Language both expresses and shapes our perceptions of the world. In this week’s In the Read, we take a closer look at how the language we use matters, and the ways in which we can ensure it is inclusive.

In relation to children in care, the Queensland and Family Child Commission report When a child is missing – Remembering Tiahleigh notes that changing the perception of blame or criminality around children and young people choosing to absent themselves from designated foster or residential care settings is important to conceptualising those settings as a new home. Similarly, a recent G-Force Issues Paper states that language should respect children and young people’s feelings around placements, and not ignore their choices about where they feel most at home.

A recent IndigenousX article on the language underpinning Closing the Gap strategies reveals how language can unfairly target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The article shows how the punitive dimensions of policy – both rhetorically and functionally – have begun depicting Aboriginality itself as the active determinant in statistical outcomes such as higher rates of incarcerations or poor health; i.e. that “Aboriginal people are more likely to be arrested”, not that police are more likely to arrest Aboriginal people, or judges more likely to sentence them.

Much research has also explored the use of gendered language particularly in professional environments, which, in a similar way, favours and reproduces male domination, for example through the general application of masculine linguistic forms such as ‘guys’. This then silences and systemically disadvantages women.

For practitioners, actively adopting inclusive language and promoting positive change are crucial for equity. Excuse Interpreter is a resource to help identify and rethink gender stereotypes. Language Matters is a resource that highlights a person-centred, non-stigmatising approach to treating substance use. The Trans and Gender Diverse Inclusive Language Guide explains key terms and offers examples of preferred language for supporting gender diverse inclusiveness.