Person-first language and Down('s) syndrome

Today I stumbled across a BBC News page entitled Down's syndrome: Your comments.

Unsurprisingly, several commenters point out that 'it's Down syndrome, not Down's syndrome'.

More interestingly, others express disappointment with the BBC for not using "person-first language" (also known, it seems, as 'people-first language'). One US-based commenter says:

These children are NOT "Down's syndrome babies" but instead babies with Down's syndrome.

Another, this time from Saddleworth here in the UK, writes:

People really should get used to the idea of naming people who have down syndrome as 'a person who has down syndrome' and NOT a 'down syndrome person' – they are people first and should not be called according to the condition they have, this is prejudice.

I'm not sure how I feel about this one. After, all, talking about 'British people' rather than 'people who are British' is not in itself prejudicial. I am almost certain the same is true for 'black people', 'young people' and so on.


And is person/people-first language more of an American phenomenon than a British one? I've never come across it before.


Laura Payne said...

My experience in Michigan is that the phrasing "Down Syndrome Babies" is only used when referring to a group of babies collectively and not when referring to an individual baby. We would not say "John is a Down Syndrome Baby," but "John has Down Syndrome." Additionally, I don't believe that saying "Down Syndrome Babies" is prejudicial it is just a quicker, more succinct way of phrasing it.

Anonymous said...

It could be one of practices as ethical niceties in medical academic scene. Ethical niceties is always looking better way to use I think, if there're no obvious differences for most people.

The Ridger, FCD said...

Since noun noun modification is dead standard in English, this will be hard to sell. The "explanation" isn't one: the head noun is still "people" whether it's noun-noun or noun-prepositional phrase.

Lacey said...

I agree with Anonymous - it's an ethical nicety to use person-first language. It's what I was taught to use in my Adaptive PE program here in California, where I helped people with disabilities to exercise. At least in my experience, using such language helped maintain their dignity.

I see the point that normally, word order would NOT change the meaning; but the problem here is the words "handicapped" and "disabled" are so negative, and used so often to label these people, that the words begin to diminish the people they label, and make them feel like they are less than a complete person.