Indian vs Native American, etc.

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Wed Jan 10 12:26:22 UTC 2001

Indigo Som said:

I think it often depends on context. Being one of those PC people myself
(undergrad degree in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley & still live in
Berkeley) & being around plenty of PC people (of all colors) all the time,
I can report that some of the same people who say "Indian", "black" or
"Asian" in casual contexts, especially among friends, will steadfastly
insist upon "Native American" (or "indigenous" or "First Nations", or
sometimes "American Indian"), "African American" and "Asian American" (or
"Asian Pacific American" or "Asian and Pacific Islander") in more formal,
mixed &/or "unfriendly" contexts.

This is an excellent point.  In formal settings, as on the floor of Congress or such, one hears African American almost exclusively (as one hears "gentlelady" there -- where else?).  And if one does not know one's audience well ("unfriendly" contexts), it is wise to err in favor of formal register vs. the casual (akin to the polite/familiar forms in French, etc.).

Thanks for pointing this out.  It is more than PC vs. traditional; it is, or is becoming formal vs. colloquial.

Frank Abate

Dictionary & Reference Specialists (DRS)
Consulting & Lexicographic Services
(860) 510-0100, ext 2311
abatefr at
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