On Sept. 16, the Department of Philosophy and Religion welcomed retired University of North Carolina professor William Gay as the guest speaker during the department’s Philosophical Fridays event.
Gay specializes in war, peace studies and research. During the event he discussed “linguistic violence,” a subject he coined himself and which he has researched for the past 30 years.
Gay’s presentation was centered around the overt and covert language that may be derived from offensive origins or even be intentionally insulting to specific groups of people. This kind of language can be based in ethnocentrism, sexism, ageism, classism and so forth. This language has a history that may not be common knowledge to those who are speaking it, according to Gay’s findings.
Gay discussed words ranging from open slurs to positive identifiers. He emphasized the unnecessary nature of what is known as hate speech.
“The English language has so many words to describe one thing unlike some languages,” Gay said. “It is entirely possible to get a point across without using words that have a hurtful nature.”
He emphasized the importance of millennials’ role in redefining household identification terms.
“We all learn to speak based on what we hear our parents say,” Gay said. “Imagine if we only heard positive speech.”
One controversial argument that Gay addressed is the concept of freedom of speech versus political correctness. Many people believe that forced correctness is an infringement of First Amendment rights. Gay said many politically incorrect words are recognized by universities and the legal system as “fighting words” that could possibly incite violence.
Freshman psychology major Cayla Derbigny said the presentation made her think about the way cultures use words.
“I think Dr. Gay gave a name to something that we always see but never know how to describe,” said Derbigny. “Without a name for something, it’s sometimes hard to see that it exists. I think that all of us, especially us in the black community, don’t always use words in the best way. It really made me think about how I present myself and judge others.”
Freshman music education major Dani Colvin said some of the terms mentioned rang true to her personal experience.
“I’m a poet and writer, so I work a lot with words,” said Colvin. “I’ve been bullied, and I’m very personally aware of some [of] the terms he mentioned. I love that he spoke against being passive.”
The audience received Gay positively. After the lecture, Gay accepted questions, responses and arguments against his perspective.
On Oct. 28 Philosophical Fridays will host guest speaker Robert Kane of the University of Texas and will lecture about “Ethics and the Quest for Wisdom: Seeking Common Ethical Ground in a Pluralist World” in Gonzales Auditorium (LAB 108) from 2 – 3:30 p.m.