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Re: Respectful terminology

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  • John Carr
    ... Mexo-america ?? Speaking of imprecise terminology... jc
    Message 1 of 7 , May 3, 1999
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      >why can't we used the word Bust or Statue Bust of Cicero works fine why
      >not in Mexo-america?

      "Mexo-america"??

      Speaking of imprecise terminology...

      jc
    • Alec Christensen
      ... Lloyd, While I agree with the sentiment, and I too have winced at some of the discrepancies between terminology applied to Africa and terminology applied
      Message 2 of 7 , May 3, 1999
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        Lloyd,

        While I agree with the sentiment, and I too have winced at some
        of the discrepancies between terminology applied to Africa and
        terminology applied to Europe, I think you go too far the other
        way. Here's your basic list of "good" terms vs. "bad" terms
        (although the order appears to reverse in the middle):

        <<So here are four contrasts:

        1. "language" vs. "dialect"
        2. "ethnic group" vs. "tribe"
        3. "mummy bundle" vs. "revered ancestor figure"
        4. "idol" (vs. "figure" or what?)
        5. "ritual" vs. "ceremonial" >>

        In particular, as a physical anthropologist, I find the term
        "revered ancestor figure" kind of silly. "Mummy bundle" or "burial
        bundle" has a specific meaning: a bundled up body. "Revered
        ancestor figure" has no such specificity. After all, it doesn't
        even need to be physically present: George Washington is a
        "revered ancestor figure" of our country, is he not? And I find
        no basis for the sentence <<"mummy" is a holdover from exotic
        primitive contexts. "Mummy" is a standard term for a dessicated
        human body where some or most of the soft tissues have been
        preserved. I don't find it exotic or primitive, personally.

        As you point out, "language" and "dialect" have specific meanings;
        yes, they are often used judgmentally, but that is a reason to
        improve our use of them, not to abandon them.

        "Ethnic group" vs. "tribe": again, a question of definition. Not
        as sharp a definition as the previous one, but different beasts
        nonetheless. "Tribe" indicates an independent political unit of a
        fairly simple sociopolitical structure. "Ethnic group" has no such
        political connotations. In addition, "ethnic groups" per se tend
        to only develop in more complex societies where individuals from
        different cultural backgrounds are in regular contact-- the example
        I keep using in my intro class is that the Yanomamo had no concept
        of Yanomamo ethnicity until they were in regular contact with
        non-Yanomamo. Before that, in Venezuela at least all individuals
        of European descent were lumped together as Caraca-teri: that is,
        people from the village of Caracas, implicitly catagorzied
        alongside people from any individual Yanomamo village.

        "Ritual" vs. "ceremonial": I don't really have the same
        associations with these terms that you do. If anything, I use the
        former in more religious circumstances and the latter in secular
        ones: the Catholic Church has plenty o' rituals, while this time
        of year witnesses a flowering of university ceremonial events.

        "Idol": no question, that's a rotten term. But I don't know when I
        last heard an anthropologist use it. It's the sort of term that we
        should try to educate people away from, certainly. But there's no
        need to call up some magic word to replace it: various more
        specific terms work just fine. I think Bob Wicks has some good
        thoughts on the subject.

        <<Take a culture which refers to a figure it keeps sacred as
        "Head of the Community".
        What are we to call it?
        The insider term is probably exactly that, "Head of the Community".
        And in respect to that culture we could call it that too.

        Why should we call it anything different?

        Because we want to lump this "Head of the Community" with other
        figures in other communities which WE as outsiders (note !)
        regard as the same as it? Why would we regard them as the same?
        Because they belong to religions or social structure OTHER than
        ours? That rather guarantees choice of a term with negative
        connotations. And it does not reflect agreement by members of
        those other communities that their figures are equivalent.>>

        If I follow the logic of this argument correctly, we should
        basically call everything by the exact same name that "the
        natives" call it. Hrmh. The real problem with that is then we
        can't make any generalizations-- in fact, you seem to deny the
        importance of making generalizations. But that's what
        anthropologists do. We look at all sorts of different cultures in
        an effort to understand ourselves better. If we particularlize
        excessively, and refrain from looking at the broader picture,
        what's the point of the entire exercise?

        << A respectful term MUST be applicable to something in our
        cultures which has similar importance and respect to the closest
        equivalent in another culture. >>

        I have real problems with this statement, at least inasfar as I
        understand it. What about things which have no exact equivalents?
        For example, maize is something that is far more important and
        respected in traditional Mesoamerican societies than in our own;
        does that mean we can't use the words "corn" and "maize" to refer
        to it, because for us this has associations of animal feed?

        I repeat that I agree with the general principle of using
        respectful terms, but I am not quite sure of how useful this
        discussion of them was.

        Alec Christensen
        Augusta State University
      • Stevan Davies
        ... But isn t this precisely what the political correctness police assert is their motivation? ... I don t understand this. Mummy is a technical term for a
        Message 3 of 7 , May 3, 1999
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          > From: Lloyd Anderson

          > (I hate "political correctness", and tend to want to disrupt it
          > when I see it. Both for its narrow-mindedness and silliness,
          > and for dictatorial qualities. I hope what I am talking about
          > here is merely being respectful to others, given the very real
          > consequences of the use of terminology.

