“Language is the truest identifier of who you are and where you come from.” – Elder Larry Grant, 2014
What is Inclusive Language?
“Inclusive Language” reflects the mindfulness that we have when using language: we can intentionally create inclusive interactions with our uses of language. With this intentionality, we can avoid situations where the people around us may be inadvertently or deliberately excluded, dismissed, or stigmatized. Our choice in language helps us create and sustain environments that are respectful and comfortable.
Using inclusive language is a commitment that everyone should make, because respect is something that everyone deserves. Below are some resources that faculty, students, staff, and the community can access to understand the context and origins of inclusive language, and to engage with the evolution of language and inclusive terminology.
Inclusive Language Essentials
When do we use inclusive language, and how do these inclusive language concepts and practices originate? The resources in this section can help guide your endeavours to interact with others with mindfulness and inclusivity. We encourage everyone to become familiar with the following essential ideas relating to Inclusive Language:
- Observe, confirm, and utilize the terminology that people use to describe themselves: It is always good practice to observe how the individual refers to themself, and to check with the person to see which terms they may personally prefer. Mirroring the language that people use for themselves is also helpful given that language can evolve. This practice helps ensure that you are using the best terminology for that person even if it’s not yet a familiar term for you.
- “Person-First” approach: This approach emphasizes the humanity in all of us by using terminology that puts the person before a particular aspect of their identity. For example, the person-first approach would use phrases such as “person with a physical disability” rather than “disabled person”, or “people who use drugs” instead of “drug users”. This person-first approach can be helpful for creating inclusive spaces for every person, and this approach can also complement the “identity-first” approach.
- “Identity-First” Approach: The identity-first approach recognizes that while we are all people, oftentimes people’s lived situations and conditions are essential to their identities. Advocates of identity-first terminology may prefer this approach because they may feel that their identities are integral to their sense of self. Some examples and further explanations can be found in this article.
- Linguistic Appropriation: Some terms that change in meaning and usage include slang, and oftentimes we must consider the origins of slang and question whether our usage of the term is linguistic appropriation. Considering our understanding of English, there are multiple dialects or “vernaculars” of the language, and one of these vernaculars is African American Vernacular English (AAVE) or Black Vernacular English (BVE). As this article explicates, many words that non-Black people may consider “slang” or “trendy” actually have origins in the linguistic varieties of AAVE/BVE, and non-Black people and corporations may be practicing linguistic appropriation by using these words without acknowledging or compensating the cultures and communities from which these terms originate. Treating these phrases as fleeting slang can diminish AAVE/BVE’s history and ongoing development as an essential language.
- Stigmatizing Language: Certain phrases such as “That’s crazy!” or addressing a group with “Hey guys” can carry stigma and can inadvertently exclude some people. Another example of stigmatizing language is the use of darkness when discussing negative things, such as using the word “dark” when referring to a feeling of being somber or sad. Instead of using stigmatizing language, we can choose to use more inclusive language that honours the diversity of groups and their multiple identities.
- Language and terminology are always evolving: Language and terminology constantly change to reflect the ever-evolving values and mindsets of our society. A phrase or term once used may now have a different meaning or may have added connotations when said, so that term may now be outdated and should no longer be used. We realize that as language evolves, the resources included in this landing page may evolve as well and their level of helpfulness may change. With this in mind, our goal is to update this page as language evolves.
- We all must continue learning: Mistakes can and will happen as we are always learning the best way to use inclusive language as we adapt to society’s values. Let’s have empathy and stay humble as we learn, apologize, and change for the better.
Other concepts such as these are explained with examples in many of the following links. The resources are grouped into the following themes:
- “Inclusive Language Guides: Additional Resources”: A collection of additional resources for further learning about inclusive language concepts, and more examples of when and how to use inclusive language.
- “Terminology and Glossary Resources”: These resources include lists, definitions, and explanations of inclusive terminology.
- “Inclusive Interactions”: Resources in this section depict the context that has informed the need for certain inclusive language ideas, and some resources provide ideas about how to integrate values for inclusive language into your environment and interactions with others.
Inclusive Language Guides: Additional Resources
Frames inclusive language with the people-first approach, and explains why inclusive language is dynamic. This guide was created to ensure that people’s experiences with COVID-19 were coming from a place of objectivity rather than fear-based descriptors, similar to how inclusive language is valued when describing other identities to dispel biases.
This guide covers the language used when discussing seven topics that are enhanced with inclusive language usage: (1) Indigenous Peoples, (2) Sex and Gender, (3) Sexuality and Gender Identitiy, (4) Mental and Physical Disabilities, (5) ‘Race’ and Ethnicity, (6) Typography and transliteration, and (7) Pronounciation Support.
Text Writing Standards for Exhibits: Emphasizes inclusive terms and phrases that are currently in use, as aligned with current research and guidelines; and then elaborates on how historical & legal contexts may determine when certain terms can or should be used. Includes concise and objective explanations and examples.
Terminology and Glossary Resources
Terminology and phrases often used throughout the website and materials of UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office.
Outlines the current meaning, intentionality, and origins of terminology used to describe Indigenous identity. Explains how shifts in language can make a phrase more applicable now, while recognizing the context of the word’s origin.
Discusses how language can change, includes supplemental resources for each section, and provides “General Principles” in the guide for each group that describes examples or situations where inclusive language can be used.
The article discusses a variety of strategies to introduce the idea of using inclusive language.
Discusses the “identity-first” concept and terminologies.
Explains the concept of linguistic appropriation and how non-Black people may be furthering linguistic appropriation.
A Syilx inclusive language resource.