The Linguistics of Zero
Linguistics is about the study of language and is inseparable from all we say, write and communicate. In linguistics we analyse; the form, method, social context, politic, culture and meaning of language. Language is not written or spoken objectively, neither is language neutral. What we say and write cannot be separated from the worldview that speaks it (https://safetyrisk.net/the-medium-is-the-message/ ). It is naïve in the extreme to think the language of zero is somehow an objective expression of a goal.
The language of goals and targets cannot be separated from the meaning making in the language of measurement (https://safetyrisk.net/measurement-anxiety-in-safety/ ; https://safetyrisk.net/the-quantitative-and-qualitative-divide-in-safety/ ). Similarly, the linguistics of Science demonstrates the subjectivities of science (http://www.columbia.edu/cu/tract/projects/complexity-theory/kuhn-the-structure-of-scien.pdf). The language of Science and measurement reveal the worldview of the speaker just as the language of the Poet or lyricist reveal the worldview of the speaker. The language used to speak science or poetry is the same language. It is therefore valuable to study the carriage of meaning in all expression. This is also studied in Semiosis, the study of the construction of meaning and Discourse Analysis, investigating the power embedded in text and speech. We study this and much more in Module 21 The Linguistics of Risk (https://cllr.com.au/product/linguistics-flyer-unit-21/ ).
The linguistics of zero masks the ideology of zero that seeks to create meaning from numerics. The linguistics of zero privileges; the power of metrics, numerics, measurement and statistics and often hides the fact that all measurement is subjective, interpreted and political. Furthermore, the linguistics of zero seeks the denial of fallibility and the privileging of the absolute. You can’t speak zero unless you deny movement and learning, fallible personhood and all Poetics (non-measurables) of living. This is the real binary problem with the dumb loaded question, ‘how many people do you want injured today?’
In this way, all linguistics of zero are loaded with the idea that a number gives meaning. Such language cannot also at the same time speak of love, learning, forgiveness, tolerance, acceptance, care or helping. The language of one pushes the language of the other to the background. This is why speaking zero can only lead to brutalism, because the linguistics of zero point to a number as first.
If one privileges the linguistics of persons then zero fades into nothing, for that’s what it is. The linguistics of persons is anathema to zero. You will find nothing globally across the zero cult (safety) about the significance of personhood, community or helping. How astounding to have an AIHS Body of Knowledge on safety with zero discussion of; persons, helping, care, ethics, politics or community. Neither is it surprising in the ‘engineering’ of language paraded by Usability Mapping that there is no expertise in linguistics or reading (https://safetyrisk.net/its-always-about-paperwork/ ). The best way to suppress linguistics is to attribute to language a worldview of mechanics.
This is how Zero works, numerics comes to the foreground and persons fade to the background. From then forward Safety doesn’t debate the meaning of community, helping or persons but the significance of percentages and injury rates. Safety then doesn’t become about the well-being about persons but the Technique of systems (Ellul) and objects. This is how we know that the schools of ‘human factors’ and ‘safety differently’ are not really about persons. Analyse the linguistics of these two schools of safety and see what you find. What values in language are privileged? What is the bias in the Discourse? Is the language quantitative or qualitative, is there a balance? If you like counting, then count and weight the language and see what you find. Where is the linguistics of helping, care and community in comparison to the language of quanta?
So, one can explore the linguistics of zero but then look at what semiotics accompany it. What iconography pronounces the grammar of zero? What symbols accompany the linguistics of zero? It’s always a number, never a person, never the community and no graphics of helping. Go even further to the paralinguistics associate with zero and it gets worse. This is why zero is the most dangerous idea for safety (https://vimeo.com/230093823) and why the global cult of zero continues to keep safety as a disciplinary backwater and as a non-profession.