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Society ‘Violent strategy’, say experts on neutral language ban in Rondônia

Neutral language has nothing to do with any kind of affront, but rather with respect, acceptance, and dignity of non-binary people, in the view of linguists. (Art: Ygor Fabio Barbosa)

Iury Lima – from Cenarium

VILHENA (RO) – Experts heard by CENARIUM repudiated the prohibition of the use of neutral language in public and private schools in Rondônia, through the publication of Law No. 5,123/2021, derived from a project of the state lawmaker Sergeant Eyder Brasil (PSL). “I see it as an anti-democratic and even violent strategy, because these are ways of saying to a group of people that these people can’t be who they are”, lamented Vincent Abiorana, a psychologist and non-binary university professor who asked to be identified in a neutral way.

In sanctioning the law, the state government says that the document aims to establish protective measures for the students’ right to learn the Portuguese language. The decision is valid for all basic education in the state public system, from kindergarten to high school, and will also be adopted by private institutions and public competitions.

‘An affront’, according to authorities

In response to CENARIUM, Eyder Brasil reaffirmed that he considers the neutral language an “affront” to the cultic norm of the Brazilian language. “I am very happy with the sanction of Law 5,123, a proposition from us, a bill from us, presented here in the Legislative Assembly (…) that little story of saying that it is not “todos” or “todas”, it is “todes”, of saying that it is not “ela” or “ele”, it is “elu”, finally, from now on, this use of this form of language is forbidden in the State of Rondônia”.

The state lawmaker and author of the law, Sergeant Eyder Brasil (PSL). (Reproduction/Press Office)

The lawmaker also thanked the state government for sanctioning the law considered disastrous by scholars and the LGBTQIA+ community, because, in his view, Governor Marcos Rocha (in transition to União Brasil) “had the sensitivity to understand that this [the neutral language] is an affront to the Portuguese language”.

In a note, the government of the state of Rondonia emphasized that institutions or teachers who teach “adverse content” will suffer sanctions.

The other side of the coin

Despite the intolerant positions of the Legislative Assembly of Rondonia (ALE-RO) and the state government, the neutral language has nothing to do with any kind of affront, but rather, with respect, welcoming, and dignity of non-binary people (who do not identify with any of the genders), which is also defended by professionals in the field of linguistics.

“Language is, in fact, malleable, dynamic, it inevitably allows various uses.
The cultured norm, on the other hand, is one of the possible uses that the school should teach, because it is a prestigious use. The school must teach the polite norm. Linguistics is not against this. But one can’t want to disguise or erase the fact that language is variable”, evaluated Lucas Khalil, PhD in Linguistic Studies and professor at the Federal University of Rondônia (Unir).

Doctor in Linguistic Studies and Unir professor Lucas Khalil, in interview to CENARIUM. (Iury Lima/ Cenarium)

Khalil considers “very fallacious” the argument that the law was created only to guarantee that students have access to and learn the Portuguese language in an exclusive way. “Anyone who is a teacher, who works with Portuguese, with writing, knows that a student improves his or her writing from the writing itself, from the rewriting, from the correction. So, if the parliamentarians really wanted to act in favor of improving education and the teaching of the Portuguese language, specifically, I have some suggestions and one of them is, for example, to reduce the number of students per class”, pondered the PhD in Linguistic Studies.

“Many teachers have, for example, eight classes of fifty students, or even more, but in this example there are 400 students. Let’s think about one text per week: it is practically unfeasible for the teacher to follow up on this correction in a way that is effective. So, the parliamentarians can think of other projects to reduce the number of students per class. This generates costs, of course, but we have to think of education not as a loss, but as an investment”, added the expert.

Encouraging prejudice and suffering

According to the psychologist Vincent Abiorana, the law that is already in force may lead to many more episodes of bullying, prejudice, exclusion, and isolation in the school environment. “We are in a world that teaches us all the time how to be a man and a woman, and then non-binary people, especially, already face all the difficulties of being different from this patriarchal way of being. And worse, when we get to the school, which should be a secular, public, and democratic space, as provided by the Constitution, the Law of Guidelines and Bases of National Education, in short, all the regulatory frameworks of education, we find, unfortunately, a law that wants to impose a type of morality for the entire population”, declared.

The psychologist and university professor, Vincent Abiorana. (Iury Lima/Cenarium)

“The discourse is sold that we, LGBTQIA+, that we want to impose our way of being, but where you look in the world, where you look in the media and in the official discourses, we are not the majority, so we are trying the minimum, of the minimum, of the minimum”, lamented Abiorana. 

Variation is also cultural wealth

For Nair Ferreira Gurgel do Amaral, a doctor in Linguistics and Portuguese Language, neutral language does not offer any risk or harm to the standard norm of the Portuguese language (the one we generally use), as she prefers to call it, citing that comparing the neutral dialect with the educated norm, in its erudite form, “is discrimination”.

Gurgel, who is also a retired professor from Unir, says that this new way of communicating is used only by the group for which it is convenient, which is why there is no danger to it, and that all these variations are part of the evolution of societies and have to do with the cultural aspects of each location.

Nair Gurgel, PhD in Linguistics and Portuguese Language, defends the language variations as a cultural and regional wealth. (Iury Lima/Cenarium)

“I think that neutral language, just like all human languages, all forms of communication change, and we can often observe how people from different places and social classes, with different levels of education, use these particular forms”, explained the doctor.

“We, linguists, scholars of language, value the idioms, the variations in language of all kinds, regional, social and so on, which are incorporated into our vocabulary over time”, concluded the specialist.

Check out Cenarium’s report on the case for Jornal da Cultura