          But isn't this precisely what the "political correctness" police
          assert is their motivation?

          > 3.
          >
          > "mummy" is a holdover from exotic primitive contexts.
          >
          > Probably we need to get away from "mummy bundle"
          > because of the disrespect implied.

          I don't understand this. "Mummy" is a technical term for a
          deliberately preserved corpse from Egyptian antiquity. Perhaps an
          accidentally preserved corpse should indeed be called something
          else, but why the term implies disrespect I do not know.

          > 5. "ritual" vs. "ceremonial"
          >
          > We have "ceremonies", a neutral term.
          > We do not speak of ourselves as having "rituals",
          > at least not often, and not without a definite flavor.
          > Others however, primitives, have "rituals",
          > especially "religious rituals".

          In the field of Religious Studies the term "ritual" connotes an
          important repeated religious activity and will be applied to the
          Catholic Eucharist, for example, in a respectful sense. "Ceremony"
          on the other hand, connotes something less significant. "Ceremony
          of the Eucharist" doesn't sound quite respectful enough. One might
          say either "ceremony of marriage" or "ritual of marriage." But one
          would not say "we had a ritual honoring our graduating senior
          football players" while one would say "we had a ceremony honoring
          our graduating senior football players."

          > We have the term "ritualistic"
          > meaning including the connotation of "unthinking".

          This is a different word and not a cogent argument for refraining
          from the use of the word "ritual."

          > The respectful term is "ceremonial",
          > and even "religious ceremonies" is more respectful
          > than "religious rituals".

          This is not true in the field of Religious Studies.

          > 5. "idol"
          >
          > This is a hard one, for which I have no solution at present.
          > I hope someone else does.

          Idol is indeed pejorative.

          The term to be used for two dimensional religious representations
          is "icon." I see no difficulty in calling a portrayal of Kawil in
          carved stucco an "icon of Kawil" and certainly a portrayal of
          Kawil on a painted pot will be an "icon of Kawil."

          For a three dimensional religious statue, why not use the term
          "statue?" "A statue of Saint Joseph" is pefectly correct. As far
          as I know it would not be incorrect to call a religious statue an
          "icon" but it's not commonly done.

          ============
          > We cannot use "god" because our culture does not recognize "gods"
          > as physical figures. That would be a mistranslation.

          I don't understand this. Catholicism is replete with statues of
          Jesus and icons of God the Father are not uncommon.

          > Why would we want to use a term like "idol"?
          > It satisfies the need our cultures feel for a global term, noted above,
          > but it conveys all the associations of "idolatry" and primitiveness.
          > So it is really not respectful.

          Yes.

          > The best I can come up with as a global term is
          > "sacred image", since this refers to physical images which are highly
          > important to a society.

          Nothing wrong with "sacred image."

          > A respectful term MUST be applicable to something in our cultures
          > which has similar importance and respect to the closest equivalent in
          > another culture.

          This is why you are mistaken about "ritual" which is applicable
          to religious events in our own culture.

          > Neither we nor Mayans, for example, really think
          > the image is the SAME THING AS what it represents.

          NOBODY ever does. So "idol" is actually a term that applies to no
          real thing but, rather, testifies either to a negative attitude
          toward another culture's statues or to a failure to realize that
          nobody does think images are the SAME THING AS what they
          represent.

          Incidentally, I don't think Mayans had three dimensional icons,
          or religious statues as such. They had facade decorations, carved
          censers, and some small ceramic representations of Gods... but
          unlike the Aztecs, god statues do not seem to me to be something
          significant in their culture.

          Here's one for you... should one capitalize Gods when referring
          to other peoples gods or not?

          Stevan Davies
          Professor of Religious Studies
          College Misericordia
          Dallas, PA
        • Nicholas A. Hopkins
          ... See Landa (1941 Tozzer ed., pp. 110-111), commenting on Cozumel: They had such a great quantity of idols that even those of their gods were not enough;
          Message 4 of 7 , May 3, 1999
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            RE Stevan Davies remark:

            >Incidentally, I don't think Mayans had three dimensional icons,
            >or religious statues as such. They had facade decorations, carved
            >censers, and some small ceramic representations of Gods... but
            >unlike the Aztecs, god statues do not seem to me to be something
            >significant in their culture.

            See Landa (1941 Tozzer ed., pp. 110-111), commenting on Cozumel:

            "They had such a great quantity of idols that even those of their
            gods were not enough; for there was not an animal or insect of
            which they did not make a statue, and they made all these in the
            image of their gods and goddesses. They had some idols of stone,
            but very few, and others of wood, and carved but of small size but
            not as many as those of clay. The wooden idols were so much
            esteemed that they were considered as heirlooms and were
            (considered) as the most important part of the inherited property."

            Nick Hopkins
            Department of Anthropology
            Florida State University
            Tallahassee, FL 32306-2150
          • D. M. Urquidi
            ... The word is out. Don t be an anthropologist if you eat lunch and type letters at the same time. DMU Lords of the Earth http://www.realtime.net/maya e-mail:
            Message 5 of 7 , May 4, 1999
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              >"Mexo-america"??
              >
              >Speaking of imprecise terminology...

              The word is out. Don't be an anthropologist if you eat lunch and type
              letters at the same time.

              DMU

              Lords of the Earth
              http://www.realtime.net/maya
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