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Nathan is Hebrew and means "gift from God" - we couldn't have been more blessed than to have been chosen as his parents!

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Monday, July 21, 2008

An Expert Opinion

In a previous post I explained some Down syndrome language guidelines. However, in full disclosure I had some questions and linguistic reservations to a few of the "rules." So, I decided to take them to an expert.

I sent an email to Dr. Deborah Tannen, a well respected Linguistic and Communication Professor at Georgetown University and New York Times best selling author -here is her wiki if you're interested. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deborah_Tannen

This is an excerpt from my email "Upon receiving my new Board Member binder, it included an entire page on the proper linguistic rules for Down syndrome. There is a carnal rule that you can never say "Down's syndrome" and parents are extremely offended if they hear a person with Down syndrome referred to as having "downs" - it is insulting and demeaning. I realize I'm new at this but I just don't get it. If the syndrome is discovered by a man named "Down" why is the possessive use of the word incorrect? Also, is it really demeaning if people say "downs" or is it simply lazy American English or ignorance. I've done a little research on different types of syndromes and it seems many are referred to in the singular form but some are also possessive with a hyphenated "s." Would you please explain to me what I'm missing?"

With great surprise I received a reply!!!!

Dr. Tannen said, "My take on the issue you mention is that the meaning of words rarely resides in their dictionary definitions but rather in people's associations with their use. With conditions that are stigmatized in our culture, terms tend to become stigmatized by association, so speakers who want to identify themselves as enlightened and disassociate themselves from the negative connotations often adopt new terms. As an example, I myself am hard of hearing. I've noticed myself changing the phrase that I use to identify this handicap, adopting the more contemporary "hearing impaired." I saw nothing wrong with calling myself "hard of hearing," but I noticed others didn't use it anymore so I switched. I have been chastised by a reader who took issue with my using that term, too. I think she said I should use something in the spirit of "differently abled" though I no longer recall what it was. It sounded to me like a euphemism, which I believe indirectly implies this condition is so bad, I can't even name it.I guess what it comes down to is that those associated with Down syndrome have adopted a new form to identify themselves as enlightened and dissociate themselves from those with less enlightened views. It's not about logic so much as use."

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