I finished reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new book, Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. You should read it. As well as We Should All Be Feminists while you’re at it.
This passage really resonated with me:
Teach her to question language. Language is the repository of our prejudices, our beliefs, our assumptions. But to teach her that, you will have to question your own language. A friend of mine says she will never call her daughter ‘princess.’ People mean well when they say this, but ‘princess’ is loaded with assumptions of a girl’s delicacy, of the prince who will come to save her, etc. This friend prefers ‘angel’ and ‘star.’
Language is the repository of our prejudices.
It’s a powerful statement.
Language informs much of our experience and cognitive processes. Language quite literally shapes and reshapes the brain to form new neural pathways. Speaking in certain ways and repeating certain phrases reinforces the concepts and the semantic relationships between them in our minds. Embodied cognition theory argues that our physical actions, our situatedness in our environment, and our language are all intertwined into shaping our thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. They loop around to influence and be influenced by each other.
Language itself therefore acts as either a barrier or an aperture to opening our minds, challenging our beliefs, and changing our behavior. Perhaps more importantly, the language we use impacts others and the perceptions they have about themselves and their own abilities.
To improve ourselves, to uplift others, and to improve our communities, language — the repository of our prejudices, beliefs, and assumptions — is an apt place to start.