The German-Turkish journalist, activist and author Kübra Gümüsay writes in Language and being > about how the language – or languages - we grow up with, shapes mindset, behavior, perception of time, environment, space, relationships, gender and so on. She writes: "Language opens and limits the world for us – at the same time." Ohpner by being able to communicate with each other, and narrows the world with its linguistic limitations, such as the lack of vocabulary.
The author is based on his own personal experiences in Germany and England with his two languages, German and Turkish. I am drawn into her self-perceived incidents with, among other things, discrimination, since she has chosen to wear the religious garment hijab, which makes the story vulnerable and intimate.
The architecture of language
The first part of the book is about creating an awareness of the language's architecture, structure and structure, and how this helps to shape and control our perception of ourselves and others.
German shows how language can affect the individual and the society that uses it, especially when it comes to gender. In German, there is a distinction between female and male genders – you have three genders in German – in contrast to languages such as Swahili, Uzbek, Armenian, Finnish and Turkish. In Turkish, the gender-neutral 'o' is used for 'he' or 'she'.
Gümüsay talks about how she always had to correct her son when he used the wrong gender in German. Although she improved his language each time she corrected him, she was also critical of this: "Why do I teach him to look at people by placing them in the category of 'man' or 'woman' before more important qualities are expressed?"
Why did she really do that? Yes, because language forces her to do so. Does the German language therefore help to substantiate gender differences and discrimination?
In the Norwegian language, we have since 2017 added the gender-neutral 'hen', but in German this does not exist. The German language also has gender-categorizing endings in nouns that denote persons in the feminine, such as the word 'Journalist' about men and 'Journalistin' about women.
Such endings create a distinction between the sexes in the language, which is also reflected in German society, where I experience men and women being treated differently in both professional and private contexts, to a greater extent than in Scandinavian countries. In Vienna, where I have lived for several years, I have constantly experienced discrimination on the grounds of gender. There is a clear macho culture, in both the younger and the older generation, where women are often treated like fragile porcelain dolls.
Gümüsay aptly describes when she says that language in all its facets is like water for fish, and that it shapes us without us being aware of it.
The cleaning lady
Language is power, and with all power comes responsibility. Gümüsay knows his responsibility and describes himself as the intellectual cleaning lady – a reactive role she is by no means alone to take.
She writes that there are two categories of people: the named and the nameless. The nameless are the standard, the normal, those who do not stand out from the herd. The names are the ones «which is examined, analyzed and inspected ». She herself belongs to this latter category.
Her whole being is inspected in everyday life and in professional contexts, such as when she participates in panel debates, conferences and interviews. Here she is constantly asked how Islam and feminism, hijab and liberation, religiosity and education work together: For most people, this seems contradictory, and she must defend her choices.
What was previously only visible to those affected is now also visible to outsiders,
just a keystroke away.
Gümüsay is one of those who dare to name the nameless, and in the book she continues the work of clearing up the untruths, prejudices, racism, discrimination, hatred and destructiveness in society.
As one of those named, she must constantly fight for her individuality. She highlights an incident during her summer practice in London when she was twenty years old, where she was treated for the first time as an individual and not as a representative of Islam because of the hijab.
This event impresses me. In Germany, when meeting new people, she was always asked why she wore the hijab, but in London she was asked what music and movies she liked. Something so small, but of such enormous significance. The nuances lie in the small, and it reminds me how important it is to take hold of the small in order to achieve something big.
For Gümüsay, individuality has been about being privileged, something she has not felt like. As one of those named, she has always represented one gruppe: Turks or Muslims. Privileges are something that has belonged to the nameless, not her. She touches a sore point for anyone who can identify with her in this experience.
Towards the end of the book, she writes about how social media has opened up new perspectives for the way language can be used. We have various topics that have made it possible for millions of people to participate in a movement just by using it – for example #metoo and #metwo to name a few. Through such topics, experiences are no longer nameless. What was previously only visible to those affected, is now also visible to outsiders, just a keystroke away.