Language and ‘cultural appropriation’

Alec Dent writes at National Review Online that the evolution of language doesn’t amount to negative “cultural appropriation.”

Late last week, BuzzFeed published an article on the phrase “sksksksksk,” which was . . . about as silly as you’d imagine. The long and short of its argument? Among today’s youths, “sksksksksk” is a popular slang term that originated in the black community, and if you’re white and use it, you are “appropriating language from black communities.”

The concept of cultural appropriation is hardly new, but the linguistic policing that serves as the basis for the BuzzFeed article takes it to a new level. Accusations of cultural appropriation are usually leveled against white people who adopt elements of another ethnicity’s culture in a way that is perceived as making light of that culture’s history and traditions. (I say “perceived” because, of course, perception does not align with reality in every case.) But sksksksksks is different. It has no rich history; it is a rather young phrase, which, the author admits at the very end of the article, started in Brazil as a variant of “kkkkkkkk,” a standard phrase Brazilians use to express laughter in text. What’s more, English, like any language, is built on adopting new words and phrases into the mainstream. And by necessity, in order to become mainstream, a word must cross racial and cultural divides.

Though its roots are Germanic, the English we speak today was heavily influenced by French and Latin as well. It has changed over time thanks to the exchange that takes place when cultures meet and interact, from the language of Beowulf to that of Chaucer’s poems to that of Shakespeare’s plays to that of Donald Trump’s tweets.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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