Better words for a better understanding

Even after 30 years of working in translation, Bleublancrouge's Anik Pelletier is still learning about the impact words can have.
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By Anik Pelletier

I was surprised to find myself feeling quite emotional, yet humbled, when I began to write this. Nearly every day at work, I am lucky to be able to learn about openness to others. After all, curiosity and receptivity have always been part of my professional life.

When we work in a field such as translation, we discover all kinds of new concepts, ones that would have remained foreign to us had we not been tasked with rendering them in another language. Working in a foreign language and experiencing foreign cultures and concepts really allows us to broaden our horizons. And in a context where the polarization of opinions all too often threatens to break our social fabric, being open to others has never been more important.

But I’ve immersed myself in the world of inclusive writing in these last few months, and I’ve come to realize just how small my world actually was.

The reality of those around me is still quite a mystery to me. My familiarity with Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities and racialized communities is rather limited. Their reality is one I’ve  rarely had to put into words, or something I had to name back in the day, when we didn’t really question the weight of our words.

In these last few months, my research and observations about language have led me to discover the importance of how people feel about the words we use to name them. I don’t subscribe to censorship and cancel culture, especially where education is concerned, but there are definitely words we can use to talk to one another in a more just and more respectful way.

Words that pack a punch

The growing polarization of our society means we need to stop and think – and evolve.

When we really listen to another person, when we put ourselves in their shoes and open ourselves up to their world, we quickly learn that words can pack a real punch. That might sound a bit harsh, but I stand behind it. Certain words can, indeed, have a violent impact on others. So it’s up to the language specialists out there – the writers, journalists and communicators of all kinds – to adapt, and to use appropriate language. It’s how words enter our vernacular, and it’s how we make sure no one gets left behind.

Adopting this new process has really made me step outside my comfort zone. As someone who has had relative ease working with words over the years, I suddenly began to doubt, to rephrase, to back up my choice of words with every resource I could find. I’m no longer motivated by finding the mot juste – rather, it’s the discovery of the other that inspires me to delve deeper, to learn more, to understand better and to do them justice in my communications.

Anik Pelletier is VP of Bleublancrouge’s brand language service.