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Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Keeping Up with Language Usage (Do Keep Up)

First up today, it was the use of the word "illegals", then it seems "whom" may be on its way out and now the NY Times weighs in on language with this op-ed "Those Irritating Verbs-as-Nouns."

Today the Associated Press (via the Huffington Post) sent out a style guide to reporters about using the term "illegals, illegal immigrants and undocumented immigrants."

From the AP Stylebook:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission. 

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.
Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

The Huffington Post uses the term “undocumented immigrant” to refer to those without lawful immigration status. 

The NY Times is considering their style as well on this issue.

The op-ed in the NY Times considers the use of verbs as nouns:

"Do you have a solve for this problem?” “Let’s all focus on the build.” “That’s the take-away from today’s seminar.” Or, to quote a song that was recently a No. 1 hit in Britain, “Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?”

If you find these sentences annoying, you are not alone. Each contains an example of nominalization: a word we are used to encountering as a verb or adjective that has been transmuted into a noun. Many of us dislike reading or hearing clusters of such nouns, and associate them with legalese, bureaucracy, corporate jive, advertising or the more hollow kinds of academic prose. Writing packed with nominalizations is commonly regarded as slovenly, obfuscatory, pretentious or merely ugly.


There are two types of nominalization. Type A involves a morphological change, namely suffixation: the verb “to investigate” produces the noun “investigation,” and “to nominalize” yields “nominalization.”

Type B is known as “zero derivation” — or, more straightforwardly, “conversion.” This is what has taken place in my opening illustrations: a word has been switched from verb into noun (or, in the last two cases, from adjective into noun), without the addition of a suffix.

Interesting reading for anyone who loves words and their usage and who wonders what we will be reading in 20 years.  

11 comments:

mirmac1 said...

My pet peeve: since when did "ask" become a noun. "So what is the 'ask'?"

Puhleeze! What happened to want, desire, request?!

Mark said...

It seems pretty clear that "illegal immigrant" means "a person who immigrated illegally", not "an illegal person who immigrated".

The latter makes little sense and obviously is not the correct interpretation. There is little ambiguity about the meaning, and the meaning does apply "illegal" to an action.

I don't care much about whether the term is used or not, but the reasoning for banning it seems weak.

Unknown said...

@Mark, It may be clear to you, but you can certainly hear enough people referring to persons who are in this country illegally as "illegals." what does that imply? I agree with the new style guide, albeit it does seem clumsy, just like not calling a "a person with diabetes" a diabetic felt clumsy at first. When people are referred to as "illegals" or "addicts" or "autistics," it is a way to write them off.

Mark said...

Mary, I agree, but you are addressing a different question.

I agree that "illegals" can be viewed as applying "illegal" to a person, so it comes across to many as a slur and offensive and therefore clearly should be avoided.

But "illegal immigrant" is different. It's meaning is quite clear, a person who immigrated illegally. It is unambiguous and a clear description of what is going on.

I am a big supporter of immigration, think immigration should be increased, and want more worker protections for those in the country illegally. But this silly effort word policing against the phrase "illegal immigrant" reeks of political correctness and does nothing to solve any real problems.

Anonymous said...

I have noticed another new set of words: timising (instead of multiplying), plusing (instead of adding) and minusing (instead of subtracting). This isn't a joke.

-- Depressed Math Lover (DML)

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