiast Platform. At Carnegie Mellon University he studied human-computer interaction and machine learning.
Shigetaka Kurita is an artist and designer who created the first emoji in 1999 for the Japanese telecom giant NTT DoCoMo. While the system offered emails, they were restricted to 250 characters, so emoji were a way to say more in a limited space. While emoji were immediately copied by other Japanese telecoms companies, the symbols were not standardized, meaning they could not be used across different networks. Additionally, they stayed fairly limited to Japan until 2010 when they were incorporated into Unicode, the standard that governs the software coding of text. That year, 722 emoji were released on both iPhone and Android. In 2016, the Museum of Modern Art in New York acquired 176 miniature drawings of faces, objects, and abstract places, etc.
Janice Kamrin is an Associate Curator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Janice holds a BA from Bryn Mawr College and a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. Her research interests include Middle Kingdom tomb art and the archaeology of Thebes. Before coming to The Met, Janice lived in Egypt, where she directed several projects at the Egyptian Museum, Cairo, and worked with the head of the Antiquities Service.
Sara Bodinson is Director, Interpretation, Research & Digital Learning at The Museum of Modern Art. She joined the Museum in 2000, coordinating internships for college and graduate students as well as programs and web initiatives for teens. In 2009, she began to oversee the Museum’s interpretive planning process and the development of resources including labels, audio, apps, games, and participatory spaces, as well as qualitative visitor research and evaluation. In 2015, her responsibilities expanded to oversee digital learning initiatives, including online courses and podcasts. Bodinson holds a BA in art history and film studies from Smith College and an MA in art history from Hunter College, where she wrote her thesis about the Arab Image Foundation. She is a member of the executive committee of the Professional Organization of Women in the Arts and the Smith College Museum of Art Visiting Committee.
THE POLITICS OF WORDS
Andersen, Kurt, How to Talk Like Trump: A short guide to speaking the president’s dialect, The Atlantic (March 2018)
Bowdler, Michelle, Why Donald Trump’s Words Matter, The New York Times (10.11.2016)
Chaika, Elaine, Language: the Social Mirror, Heinle & Heinle (1982)
Morgan, T. Clifton, The Concept Of War and Its Impact on Research and Policy, Peace & Chance, vol.14, issue 4, pp.413-441 (October 1990)
Murphy, David, Léopold Sédar Senghor: Race, Language, Empire, in Postcolonial Thought in the French-speaking World , Liverpool Scholarship (2009)
Orwell, George, Politics and the English Language, Horizon (April 1946)
Orwell, George, 1984, Secker & Warburg (1949)
Rancière, Jacques, The Flesh of Words - The Politics of Writing, Stanford University Press (2004)
Szántó, András, What Orwell Didn’t Know: Propaganda and the New Face of American Politics, Open Society Institute (2007)
Sun, Lena & Eilperin, Juliet, CDC gets list of forbidden words: Fetus, transgender, diversity, The Washington Post (12.15.2017)
ESKIMO, ESPERANTO AND LINGUISTIC IMPERIALISM
Burns, Anne, Is English a form of linguistic imperialism?, British Council (04.10.2013)
Harbeck, James, The language the government tried to suppress, BBC (09.16.2016)
Phillipson, Robert, Linguistic Imperialism, Oxford University Press (1992)
Piron, Claude, Brief notes on Esperanto, University of California - San Diego
Robson, David, Are there really 50 Eskimo words for snow?, New Scientist (12.12.12)
Quenqua, Douglas, Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills, Study Finds, The New York Times (10.16.2014)
Tse, Keith, Cantonese vs Mandarin: it need not be a political battle, AsiaTime (02.22.2018)
Woodbury, Anthony C., Counting Eskimo words for snow: A citizen’s guide, Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska (July 1991)
WORDS ON THE MOVE
Bodle, Andy, How new words are born, The Guardian (02.04.2016)
McWhorter, John, Words on the Move: Why English Won’t - and Can’t - Sit Still (Like, Literally), Henry Holt & Co (2016)
Truss, Lynne, Why English Keeps On, Like, Totally Changing, The New York Times (11.03.2016)
QUEERING THE LANGUAGE
