Wednesday, January 10, 2007

semantics

So many of the big political controversies these days seem to come down to linguistic battles - is it a 'surge' or an 'escalation'?; 'Stay the course' or 'cut and run'?; the 'Democratic' or the 'Democrat' Party'? Each ideology has its own lingo, and pretty soon, I imagine, they'll break apart into separate dialects, then entirely different languages, so that we can talk past each other without any danger of understanding what the other side is saying.

Okay, I'm kind of exaggerating the semantic debates. Still, it does all seem silly to me. In classical music we have our own linguistic battles, starting with that thorny 'classical music' phrase itself. It seems needlessly elitist, but then the alternatives like 'serious music' or 'Western art music' are perhaps even worse. It's too bad we can't strip all those pretentious connotations and pick some arbitrary new word.

Then there's the question of 'community engagement' vs. 'community outreach'. Outreach has gone out of style, maybe also owing to elitist connotations - the mighty orchestra reaching out from its ivory tower, bringing culture to the unwashed masses. This is supposed to be the neighborly, friendly and open face of the orchestra, so we don't want the term itself to sound snooty and one-sided. Then again, reaching out can be a gesture of openness and not condescension, as in reaching out to embrace someone. 'Engagement' sounds faintly militaristic to me, as though we need to set up our battle lines and launch raids into the community, hopefully capturing a few stray recruits to our cause.

If anyone has any suggestions for a new, friendlier term for what we do in the community, please leave a comment! I was impressed last week that someone helped me out with a definition for 'Marschartig' - though our orchestra didn't end up playing that song, it was still cool to know I have some brilliant linguists reading my idle thoughts.

1 comment:

Richard Edwards said...

How about the term "sharing"? Maybe it doesn't have a solid ring like you'd want to donate a bunch of money to, but it does describe the activity.

Anyway, speaking of sharing, I'm delighted to see you're active with this blog. I came across it last year, tagged it in del.icio.us, and kept peeking every so often to see if it was updated. But I had just tagged a permalink for one post. Doh! Looking forwards to reading a full year's worth now!

All the best, and a slightly belated Happy Bottesini Birthday.