#CampaignRadar: South Africans encouraged to #FindNewWords
In South Africa, the only words for those who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, queer, non-binary or non-conforming in nine of the country’s 11 official languages are derogatory or violent, according to the Find New Words initiative, launched by Khanyi Mpumlwana and Nobantu Sibeko in 2017.
“Create or reclaim”
“The existing words, such as istabane or imoffie, are insulting, violent and are based in ostracism and a culture of shaming,” says Mpumlwana. “In TshiVenda for example, people are labelled as matula/matudzi (‘bad omen/something unacceptable’). So we need to create or reclaim LGBTQQIAP+ identifying words and phrases in South Africa’s languages that are humanising, instead of offensive.”
Find New Words recently aired an ad for a fake washing powder, “Scoop”, using the word istabane. It wanted to gauge if there would be a reaction from the millions of people who watched it; however, the only reaction came from a few members of LGBTQ+ communities on social media.
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“If this was something racist, the whole country would have been up in arms,” says Mpumlwana. “There might be sensitivities around istabane, but using it is not illegal. We want to change that.”
The search to find new words started earlier this year, with workshops held across the country with academics, historians, anthropologists, sociologists and communities throughout SA to suggest non-offensive replacement terms. Suggestions included changing verbs into nouns or combining two words together. During one workshop, for example, a group proposed the term “Sekgele sa Mookodi” for queer, which is derived from the words ‘umbrella’ and ‘rainbow’.
“Changing the narrative”
“To date, we’ve found over 150 words in eight of our 11 languages and now want all South Africans to add their new words, or vote for their favourite ones via our website,” says Mpumlwana. “Once that process is complete, we’ll engage with academics and linguistic experts to commence the process of vetting and refining the words to make them suitable for use in language. We need positive words in our own languages. This will help in changing the narrative around what it means to be LGBTQQIAP+, and start to break the cycle of micro-aggression and prejudice that we experience every, single day.
Find New Words partners are Accountability International, C-Cubed Communications, Darling Films, Dreamcatcher Multimedia, FCB Foundation, Hellocomputer, Lighthouse Africa and Many Words Media.
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