Marszałkini i chirurżka - język szacunku i wrażliwości

Marshal and surgeon - the language of respect and sensitivity

Several dozen people took part in a panel discussion on linguistic sensitivity. The event took place on February 22 in the Beskidzka Library as part of Bielsko-Biała's efforts to win the title of European Capital of Culture. The panel was part of the celebration of the International Mother Language Day, organized jointly by Książnica Beskidzka and the Cultural Center. Wiktoria Kubisz and Punkt 11.

Three expert people talked about sensitive or inclusive language. She is a linguist, doctor of humanities, professor at the University of Silesia and president of the Management Board of the AGERE AUDE Knowledge and Social Dialogue Foundation Katarzyna Sujkowska-Sobisz; graduate of art history and curatorial specialization at the Jagiellonian University, working at Galeria Bielska BWA and co-creating the Katowice queer scene, Paulina Darłak, and Polish teacher, initiating and managing editor of the WAB publishing house, academic teacher, popularizer of knowledge about the Polish language, writing instructor and two-time TEDx speaker Maciej Makselon.

There were plenty of questions from the audience during the panel, because who among us hasn't thought about feminatives (feminine grammatical forms of the names of professions and functions) at least for a moment and argued about them? Meanwhile, feminatives are only the beginning of the problem - there are also personatives to consider (constructs such as: person + participle, person + adjective, which do not indicate gender at all), neutralatives (neutral versions of words - e.g. names of professions, analogous to feminatives) or masculatives (antonyms). feminatives, masculine forms).

What is inclusive language?

It started with experts explaining to the audience what they believed the concept of inclusive language meant. The topic is not new. A few months ago, in Bielsko-Biała, at Point 11, a workshop on this topic was held, led by one of the panel experts, Paulina Darłak.

- We were already talking about the fact that an inclusive language is, above all, an inclusive language that does not discriminate against anyone, does not stigmatize anyone, goes beyond stereotypes and - what seems most important - is based on sensitivity and respect for all people. In a nutshell, said P. Darłak at the beginning.

Linguist Katarzyna Sujkowska-Sobisz added a sense of comfort in the language.

- Is it possible for us all to feel well? – she asked. – For example, I like to think of myself as a lecturer, linguist, president; I prefer this to the president and linguist versions. But that's how I like it. There are women who say - I would still like to think of myself as: a president, a lecturer, a linguist - it hurts me when you talk to me or about me in a public situation: a linguist or a lecturer. In such a situation, the person does not feel good, there is no comfort - said K. Sujkowska-Sobisz.

Polish teacher Maciej Makselon expressed doubts whether an inclusive language should be forcible, because in his opinion, forcible inclusion is a kind of linguistic violence. We should therefore talk not about an inclusive language, but rather a non-exclusive one, a language based on basic empathy.

To explain his position, Makselon cited the recent situation with former Speaker of the Sejm, Elżbieta Witek.

- Asked by a journalist - would you still like to be a marshal? - she was outraged and said that she didn't want to be called that way. Someone said that the marshal had no right to decide how journalists should speak to her, he said. - This is exactly the same situation as if I said that I didn't want to be called Maciku or Maciusiu, because I prefer the form Macieju, and someone would consistently call me Maciusiu in a conversation. This would not only be uncivil, but also violent. Why use a form that someone feels bad about? You can hit the ball - this person may say - because I don't like the form, Maciej. Only this form does not apply to this person. I also don't like the form of Mrs. Marshal, because for me it is a waste of Polish grammar, but this form does not concern me. That's why I'll swallow it, even though my Polish language ear will suffer, when the phrase marshal or marshal said, because this form doesn't apply to me, he concluded.

The language contains traces of what happened a hundred, two hundred, and fifty-something years ago. Most of us already know that in the interwar period, feminatives were very good in our country and were widely used. They were replaced by the post-war system, when thinking about women changed. It is from those times that the belief that the names of professions in the feminine form lower their rank comes from.

- At this point, the most important thing is what we feel when we talk to each other, and it is not linguistic consistency that is key here, but diversity. We have to find ourselves in diversity, said P. Darłak.


The recipe for finding oneself in diversity, according to Paulina Darłak, are pronouns. We should start with them to be clear about the name of the person we are talking to.

- I use feminine pronouns for myself: she, her, occasionally masculine pronouns: he, his, and also neutral ones. You can't gender me, she said.

In response to M. Makselon's aggressive accusation that such practices may introduce a kind of unnaturalness into the conversation, she immediately asked: - Asking about your name is also a kind of unnaturalness? Pronouns are crucial because if we rely on default, we can make mistakes. We have feminatives, we have neutral forms. This multitude does not hinder anything. We are at the stage of searching and let it continue, she said.

Beginnings are hard

Until we get used to something, it is strange to us. This also applies to language. The subjective sense of strangeness - according to the speakers - does not have to cause someone discomfort, even if the person were to go beyond their experience.

The feeling of strangeness often results from a lack of deeper reflection... Let's take, for example, such situations, taken directly from the life around us:

- I have heard many times that personalities are strange - students? How does it sound? – asked M. Makselon. - Today I was traveling to you by train and at every station I heard: people getting off are asked to take their luggage. And it doesn't bother us at all. And suddenly people studying or listening are disturbing? When we go to a wedding, we receive an invitation with an accompanying person. And this form is inclusive, not only because it does not indicate gender, but also because the accompanying person can be a friend, colleague, fiancé, fiancée, etc. And these forms do not bother us in any way, he said.

- For example, if we use three forms in the invitations: female, male and personative - non-binary people (identifying neither with the male nor female gender, going beyond the binary division) will receive information that they are invited and can feel comfortable in a given space - indicated by P. Darłak.


After the panel at Książnica Beskidzka, we can quote some tips on using inclusive language.

M. Makselon: Inclusiveness should consist in not putting yourself first in the conversation; we should also think about the comfort of the other party. About your own, too, but not at the expense of another person.

K. Sujkowska-Sobisz: Coming face to face [with inclusive language] for the first time may raise doubts. It's about knowing that it can be mine if I hear it over and over again and it becomes more natural to me.

P. Darłak: People who question this nomenclature reduce everything to the category of ridiculousness. But you have to get through it. Some things that used to make us laugh don't make us laugh anymore. And that's the sensitivity - some things just aren't funny.

K. Sujkowska-Sobisz: I understand inclusivity in such a way that I ask: how do you feel? – if you want to be deputy dean, please, if you want to be deputy dean – no problem.

M. Makselon: Inclusive language also means not using forms that stigmatize, offend or limit the character to one feature - e.g. not entirely positive. And here we have the example of disabled people - this term reduces the entire person to one feature, as if this one feature was determining. Hence the idea to use the form: people with disabilities.

For those who want to delve deeper into the topic, we suggest reading the publication Inclusive toolkit for positions, functions and professions at the University of Silesia in Katowice (inflectional-word-formation dictionary) by, among others, K. Sujkowska-Sobisz. A free version of the tool is available for download on the website of the University of Silesia Publishing House.

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