steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Word Assocations

I've been trying to catch up with the TLS, and last night was taken with one their occasional "Then And Now" features. In this case it was reprinting an article first published in 1918 on the subject of "Jung and Word Association". It was an interesting piece altogether, but what leapt out at me was the following sentence:

The book also contains material of great value for comparing the average reactions of the uneducated with those of the mentally deficient; there are probably very many cases in which the defective represents, not the sins of his fathers or a freak of nature, but a failure of our present civilization to provide the educational opportunities that would give expression to the more unusual, and perhaps not the less valuable, types of mind.

I found it quite hard to process the fact that such un-PC language was being used to make what is, if one can press on to the end of the sentence, such an enlightened thought. To pick only the most obvious problem, was the writer really unaware of the problems involved in describing someone as a defective while also maintaining that their minds may be just as valuable as anyone else's? Did they really have such a tin ear? Or is it our own generation that, having thought so much about the ways in which privilege and prejudice are embedded in language, is unusually sensitive to such matters? (Or has our insensitivity simply moved to different spheres less visible to us, for future generations to hoot and tut at?)
Tags: language
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