Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Katrina And The Waves

Oh, I know, that is such a bad title for a post about the New Orleans disaster, but as it's questions of linguistic taste that are in the news this week, it's kind of appropriate. Kinda...

But anyway, The Guardian is reporting news of the arguments in the American news media about what to call the people of New Orleans who have been displaced by the hurricane. Those which favour using language to give a dramatic sense of events are describing them as "refugees", but there's a bit of a fist fight going on about whether or not this is (a) accurate and (b) racist.

The accuracy argument focuses on whether the word "refugee" only applies to people who have sought refuge across an international border, or whether it applies to people within a country. It depends which dictionary you use, so try looking it up in a load - is there any consensus? Is there an argument that the use of the word is changing to accommodate the latter meaning?

The racism argument is interesting. It focuses on the fact that most of the people caught up in the New Orleans catastrophe are black. But, because of the way the western media represents refugee situations - poor victims in third world countries who are somehow inferior and therefore incapable of controlling their lives/economies/weather (do not misread this as my opinion...) - these people do not want to be labelled in the same way. On the BBC ten o'clock news last night, one woman argued that they should be called "survivors" or "heroes". For many observers, the collocation of the word "American" and "refugee" just doesn't make sense. A word that initially seems entirely neutral has clearly undergone pejoration at the hands of the westerm media.

Check it out. The Guardian's report focuses on the US news media. Check out the British papers and see what they're doing about this in their reports.

Use of the Word 'Refugee' Stirs Debate

And if you want to know why this hurricane is called Katrina, type "hurricane" into the search the site box (here on the right hand side somewhere) and read my previous post and link.


Post a Comment

<< Home