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Humans vs. People

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ireth, Jul 27, 2016.

  1. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    It might just be me, but I'm bothered when non-human but equally sentient characters do not refer to themselves as "people", reserving that term solely for humans. Examples off the top of my head are Ariel from Disney's "The Little Mermaid", who wistfully sings "I wanna be where the people are..." while fantasizing about living on land like a human; and Naveen from Disney's "The Princess and the Frog", who, while in frog form and talking with a trumpet-playing alligator, says about himself and Tiana, "We are people!" I think, if a character of any race or species has the ability to speak, think and reason exactly like a human does (even if their worldviews and logic patterns don't necessarily line up with a human's), then they certainly qualify as "people" even if they don't look human.

    Has anyone else encountered this, and how do you guys feel about it?
     
  2. I've thought about this before. "People" seems proper for any sentient creature, but it seems to be used for humans alone. The various Star Wars Expanded Universe novels are full of sentient non-humans, and the preferred term is "being." I use "people" to refer to sentient nonhumans, but "people" can be a little ambiguous, which is why i like the term "beings."
     
  3. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    I don't have an issue with the term people referring to only humans, nor do I care if it is used to refer to other than humans. I wouldn't tend to call talking frogs in movies "people". The talking frog lobby may pettiion their local congressman for peoplehood, but thus far I don't they've gotten anywhere.
     
  4. It depends on how its used. Non-humans might be a people, but they're not necessarily the people, if that makes sense. So the example in the Little Mermaid annoys me because it assumes people = human whereas if a book uses people to mean "people like us" as an exclusive group and that happens to be people, I'm okay with people being used to exclude non-human races. I suppose it all comes down to intent. If you're going to refer to one sentient race as people and another as not, then you should consciously be making a statement as to how one group views the other. For example in the book I'm reading a group of evolved cats refer to themselves as "the People" and you certainly get the idea that they regard themselves as above the other evolved species.
     
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  5. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Agreed. I allude to this issue myself in my main WIP; the MC's father (who is human) starts out as very bigoted against Fae, since his very first encounter with them involved three Fae trying to kidnap his then-newborn daughter. He understandably freaked out, and spent the next two months in a psych ward, being pressured to admit that incident wasn't real (which he only pretended to accept so they'll let him go). A flashback near the end of the novel includes dialogue from him along the lines of "Those were not humans. Not people."

    Seventeen-ish years later, after he has learned more about the Fae, he still hates and fears them but at least acknowledges their personhood. His bigotry crumbles further throughout the story, as he encounters Fae who are genuinely kind and helpful, and even gains a sincere apology from the leader of the Fae who had inadvertently caused his belief.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I made a deliberate choice for my world because I have several sentient peoples. So, humans are humans, dwarves are dwarves, gnomes are gnomes, orcs are orcs, and they all can be referred to as people if the context is appropriate. I view it as roughly analogous to dogs are dogs, horses are horses, birds are birds, and they are all animals. In Altearth, "people" is the umbrella term.

    It's not a political choice, it's a clarity choice.
     
  7. La Volpe

    La Volpe Sage

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    To be fair, "people" is a word that describes humans. It's not like we use it to describe anything else. So that just carries over into fiction, where we use people to denote the difference between like-us and unlike-us. I don't see any issues with using people to describe humans, but I also don't see any issue with using it to describe non-humans.

    It's just that it would seem weird to call a group of sapient gophers "people", wouldn't you say?
     
  8. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    What if they don't want to be referred to as people? I'm just thinking aloud. I haven't really thought about this at all. But if say a race of sentient gophers existed, wouldn't they have a word to describe/refer to themselves. "We are gophs not people."

    I mean there are lots of different labels each of us can fall under. Some are fitting, others not. Some we prefer, others not.

    Any way, not sure if this was worth the words to type. *shrug*
     
  9. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    But I'd bet actual money [well... not really] that the Gopher word for themselves would boil down to them being "the real "people" and us not so much...
    The Navajo [from the Spanish "Apaches that farm"] word for themselves is Diné or "The People". I feel that any group or society's word for "us" will ultimately decode as "People".

    Very true. Do not do unto others as you would have then do unto you... Their tastes may differ... as I once read.

    Always worth it.
     
  10. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Well, we call only humans "people" because there are no other sentient species on Earth to share the name with. In a fantasy world, anything goes.
     
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    I've been trying to imagine what will happen when one day the very real people of Earth gain awareness of some planet elsewhere that is populated by sentient beings.

    Would someone on Earth naturally say, "I wonder what those people are like?"

    I don't think so, unless we discover that they look and act very much like us. (Convergent evolution.)

    But then, the word those sentient beings use for themselves might not be used by them to refer to us, either.
     
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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  13. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I got to Star Trek VI
    Chekov Human]: We do believe that all planets have a sovereign claim to inalienable human rights.
    Azetbur [Klingon]: 'In-alien...' If you could only hear yourselves. 'Human rights.' Why, even the very name is racist.
     
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  14. FifthView

    FifthView Vala

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    Wrath of Khan

    Kirk: Of my friend, I can only say this: Of all the souls I have encountered in my travels, his was the most.... [voice breaks] human.

    On a side note, it's interesting that with all the progressive inclusiveness of the Federation and the Star Trek world in general–at least, that's the stereotype of "Star Trek"–these examples of blatant racial bias pop up.
     
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