Open Language

Enabling User Centred language, digitally

Let me start:

The woman with autism who was Asian

Let me start again:

The autistic Asian woman

Let me start again:

The Asian woman with autism

Let me start again:

The woman

Let me start again:

The person

And now I’ve lost you as as a reader. Before I’ve written anything.

I was just reading this article about Identity First and Person First language. It may seem abstruse but this kind of semantic argument matters. It’s why Political Correctness (whichever way this phrase aggravates you – and you can’t change the text in this article) has always mattered. Language and how it describes people is part of the foundation of how society acts.

I remember the 80's and 90's and long committee meetings editing language. The changing of “manning” for “staffing” to remove bias, the inclusion and recognition of different disabilities in lists rather than just the old Disabled People single line. These things did matter and changing the language did matter.

User centred identity

What the current discussions remind me of is how the new idea of user centred identity is that early respect for a group taken down to the personal level.

Some people do prefer Identity First descriptions and some don’t. That personal choice is theirs and you (we) can’t change that.

So how can we write anything without offending someone when the appropriateness of language is fragmented?

User centered media

I’d argue we need to think about how we can make digital media flexible to user needs and wants.

Unlike physical print, we can enable dynamic changes to online media. It can change in response to user interaction.

Perhaps it could be a user side browser add on.

Maybe a whole publishing platform.

Ways in which a person may change the author’s language to make it comfortable to themselves. A private (or semi-public) way to read new ideas and discover new things without harming self-identity. Intersectional identities, spread across digital and physical spaces, can make people more open to damage through words. Digitally adaptive user centred media protects people and allows them to discover their own identities.

Open Data is about the idea that data is someone anyone can take and adapt for their own benefit. Open Language is the idea that we let go of our sense of ownership of words too.

Let people decide how they read your ideas.

These ideas may seem strange to you now.

Yet Political Correctness seemed strange too a few years ago.

And the world still turns today.