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by Cecile Shanahan

Presentation by Cassandra Wright-Dole at the IPEd conference 

The following are my personal recollections and take-aways from the IPEd Editors Conference session; any mistakes are my own.

The Linguicism and editing session presented by Cassandra Wright-Dole (hosted by Stephanie Holt) discussed how to make narratives on the edges more easily heard and appreciated, once editors are aware of linguicism and take steps to avoid it.

Previously, I had only a vague understanding of what linguicism was, and what it might mean for me as an editor. As a reminder I located the Macquarie definition: Linguicism: noun, discrimination against a person or persons on the basis of language, either the native tongue that they speak or their use of a form of language regarded as non-standard.

Cassandra explained that understanding linguicism is about looking at historical examples and current conversations in identity politics. It’s about accepting that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

I understood that we need authentic narratives because editors can water down authenticity if they eliminate disability from the voice of the author. 

This also applies to authors who write in their first language, which may not be considered the traditional or dominant one. As an example, Cassandra explained that there are not many First Nations editors in Australia, so linguicism could apply to the anglicising of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. 

Cassandra also mentioned that current systems (educational and publishing) can fail to value the meaning in some writing in its original form.

I found the discussions fascinating around plain language (a language skill level of around Year 9) versus easy English (low primary-level language skills), and the fact that low literacy restricts access to information, and they raised concepts I’d not thoroughly considered when previously editing some works. 

To reach as wide an audience as possible and restrict anyone being caught on the edges, it was suggested that easy language be used wherever appropriate. 

Cassandra’s comment that literary works are not meant for those with low literacy levels was a stark reminder that we must always consider the audience of the piece we are editing, and that editing is a privileged career choice.

Cassandra reminded us that editors act as gatekeepers, and we must ask ourselves if a piece really has no potential, or if we are dismissing the importance of the writer’s lived experience. We can easily edit out voices from the edges if we are not careful.

Other than the book by Dr Renée Otmar DE, Editing for Sensitivity, Diversity and Inclusion: A guide for professional editors, Cassandra suggested there are few resources to help editors learn the skills needed to avoid linguicism, and that this needs to change. 

The last point I took away from this informative session was that editors must ask themselves to what extent their relationship with the dominant language limits their ability to engage with narratives ‘from the edges’ or to provide an accessible product for those on the edges.

It was a timely reminder that we have a responsibility as editors ‘to understand our own limitations and ensure we do not silence the very aspects of the voices that need to be heard’.

Cecile Shanahan is a freelance generalist editor who is currently in the process of shifting her editing business to follow her passion for children’s books and YA literature. Find her on Instagram (CEC loves to read and CEC loves to edit) and Facebook