Berthoff – Burke’s Terministic Screens

If we can learn to think of language not as a tool, a single-purpose facilitator, but as an instrument that lets us see in many different ways…

Ann Berthoff’s The Making of Meaning (p. 42)

As soon as I read this quote, I immediately thought about Burke’s Terministic Screens.  Burke says that the language that we use keeps us from seeing things in different ways.

For example, if a person views disability as a negative, they will use language like “person afflicted with autism,” “person struggling with mental health issues,” “person suffering from depression,” etc.  Now, the terminology we use shows others where we stand on issues, but think about what happens when the main culture adopts a particular view.

For example, a culture decides that disability is a negative thing.  The media adopts terminology of negativity and victimizing.  Now, anyone growing up in that culture will adopt that view because that is all they know.  Perhaps they will have an experience that will help them see that disability is not a negative thing, but more likely than not, they will not.


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