Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Polemical Lexicon of Illegal Immigration

Cindy Rodriguez, a columnist for the Denver Post, wrote this morning in a column entitled, "'Illegal' as a noun breaks law of reason:"

"Those politicians are being goaded by nativists, racists and brainwashed people who are confused in our culture of fear.

"Their term of choice: 'illegals.'

"That shorthand term for 'illegal immigrants' - which they use as a noun, making linguists cringe - is being used repeatedly by reactionary commentators and politicians in every venue available.

"They rail about 'illegals' on radio talk shows. Hate groups like the Aryan Nation spew vitriol about the 'illegal invasion' in e-mail blasts. Bill O'Reilly and Lou Dobbs drone on about 'illegals' every night."

"Nativists, racists, brainwashed people, reactionary commentators, hate groups..."

Let's look at Ms. Rodriguez's claim that: the "... shorthand term for "illegal immigrants" ... make[es] linguists cringe..."

Dare I advise that my Merriam-Webster provides the word "Illegal" as a noun, the definition of which is "Illegal immigrants." Now, where, I wonder does Ms. Rodriguez--who has advised you that "linguists cringe," at the use of this particular adjective as a noun--get validation for her postulate?

Ms. Ridriguez's answer:

"'The terms 'aliens' and 'illegals' provoke fear, loathing and dread,' says George Lakoff, a linguist who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley. 'There is a physiology to this governed in the brain. Certain ideas activate the neurons in the brain, which result in visceral bodily reactions.'

"That is why if you think 'chocolate,' you feel happy; if someone says 'vomit,' you feel disgusted.

Lakoff: 'If you say 'illegal immigrants,' it activates an immigrant frame. And when people think of immigrants they think of their grandparents, they think of them as honorable, hardworking people.'

"But, he said, if a person cuts out the word 'immigrants' and uses 'illegals,' it conjures a different image: People who are dangerous and want to commit criminal acts."

Okay, so your "authoritative" source is a "...linguist who teaches at the University of California at Berkeley." No one in Colorado able to give you the answer you wanted, Ms. Rodriguez. Certainly a linguist from Berkeley has the credentials to debunk Merriam-Webster.

Let's take the word, "reactionary," which, once again, Merriam-Webster defines as: "relating to, marked by, or favoring reaction; especially ultraconservative in politics."

Well, at least for me, Ms. Rodriguez is partly right and partly wrong. Certainly--if you've read most of my prior posts--you will understand I don't have an "ultraconservative" bone in my body. But, I do react to issues. Who doesn't? And, if that reaction appears to lean a little right (or, most often, to the left), then so what? I abhor political parties. I am a registered Indpendent who sees little difference between Democrats and Republicans these days.

Now, Ms. Rodriguez lumps, "...nativists, racists, brain-washed and Aryan Nation hate groups..." into that single politically correct, linguistically challenged group of folks who react to illegal immigration into the United States; who react to the hate-filled rhetoric of the Mexican reconquistadors who revere Che Guevara in the context of recapturing the United States of America because it was theres' in the first place (Native Americans aside?); who apparently don't believe that the United States of America is a nation of laws, not men, and that illegal immigration is, surprise, a criminal offense.

The other day a thirteen year old child in a Longmont, Colorado school system wore bluejeans, a white shirt and a red sweater to school. She was told by the school principal that her clothing was inappropriate (red, white and blue) and confrontational. She was told that if she ever wore that combination again, she would be suspended.

The polemical lexicon of this particular issue, "illegal immigration" from our southern border has incensed this nation and, sadly, contributes to the extreme polarization of this nation that was extant before the "illegal immigration" issue took center stage. Gosh, wonder if this issue will eclipse gay marriage? Nah, that hot button will be resurrected by Senate Majority Leader Frist in June.

Yes, we are a "nation of immigrants." Most of our ancestors who emigrated to the United States of America came here legally. And, most of our ancestors began their lives in this country on the very bottom rung of the social ladder where the jobs were tough and the pay was low. But, even so, most of our ancestors (and the majority of Hispanic citizens in the United States today) yearned to assimilate, to learn the English language, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, to pay taxes and to give back something of what the "American dream" had given to them. And, no, that assimilation did not demand that one's culture be abandoned; that is the strength of America; so many cultures adhering to an allegiance to the country that gave them that promise, that opportunity to succeed.

Building a wall along the southern border is ludicrous. Criminalizing as felons those who assist, or harbor or associate or hire "illegal immigrants" is absurd.

Ms. Rodriguez ends her column with:

"Without these [illegal immigrant] workers, crops would rot, trash would pile up in offices, hotel dust bunnies would become dust mongrels, and restaurants would have to be refashioned as places where 'u-cook, u-serve.'

Sorry, not buying that one, Ms. Rodriguez. I've got a little more faith in my country than that.

"When one considers American history as a while, it is hard to think of any very long period in which it could be said that the country has been consistently well governed. And yet its political system is, on the whole, a resilient and well-seasoned one, and on the strength of its history one must assume that it can summon enough talent and good will to cope with its afflictions. To cope with them--but not, I think, to master them in any thoroughly decisive or admirable fashion. The nation seems to slouch onward into its uncertain future like some huge inarticulate beast, too much attainted by wounds and ailments to be robust, but too strong and resourceful to succumb."

Richard Hofstadter - "History of Violence"

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