January 25, 2004

The Ngadjonji and the PTC

In response to my characterization of the Parents Television Council's complaints about "indecent" language as "stupid", Mark Liberman suggests that:

...a decent respect to the cultural norms of indigenous populations requires that we should avoid using the S-word in discussing such taboos, whether among the Ngadjonji of north east Queensland, or the Parents Television Council of south California.

While I agree that we shouldn't go around beating up on every cultural institution we find irrational, it seems to me that there are several differences between the behavior of the the Parents' Television Council and that of the Ngadjonji which make the former more worthy of criticism than the latter:

  • The Ngadjonji, and other peoples with similar practices, don't as far as I know pretend that there is a rational basis for them.

  • Though there may be social pressure to conform, they're not as extreme as invoking the law. The PTC isn't just expressing its disapproval; it is trying to get the FCC to fine NBC a large amount of money.

  • There is apparently a consensus among the Ngadjonji and other such peoples as to the desirability of observing their linguistic taboos. In American society, I see no such consensus. The taboos in question are violated constantly. It seems to me that there is a large segment of the population that doesn't care, a small segment that really does, and a large segment that doesn' t really care but tends to acquiesce in the complaints of those who do. It's one thing for people to agree on social conventions. It is quite another thing for one group to impose its prejudices on everyone else.

  • The use of mother-in-law languages doesn't do any damage. Prissiness about sex causes real harm.
Posted by Bill Poser at January 25, 2004 11:18 PM