Linguistics and Risk

Originally posted on February 1, 2021 @ 5:03 PM

Linguistics and Risk

imageHere’s a little experiment for you. Start calling someone a loser and see what happens. Of course, we don’t speak such language, especially to children, because we all know that language creates self-fulfilling prophecies.

The language you speak and the text you write are infused with created meaning. Text, grammar, language, gesture, ritual, linguistics and para-linguistics don’t just operate as outwards acts of communication but also as inward acts in shaping identity, ideology and meaning. This was described in the work of Halliday ( and is considered foundational to understanding reading comprehension, education, learning and, the construction of meaning in the development of children. The works of Halliday, Chmosky, Kristeva, Lacan, Lakoff and Johnson, Derrida and Merleau Ponty ought to be foundational research for anyone concerned about the use of text in completing forms, speaking to groups and the use of forms in risk assessment. Of course, you know none of these names are to be found anywhere in the global safety industry yet are 101 in any teaching or education degree. The latest fad in usability mapping includes no such research.

Halliday demonstrated the functional nature of language and how all semiotics creates and reflects Social Semiotics. If you want to know about Social Semiotics and the work of Halliday, you could start here: Social Semiotics

Indeed, if you see anything advising how to complete forms or make forms effective and, there is no mention of Halliday, semiotics or any of the researchers above, they have no idea what they are doing. And one thing is certain; if you want to know about linguistics you don’t consult an engineer.

Text is not only written and spoken but texts-as-scripts, are present in all discourse/linguistics and convey politics, ethics and approaches to power; there is no such thing as neutral linguistics. We study this and much more in our module on Linguistics in Risk (

So when people speak and write in the risk and safety industry, they don’t just make statements about goals, the language used is infused with meaning and creates meaning in its use. Language is the source of meaning creation.

So, when people talk about zero, or choice in safety or all accidents are preventable they are not making neutral statements. The very language we use creates its own meaning. In the case of such silly language as ‘all accidents are preventable’, one projects blame onto any person who is involved in an accident.

In the language of ‘safety is a choice you make’ one projects denial of any sense of determinism. Perhaps read this: The mathematical case against blaming people for their misfortune

Can Safety be any more simplistic and binary about the world than this silly infantile language . Again, the trajectory of such language is blame.

And then there’s the language of zero. Zero is not just a goal or a target but also a language. Everything that is linked to this language amplifies numerics, metrics and blaming. If your language is about ‘safety is a choice’, ‘accidents are preventable’ and ‘zero’, the only thing coming is brutalism.


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