ELL: RE: [sovernspeakout] 'Reburial of 500 Huron', evidence of continuing stereotyping

David Harris dharris at LAS-INC.COM
Mon Dec 6 23:08:08 UTC 1999


Interesting note. I wonder what the French and the British might have to say
about your theory of the Zero Plural. Then again, this is a topic that goes
beyond mere ethnic considerations, touching as it does upon both the rich
and the poor, as well. Additionally, it seems to me to be a topic that might
raise the hackles of more than just the ordinarily irate among us. :-)

Dave Harris, Herndon, VA

PS Sorry for the sarcasm. I certainly support most initiatives of this kind,
eg. Native American attempts to get sports teams to quit defiling what is
sacred to them. But I found this particular note particularly silly and
uninformed. I find nothing offensive about the book title quoted here (_The
Jew in American Sports_) because there is nothing resembling dehumanization
or demonization going on there. Using the definite singular or definite
plural form of a noun in this way is a common way to express genericness in
many languages of the world. The two forms _The Jew in American Sports_ and
_Jews in American Sports_ are, at least to my mind, identical in all
respects. That's my take on it, anyway. I'd be interested in hearing other

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael (Mickey) Posluns [mailto:mposluns at accglobal.net]

Most striking to me about this story was the racism embedded in
its headline, "Reburial of 500 Huron".

The Oxford Companion to the English Language and the Cambridge
Encyclopedia of the English Language both refer to the use of the
singular "Huron" as "zero plural".

The Zero Plural is used when one wants to speak only of abstract
categories without reference to any individuation which might
occur within the category.  Hence, the term is most commonly used
in hunting and fishing.  "I am hunting rabbit today."  "I am
fishing for pike."

It is striking that the Zero Plural is used today in reference to
human beings only in regard to First Nations (aka "tribal
peoples").  One no longer hears reference to "the Canadian eats
heartily" as though all Canadians ate the same.

One major reference case study of this construction is entitled
"The construction of 'the Jew' in English literature from 1875 to
1945".  Very few Jews speak that way about ourselves any longer.
Those who do -- such as the author of the 1950s book "The Jew in
American sports" -- use the colonial language because they are
trying to prove to the dominant culture that we are capable of
running, jumping and throwing.  No individuation is expressed or

Pouning on a picky little singular construction may seem picky.
But in the course of my doctoral studies on "the public emergence
of the vocabulary of First Nations' autonomy" I have become
convinced that there are a series of grammatical constructions
which help to embed racism into the English language and that the
Zero Plural is foremost among these.

Those who do find this point too picayune might try listening for
instances in which the Zero Plural is used by people speaking
about their own culture.

Then they might consider Rabbi Hillel's injunction, "That which
is hateful to you do not do unto others."

Yours for an Equitable english,

Michael Posluns.

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