Analysis of Defining the ‘American Indian’ by Haig A. Bosmajian

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Analysis of Defining the ‘American Indian’ by Haig A. Bosmajian

“One of the first important acts of an oppressor is to define the oppressed victims he intends to jail or eradicate so that they will be looked upon as creatures warranting suppression and in some cases separation and annihilation” (Bosmajian 347). The writer, Haig A. Bosmajian, begins his essay with these words in “Defining the ‘American Indian’: A Case Study in the Language of Suppression.” In his essay, which targets mainstream Americans, he attempts to show his readers how language has been used in American history to “justify” the oppression of the American Indians. The use of language that he discusses here is redefinition, in which the American Indians were renamed in accordance with the oppressors’ perception of them (Bosmajian 347). He points out the natural-religious, political-cultural, and legal redefinitions imposed upon them as the basis of his essay (Bosmajian 348). Through the use of various techniques, including historical accounts, examples, and choice of evidence, Bosmajian creates an effective argument to show how language has been manipulated for unjust acts.

In the natural-religious redefinition, Bosmajian supports his argument with the eyewitness account of Bartolome de las Casas. He describes how the various original inhabitants of America were given a new name when the Europeans arrived. They were all placed under the label: “savages” and “barbarians” (Bosmajian 348). In the eyewitness account, Bartolome de las Casas provides a terribly grotesque image of the acts done to the American Indians. “Overrunning Cities and Villages, where they...

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... By discussing the natural-religious, political-cultural, and the legal redefinitions, Bosmajian seeks to convince the readers of the impact that redefinition has on the American Indians. This redefinition, he declares, allows oppressors to think that their acts of oppression are justified (Bosmajian 347-348). He creates a strongly supported argument through the abundant use of rhetorical techniques, such as historical accounts and examples. In the end, he hopes that readers will look to “identify the decadence in our language, the silly words and expressions which have been used to justify oppression of varying degrees” and eradicate them (Bosmajian 347).

Work Cited

Bosmajian, Haig A, “Defining the ‘American Indian’: A Case Study in the Language of

Suppression.” Exploring Language. 8th ed. Ed. Gary Goshgarian. New York: Longman, 1998. 347-354.

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