Does neutrality exist?

Posted on January 23, 2018

Let's talk about neutrality. As I've rolled into my thirties late last year, I started thinking more about the concept of neutrality, or objectivity for that matter. As anyone knows, our perspective determines the way we look at the world and probably also the way we are seen by others. I was reminded of this recently by a documentary about the colour 'white', by Sunny Bergman (a Dutch documentary maker). The documentary points out the non-neutrality of the skin colour 'white' and how in Western societies, people are conditioned to see white as a neutral norm. A parallel can be drawn to language. In my mother tongue, Dutch, and in English - 'white' is usually associated with purity, clarity and innocence. While as black or dark is usually associated with ominous things and negativity ('a dark mood' for example). It's so important to be conscious of this, because it shapes our thought process and view on the world, without us even noticing it. 

Our perspective on the world shapes the way we create memories and the way we categorize our history accordingly. But perspective also plays an important role in our use and understanding of language. Language is not neutral, which is often forgotten or wilfully discarded. Language is as subjective as the person using it. Think about the famous example of the Inuit people that supposedly have dozens of words for 'snow'. Although this story turned out to be a lot more complicated than at first presented, it does show us that we need to be reminded of the fact that every culture seeps through in the language it uses. Or is a culture defined by the system of classifications that it has to choose from to express itself?

If language is your job and you spend most of your days looking over every tiny detail, as do I, these perspectives become more clear than ever. Companies that ask me to write texts and use words, betray their vision on the world. The theses I correct daily, show me the social class and demographic background of their writers. It's something I'm becoming more aware of with every text I write.