Reflections on Communicating in English When English is One's Second Language

Gary Blanchard (
Sat, 25 May 1996 09:38:36 -0700

Alessandra Iantaffi wrote:
> Dear Bob,
> thank you for your interesting comments, it is good to know that other
> people are interested in the topic. However I could not resist from
> adding some comments.
> You write:
> (snip)
> > I understand the notion of incommensurability to mean separate and
> > incomparable realms. I'm not sure why you say that feminism and masculinism
> > are incommensurable. What do you mean by this? What then IS the opposite
> > pole of "feminism"?
> I mean that, although men and women are comparable since both belong to
> the category 'humankind', feminism and masculinism (if, and _only if_ by
> the latter we mean traditional male-oriented theories on life) advocate
> two very different ways of living, knowing and being in the world. The
> opposite pole of feminism for me, and me alone as far as I know, is
> something like 'passive acceptance of things as they are for women'. It
> is a long way of saying it, and still does not convey fully what I
> mean. Verbal labels are limiting (especially as english is my _2nd_
> language).
> (snip)
> > But lets
> > look at the sort of intellectual move you are making here. You have placed
> > the struggles of the oppressed "WITHIN" the struggle of women. You would
> > like to make women a "universal class" like Marx's proletariat, whose
> > liberation cannot be accomplished without the liberation from all other
> > oppressions. Thus, since the oppressions of Blacks occur WITHIN the
> > framework defined by an unequal sexual division of labor, the equal
> > opportunity of women to pursue power will free us from racial inequality of
> > all kinds? will free us from ethnic oppressions? will free us from economic
> > exploitation of all kinds? It would be comforting to believe this. Theories
> > of oppression need a universal class to overcome descrimination, just as
> > the freeing of the slave also frees the master in a Hegelian dialectic.
> >
> I did not want to make women an universal class comparable to Marx's
> proletariat... however I do understand it did seem that way. The
> difference between men and women does, nevertheless, affect other
> struggles such as class, race, disability, sexual orientation, etc... It
> is a dichotomy which touches people of all colours, religions, social
> class, abilities, and so on. It does not necessarily include them though.
> I would actually say the contrary, that every other oppressed group
> usually has this tension between men and women within them.
> > But what sort of an argument could be made to persuade us that women are a
> > universal class. You will have to argue that working people aren't a
> > universal class, that liberation of blacks and other minorities won't free
> > us from oppression. Why does the struggle of women encompass and
> > incorporate all other liberation struggles?
> >
> It does not. But can the contrary be said? (See comments above) The black
> movement has women like bell hooks to show that maybe when some black
> leaders talk about blacks, they are talking about black men. Likewise,
> however, many feminist writers, leaders, etc... only mean white women
> when talking about women (and may I add british white women, for some
> british feminist writers). Still, women can be found in all the other
> oppressed groups, and actually women, don't exist in a vacuum, they
> always belong to a certain race, class, nationality, have certain
> abilities, etc...
> > Of course, its a convenient and enticing intellectual move. For women can
> > then speak for all other oppressed people - black, brown, working poor and
> > homeless, etc. But my experience with the women's movement is not that it
> > is a revolutionary group forming a universal class for liberation. It just
> > doesn't appear that the conditions for formation of such a universal class
> > among women is possible. So anyone looking for true liberation will have to
> We seem to come to similar conclusions... HOWEVER, I think we still need
> a feminist movement, IMHO, to bring together women who struggle in
> various groups to share their experiences. I really believe (and my
> personal experience validate my constructs about this), that as women we
> do have something to share BEYOND our posible belonging to other
> oppressed groups. We also share the fact that we are NOT a minority: we
> are a good half of the world population, and as such we have an enourmous
> strengh!
> (snip)
> >
> >. Thus, while I agree with all of your values, I still must ask,
> > "why must the pursuit of equality be named 'feminism'"?
> The pursuit of equality is called pursuit of equality (by myself, at
> least), but feminism is the pursuit of true equality (the word equality
> has been so abused in recent times!) for women (all women, in my
> understanding and belief). It is specific, that is why we have other
> specific groups, such as the disability movement, and the black movement
> and so on... why can't we accept feminism? Or, may I ask, why do you have
> a problem with this word? (don't take offence please, many men seem to
> have the same difficulty... Maybe there is a negative shared construct
> there, that most men, and some women have in common?) Feminism is not a
> dirty word (or does not need to be).
> (snip)
> >
> > I guess your real concern is with how to privilege your values in an
> > empirical study (which isn't difficult if you construct a scale measuring
> > your values). The answer that has been pursued by Lois in her discussion of
> > postmodernism seems to be that postmodernism IS a "feminist" approach to
> > live... that it does (at least part of) the work of feminism without the
> > name. Therefore, you don't need to worry, because PCP does at leat part of
> > the work of feminism by bracketing everyone's values, and thus undermining
> > the privileging of men's constructs.
> >
> I do agree that pcp provides a good way of looking at the world from a
> non-judgemental perspective.
> > Thanks for the stimulating discussion
> >
> Likewise, and I hope you do not take offence if I defend my ground quite
> firmly.
> Dear Alessandra-

I noticed in your recent posting to Bob that English is your second

As you know, I am a student of the idea that 'we live in language,'
because we are --- above all --- linguisic beings. I realized as I read
your remark that I know nothing at all of what it is like to live in more
than one dialect of human language...specifically, North American
English. And yet I forget that, and assume that my reality of a single
dialect is the reality of everyone.

I wondered, therefore, if you --- and others on this List, who also
operate in more than one tongue or dialect of human language --- would be
willing to reflect on your experience, and tell me about it here, so I
could better appreciate the matter.

I would appreciate it. And, since we are an international group operating
in only one tongue, it might help all of us get a better understanding of
our mutual situation, and thereby become better able to learn and
cooperate together.

I await your, and others', response with strong and sincere interest.

Sincerely, Gary (Blanchard)