Adler, Melissa, Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organization of Knowledge, Fordham University Press (2017)
Berman, Sanford, The Fucking Truth About Library Catalogs, Progressive Librarian, pp. 19-25 (Summer 1992)
Cherry, Alyssa & Mukunda, Keshav, A Case Study in Indigenous Classification: Revisiting and Reviving the Brian Deer Scheme, Cataloging and Classification Quarterly, pp. 548-567 (July 2015)
Elkin, Lauren, Sphinx by Anne Garréta, translated by Emma Ramadan, BookForum (07.10.2015)
Fox, Violet, Creating Change in the Cataloging Lab, Library Journal (03.01.2018)
Nicholson, Rebecca, Women swear as much as men – so here’s to equal-opportunity cursing, The Guardian (11.07.2016)
Noble, Safiya Umoja, Google Search: Hyper-visiblilty as a Means of Rendering Black Women Invisible, InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture (10.29.2013)
Perec, Georges, Brief Notes on the Art and Manner of Arranging One’s Books, in L’Humidité (1978)
Tett, Gillian, Bad language: the curse of gender equality, Financial Times (12.08.2016)
Valentine, David, *Imagining Transgender: An Ethnography of a Category, Duke University Press (2007)
LANGUAGE AND MIND
Chomsky, Noam, Language and Mind, Cambridge University Press (2006)
Chomsky, Noam & McGilvray, James, The Science of Language: Noam Chomsky interviews with James McGilvray, Cambridge University Press (2012)
Codrescu, Andrei, The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess, Princeton University Press (2009)
Fenollosa, Ernest & Pound, Ezra, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry, Instigations (1920)
Pinker, Steven, The Language Instinct: How The Mind Creates Language, William Morrow and Company (1994)
Pound, Ezra, ABC of Reading, A New Direction Paperbooks (1934)
Mesoamerican Codices, University of Arizona Library (1999)
Crofts, Daniel, Communication Breakdown, The New York Times (05.21.2011)
Day, Michael, Camorra code is cracked: Letter reveals how jailed boss still ran the mafia, Independent (04.27.2012)
Girolami, Andrea, Look Inside The Codex Seraphinianus, Wired (10.25.2013)
Gschwandtner, Sabrina, kNOT a QUIPU - An Interview with Cecilia Vicuña (09.22.2005)
Kamrin, Janice, Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs: A Practical Guide, AUC Press (2004)
Boyd, Martin, Two Opposing Views of Literary Translation: Nabokov vs. Borges, Dialogos (06.28.2013)
Lahiri, Jhumpa, Teach Yourself Italian, The New Yorker (12.07.2015)
Miller, Wesley, Beryl Korot: Babel: the 7 minute scroll, Art21 (12.03.2010)
Willis, Judy, Bilingual Brains, Psychology Today (11.22.2012)
WE <3 EMOJIS
Google Updates Gun Emoji, blog.emojipedia.org (04.28.2018)
Abbott, Brianna, Climate change emojis could help save the planethttp://scienceline.org/2018/03/climate-change-emojis-help-save-planet/, ScienceLine (03.26.2018)
Alshenqeeti, Hamza, Are Emojis Creating a New or Old Visual Language for New Generations? A Socio-semiotic Study, Advances in Language and Literary Studies, vol.7, issue 6, pp. 56-69 (2016)
Benenson, Fred, Emoji Dick (2010)
Coren, Michael J., A new study confirms it: We really don’t know what we’re saying when we use emoji, Quartz (04.14.2016)
Evans, Vyvyan, Emojis actually make our language way better, New York Post (08.12.2017)
McCurry, James, The inventor of emoji on his famous creations – and his all-time favorite, The Guardian (10.27.2019)
Ohlheiser, Abby, What the world needs now is a dinosaur emoji, The Washington Post (06.09.2016)
Tutt, Paige, How Apple’s new multicultural emojis are more racist than before, The Washington Post (04.10.2015)
Stark, Luke & Crawford, Kate, The Conservatism of Emoji: Work, Affect, and Communication, Social Media + Society, vol.1, issue 2 (October 2015)
Varn, Kathryn, Letting Our Emojis Get in the Way, The New York Times (07.17.2015)
Baron, Naomi, See you online: Gender issues in college student use of instant messaging,Journal of Language and Social Psychology, vol.23, pp. 397-423 (2004)
Gajadhar, Joan & Green, John, An Analysis of Nonverbal Communication in an Online Chat Group, The Open Polytechnic of New Zealand, Working Paper (March 2003)
Law, Sally, The Revolution Will Be Crowdsourced (and Cute), The New Yorker (09.22.2009)
WAYS OF WORDING
Douglas, Sarah, The Great Wall Label Shortage of 2017! Critic Chaos! Artists Take Matters into Their Own Hands, Art News (06.08.18)
Roffino, Sara, Why MoMA’s Exhibition of Towering Brazilian Modernist Tarsila do Amaral Misses the Mark, artnet news (03.01.2018)