By Quang Vinh
Ha Noi is preparing to issue a code of conduct for people working in offices, agencies and communities. However, many wonder about a provision banning people from using derogatory language.
Older Hanoians say that in the 1960s and 1970s, young people never publicly used the rough language that is prevalent nowadays. In those days, those who spoke strongly or swore were condemned as being culturally inferior.
Then in the 1980s, things started to change as more people arrived in Ha Noi to seek a living. People felt freer about using rougher language, breaking conventional rules that defined a polite person. The situation has not improved.
In the old days, when an adult heard children swearing in public, he would remind them to be courteous. The children never answered back although the adult was a stranger.
Reader Nguyen Du told a story in Tuoi Tre (Youth) online newspaper about the time he was riding in a van moving onto a narrow road. Ahead were some schoolgirls in white ao dai on bicycles spread across the road.The van's driver poked his head out to ask them to move to the side of the road. One of the girls turned her head and shouted: "F… Is it your road?"
People no longer feel ashamed swearing in public. Many blame schools for being too focused on academic achievements and less on educating them how to behave.
But lots of people put the blame on parents, saying it was natural for children to swear and use crude language if they were frequently exposed to their parents using it at home. Some suggest using media agencies to organise forums where young people can share their thoughts on the issue. Others believe that organisations such as the Ho Chi Minh Youth Union, a national socio-political group, could help rein in young people.
However, strong language has become fashionable among youngsters. A reader named Tran Vo wrote that a person who did not know how to swear was considered a "bumpkin" and risked becoming a victim of bullying. He believes that crude language in cities is part of city life.
Many people say a ban on the use of such language cannot go beyond the office. However, not many people swear or use derogatory language when working.
Others doubt if people can really be discouraged from swearing in public, citing the failure of the ban on smoking in public places. Some people think using rough language is now a part of everyday life. They believe that it helps them pour out negative and depressed feelings. If banned, they claim they will lose their right to free speech.
Dr Mai Anh from Ha Noi National University has been assigned to develop a code for more polite office conduct. He said it was necessary to develop a list of words defined as derogatory that can be used as reference when handing out a penalty.
He admitted it was a tough and sometimes tricky job because people may used different ways of speaking or gestures to imply their meaning, including playing on words.
An online reader nicknamed Tom wondered if the checklist of derogatory words would turn into a thousand-page book produced by teams of distinguished linguistic and cultural experts. The most asked question centres around how to punish those guilty of breaking the rules - when they are issued.
How much are the fines for derogatory words? Who will give tickets to the offender, police or special task forces set up at grassroots? One thing for sure, the enforcers should be equipped with cameras and recorders for evidence.
Dr Mai Anh suggests the code of conduct should be considered only as a tool to instill courtesy in people and encourage them to change their habits. But I think derogatory language is part of the language and culture of a people and a nation as an identity.
The same is true of social etiquette as part of culture. Derogatory language, including swearing and social etiquette contradict each other, but co-exist. Because rough language comes from the people, especially commoners in society, it thrives among them.
If authorities think it offensive and improper, they should ban it, but only in offices. — VNS