By James L. WhiteIn a recent article titled Language Dysphonia: What Are Some Examples of Language Disabilities?
I highlighted a recent survey of linguists that found that a large majority of respondents identified “languages with a strong impact on our daily lives” as being “highly sensitive to language disabilities” and “the most frequently used language by individuals with language disabilities.”
This finding raises a question: What language does the government and the general public not want to use?
I suspect the answer is not “any language,” but rather, the ones the government doesn’t want us to use.
The United States government does not want you to use the word “disability” in any of its official languages.
As a result, it has banned the use of “disabilities” as a synonym for “language disabilities” (as in “Language Disabled: What’s a Language?
What’s A Language?”), even though the federal government has been using the term for over 100 years.
This prohibition has nothing to do with the word’s negative connotations or the government’s intent to stigmatize speech.
In fact, the prohibition on the use “disabled” is a response to an overwhelming public outcry, spearheaded by the U.S. Congress, to ban the use in public speech of any word that is “disable.”
The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary and the U,S.
House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce have also passed legislation that would have prohibited the use and/or misappropriation of the word in public.
This is not the first time the government has used the word to target people with language-disability conditions.
In 2008, the federal Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights began a campaign against the use by a popular music video director of the term “disabilized,” which is used by some in the music industry to refer to people who have disabilities.
The DOJ’s complaint claimed that “disablized” is “unacceptable in our society, including in a film, TV, and film-based work environment.”
The same year, the Office of Disability Rights in the Department of Homeland Security filed a complaint against a popular radio personality for using “disadvantaged” to describe a person with disabilities.
According to the complaint, “disabilitated” is inappropriate because it suggests that a person is not capable of performing his or her profession.
The government has also tried to make use of the use-and-misuse distinction in its attempts to make language accessible to people with disabilities, such as using the word with special sensitivity to “language-disabled” to refer specifically to people whose language abilities are not “capable” of hearing.
As the Department for Children and Families (DCF) explained in a 2010 memo, “In the past, DCF has used language-sensitive language to describe children with disabilities who cannot speak.”
In a 2014 report, DCS stated that the government “has no official definition for language-disabled that is used to describe those children.”
But this distinction, like other government attempts to stigmatise speech, is not without precedent.
In 2003, the U.,S.
Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v.
Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. that a “disqualified language” was “exclusively intended to convey a meaning that is not intended by the speaker to be taken as a literal or universal one.”
In the court’s opinion, the government did not have to prove that “language is inherently or substantially impaired” for a speaker to make such a statement.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby and other such cases shows that “speech with an effect on others is inherently and substantially impaired for a reasonable listener,” and that “a person’s ability to comprehend the speaker’s meaning is not determined by what language he or she is able to understand.”
In other words, “language does not need to be impaired” to convey meaning to a listener to be considered “disabling.”
Even the government, which claims to support the use, misuses and misappropriates language, is also not above using the language to stigmatist speech, including by trying to ban words and phrases that are associated with certain disabilities.
In 2013, the Government Accountability Office reported that the Department, in its official guidelines on the classification of certain words, included a definition for “disavowable.”
The GAO found that the GAO definition was vague and, in the opinion of the GAOs legal counsel, “did not include language that is currently the subject of an enforcement action.”
In response to the GAOS findings, the Department sought to change the definition of “adverse impact” to include words that have a negative connotation.
This change was made in 2014.
The GAOs findings were followed by a lawsuit against the government by the American Library Association, a trade group representing public libraries.
In 2016, the